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5 Rules for Writing a Modern Resume

Basic resume writing guidelines have been the same for decades, but according to some of the career counselors I met at the recent National Career Development Association conference, that’s all changing. I saw several presentations that addressed resume writing and job search topics, but one area that particularly intrigued me was discussion of the “new rules” of resume writing. A brief discussion with a colleague sent me on a quest to find out more about what is changing exactly, and what it means for students preparing for the job market.

How can you bring your “old” resume up-to-date?

  1. “Get to the point.” This advice from the Brazen Careerist blog asks us to “treat the beginning of [a] resume like the front page of a newspaper.” Lengthy descriptions and lists used to be the norm, but you’re better off focusing on the requirements of each job you apply to, tailoring your resume to emphasize how your experience meets the needs of a specific position. And it’s important to attract the recruiter’s attention at the beginning of the document.
  2. Include a headline or branding statement. These brief descriptors seem to be taking the place of the traditional objective statement and summary sections. The new approach is to make these more specific and targeted to each potential employer. Resume writer Georgia Adamson recommends writing a headline that gains the reader’s interest quickly and encourages them to read further, not unlike writing an effective subject line for an email message. According to experts at, “you’ve got 4 seconds” to impress the person reviewing your resume.
  3. Add your social media profiles. If you’ve read some of my previous posts, such as “Does Your Online Identity Say Hire Me,” you know that social media is becoming an influential part of the job search process. Your online presence, in form of a URL, can be included as part of your resume contact information. provides advice for adding your web-based information such as a blog, ePortfolio, or social networking profiles, with a single “landing page” from which all of your information is linked. This is especially helpful if you have more than one professional site to share.
  4. List your core skills and competencies. An ongoing discussion in the Career Thought Leaders Consortium LinkedIn group revealed this tip. While it’s not a new idea to include a list of skills and competencies on a resume, it’s important to consider how this list might be used, and to make it as specific as possible. Use this list to present relevant keywords to illustrate how your experience matches the needs of the company. This section can also be helpful when software is used to electronically scan and screen resumes even before managers take a look.
  5. Optimize your use of space. A resume rules quiz from the Project Management Institute identifies “outdated practices” of a resume written in 2008. It includes several of the items already on our list, but also encourages us not to waste space on our resumes with information that is not required at this stage (i.e., references) or not relevant to the employer that will be reading it. Experiment with the document’s formatting to get the most important information up front, but make sure the result is easy to read and the pertinent information is easy to find.

Review, Revise, Repeat

So while trends in resume writing are evolving, the message is clear that we need to customize the information presented in our resumes every time we apply for a new position. This will likely require having multiple versions of your resume, and tweaking them each time you send them out. This can be time consuming in terms of file versions and editing, and may eventually be replaced by the information we make available through our online profiles.

Before making changes to your existing resume, or even getting started on something brand new, look to your industry for clues about what is expected. An engineer’s resume will look decidedly different from a graphic designer’s resume, even if they work for the same company. What are the guidelines, trends, and conventional wisdom for resume writing in your field? Your school’s career center can help with this kind of information and also provide you with feedback on your resume through individual critiques.

Keep the purpose of the resume in mind as you go through the iterations of writing and revision. reminds us that “The resume’s ONLY function is to get you an interview. … It’s about how you might fit in with the company and what’s important to management.” Resume writing is one of the initial steps of job search process, which when done well can lead to new employment opportunities.