How to Write a Simple Resume

When reviewing people’s resumes I have seen the same issue come up a lot lately. There is simply too much there- long narrative descriptions, endless lists, timelines that go back too long. For the past 5+ years there has been a trend away from this style of resume and towards something else, so to me, as an executive resume writer this fees like old hat. Then I remind myself that five years ago, today’s jobseekers were happily employed and not thinking about recent job-seeking trends. In other words five years ago might as well have been yesterday to them.

The trend is simplicity. You can see it everywhere. It started with a minimalist movement that had people clean sweeping their homes to achieve a less cluttered look, and achieve a little peace along the way. But as with all newer movements some people took it too far. Then you had the extreme minimalist on the web who would strive to cut their personal possessions down to 100 items. (Fine if you’re a world traveling 23 year-old, not so much if you’re a 40-year old with a family.)

But the trend has reached that level of equilibrium where it is not a fad any longer but a part of our culture. Nowadays you can even see it on magazine covers and web site design. Simple clean looks without a lot of excess words. Pages that are not afraid of white space because they direct people’s diminishing attention spans to one or two key ideas and count on the power of those ideas to keep the reader coming back for more.

So what does this have to do with your job search? Everything. From your resume to your cover letter to you LinkedIn profile, simplicity is the key. Don’t say with a sentence what you can say with a few words. Don’t try to be all things to all people, just be the person who can do the one job you are applying to. Don’t let your documents be afraid of white space. Make them short and to the point- something that can easily be scanned in a few seconds, as that is all the time most first readers are going to give you anyway.

What does this look like in practice? Here are a few pointers for the resume, which is the foundation for all your other career documents.

Keep it to 2 pages, 1 page is even better
No text blocks should be longer than 3 lines
No list should have more than 5 bullets
Nothing should be listed prior to the year 2000
Strive for brevity in all of your wording, placing an emphasis on numbers

Now before I get angry emails or start a comment war- yes, of course rules are meant to be broken and sometimes the above recommendations should be ignored. But if you keep them in the back of your mind as guiding principles you are going to end up with a document that is more in line with the simplicity trend than not.

Remember, fewer words doesn’t mean a less powerful message. It just means the words used carry more weight.