How to Polish up the Old Résumé

Pollen isn't the only thing in the air lately: change is, too. More specifically, people wanting to change their jobs, shift their industries or strike it out on their own to board the S.S. Self-Employment. In my experience, there seems to be a big bump of people getting antsy about changing jobs in October and all throughout springtime. And I know this is still the case because a lot of my friends have asked me to line-edit their résumés, which haven't been touched since they got the fabulous job they now want to run like the dickens to escape.

Anyway, since I find myself giving the same advice to everyone -- and see everyone making these same mistakes -- I figured it'd be good to toss it out here on Inc. Well for you guys. Because, hey, you're here because you're thinking of changing jobs, right? I also know not everyone is a writer, and I am, so, not to pull rank or anything, but I think I know what I'm talking about. Observe:

Verb tenses. So many people hop around in their résumés, flitting about from the present tense to the past tense. My rule is if it's your current job, you keep it in the present tense because you're still doing it. Much as you might wanna be out of there, it just feels weird to me to talk about your current job like it's already in the rear-view. Even if you get this new job, you're still gonna be there a bit longer, so don't make that leap just yet. All your jobs in the past can be, yup, in the past tense because it's stuff you did previously.

Verb variety. Another thing I see is recycling the same handful of verbs. Usually recycling is good, but as someone who's also hired other people, it's just a subconscious tell that the hire doesn't have much imagination or pride in their work or how they present themselves. I understand you might do a lot of similar things, but there are vastly different ways -- and stronger ways -- of going over what you've done. "Carried out" is fine the first time, "executed" the next would be just dandy. This is one of the few times where I think the word-processor thesaurus is your friend. But if it's not a word you wouldn't say in normal conversation, or don't know the meaning of, don't use it. It's not fooling anyone.

When and what to cut? Unless it's super-relevant to the job you're going after, chances are nobody cares what extra-curriculars you did college, the summer jobs you had in high school or even your very first internships. My résumé is an odd case because I've been fortunate enough to work at many marquee-name places in my career. But sometimes, those internships I had at Touch And Go Records (RIP) and Second City have to be chopped to make room for stuff that showcases my other skills.

Style and fonts. Whatever you do in your résumé, keep it consistent. Don't change up the bullet points or the font. I've always heard a major design tenet is to use two fonts, at most, in any single layout. I used to use Arial in my résumé but have found over time you can't even assume the recipient, if you're emailing it, will even have that font. Much as I loathe Times New Roman, I stick with it because everyone has it. Also, if you have links in your résumé, take the extra second to remove them when you print it out.

Length. Two pages, absolute max. Don't mess around with the margins. If you're resorting to that, it's time to chop. Your words aren't your babies, cut away. You want a nice, lean document, not an exhaustive list of everything you've ever done.

Specifics. "Frequently" is okay to say, but if you can say you routinely performed a task 50 times a week, that's a little more impressive than giving an estimate. Dazzle people with what you do and how often you do it.

Statement of intent. I think these are completely unnecessary. That's what the cover letter is for, and odds are whoever's looking over your résumé knows what you're applying for anyway. Right?

Don't lie. Don't lie.

But remember, ultimately, your résumé is like a diplomatic representative of your cause: you. Everyone has their own advice about what makes a good résumé, but it's your call in the end.

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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