Your resume is a core element of your job application, and because it’s usually the first thing employers see, you want to get it right. But as career norms evolve, so too do resume norms.
Dana Leavy-Detrick, founder and chief creative scribe of Brooklyn Resume Studio and a former recruiter and career coach, has spent a lot of time on resumes. She started her resume-writing company about eight years ago to help people in all industries and at all career levels master this critical piece of their career story.
Longtime Idealist Careers readers may remember Leavy-Detrick from the “crash course” webinar on resumes back in 2015. Three years later, Leavy-Detrick joins us again to highlight four resume practices—practices you may have regarded as “rules” never to be broken—that have changed and what you can do instead.
Old Rule #1: Never include personal details
Putting personal details on your resume has been “taboo” for a long time, Leavy-Detrick says. But that was when a resume was a pure snapshot of your work history and experience. Now, more people view a resume as part of the overall package that tells a story about who you are, and that story can include a few personal details about your passions and values.
Leavy-Detrick says that this is especially the case in the social-impact sector, where talking about your passion and values can help demonstrate organizational fit.
So, what kinds of personal details are okay to include and where should you put them on your resume? Focus on the issues you care about, the values that motivate you to make a difference, and how you have acted on those values in the past. You can communicate this in a summary at the top of your resume—a place Leavy-Detrick describes as “prime real estate”—or by including a section for volunteer or pro bono experience.
One thing that hasn’t changed, though: Don’t get too personal on your resume with information such as your relationship status, number of kids, or whether you have pets. It will strike an employer as odd and unprofessional that you’re taking up space to include these details when you could instead utilize that real estate to share more relevant experience.
Old Rule #2: A resume should never be more than one page
A one-page resume used to be the standard because it’s easier to print one page, Leavy-Detrick says. But now that resumes are mostly read on screens, the one-page rule is a bit more flexible, depending on where you are in your career.
Leavy-Detrick says that early-career professionals should still stick to one page; otherwise, it looks like you can’t prioritize relevant information for your audience. An employer doesn’t need to know everything you’ve ever done (more on that below), and if you’re only a few years into your career, you should be able to fit everything they need to know on one page.
Once you’ve been in the working world for 10 to 12 years, Leavy-Detrick says, your resume can take up two pages.
Old Rule #3: Your resume needs to list everything you’ve ever done
Your resume is a marketing tool: Everything you put on there should support the message you’re trying to get across and the story you’re trying to tell. If something doesn’t support your message—or worse, undermines it—it doesn’t belong on your resume.
For example, if you were a summer camp counselor four years ago and now you’re applying for a job in web design or something else completely unrelated, you can omit the counselor job from your resume. That will leave you with more space to focus on relevant skills and experience that will impress your potential employer.
Leavy-Detrick says that as you advance in your career, you can also drop things like your GPA, relevant coursework, or college activities to make room for the professional experience that you’re gaining.
“The professional experience that you amass is going to weigh more heavily than some of your education or academic activities,” she explains.
Old Rule #4: All your experience needs to be listed chronologically
From time to time, Leavy-Detrick will work with a client who has relevant experience from 10 or 15 years ago that they want to put on their resume, but if they show it chronologically in one large “experience” section, it gets buried or appear dated.
Her solution? Create a separate section called “Additional Experience” or something similar where you can list previous roles in a way that stands out.
“Look at the information you have and figure out the best layout,” Leavy-Detrick says, instead of choosing the format and then trying to make your content fit.
Pro Tip: If your experience is nonlinear, consider a functional resume. A functional resume is organized by theme or skill area, such as “project management” or “leadership.” If you’re not ready to fully embrace the functional resume, you can combine elements of that approach with a more traditional format that includes some of your chronological work history.
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As a nonprofit advocacy professional living in Washington, D.C., Deborah works with groups across the country to educate their communities and lawmakers about public policies that can help low-income residents make ends meet. She is passionate about helping people connect their interests to a cause they believe in and empowering them to take action.