Resume / CV Guidelines

A résumé or CV is the primary tool employers use to choose the jobseekers they will interview for a position.

The field where an individual seeks employment determines the type of document they should use to display their work and educational history. Most American companies prefer potential employees to submit a résumé that focuses on their work and educational experience. In the United States, it is relatively rare to submit a longer, CV-style document except when applying in special fields such as academia or scientific research.

American employers typically prefer résumés written in reverse chronological format, listing a person’s most recent work and educational experiences first. Most employers have difficulty interpreting the functional format résumé, which categories a worker’s experiences by skill area rather than their chronological order. Many employers also believe that applicants can use this format to hide a variety of problems or periods of unemployment and thus may view functional format résumés with suspicion.

A frequently acceptable alternative to the standard reverse chronological form is a ‘combination’ format that integrates desirable elements from the chronological résumé with those from the functional format. Combination résumés usually begin with a functional list of job skills and then lists employers in chronological order; this résumé style can be highly repetitive.

Résumé length can vary, depending on the individual’s work, educational experiences and level of responsibility. In most cases, non-management-level applicants should strive for a concise one-page document, while mid-to-senior-management candidates can often submit a two-page résumé. Executives with extensive experience may have three-page résumés. CVs are a unique case and can easily run much longer.

In order to keep a résumé at an appropriate length, it’s important to begin eliminating or shortening descriptions of older jobs as an employee gains new or more relevant experience. Generally, a résumé should include the employee’s most recent 10 to 12 years of work and education, though more senior individuals or people in professions that require highly detailed résumés may include as much as 15 years of experience.

Because of non-discrimination laws in the US, applicants are usually advised not to include a photograph with the résumé/CV. Possible exceptions include candidates for positions in or related to the entertainment industry, such as movie actors or television news anchors. Other personal information, such as marital status, number of children and city of origin, should not be included in a résumé.

Many factors influence what information should be included in a résumé/CV, especially the field or industry in which the applicant is seeking employment. Common elements included in a résumé/CV include a candidate’s experiences, education, special skills and professional affiliations. Individuals in the same industry or profession may present résumé elements in different orders if, for example, one person has just obtained a four-year university degree while the other person earned his or her degree more than 10 years ago. In the latter situation, substantial experience acquired since the degree was earned will usually take precedence over the degree, and education will follow the more recent experiences.

Employers are busy people with limited time to review résumés. For that reason, candidates are urged to begin with strong, relevant information that demonstrates their potential value to employers. One way to do this is through a profile or overview section that briefly highlights the individual’s skills and experiences, and possibly includes a few outstanding accomplishments. The selected experiences should directly relate to the company’s job description.

The experience section of the résumé/CV must do more than list duties or job description phrases. Those simply tell what someone should be doing; they do not indicate whether it was done or done well, and they do not distinguish the applicant from other candidates. Clearly defined accomplishments presented in succinct bullets or paragraphs do an excellent job of communicating the individual’s value, especially if they contain important numbers, including money, percentages and time periods. Statements that begin with action verbs are especially potent, as are examples of how the applicant personally increased the success of an employer’s business.

In some cases, what does not go in a résumé/CV may be as important as what does. An individual’s reason for leaving a job or company is usually not included. Another typical exclusion is information that an employer would regard as confidential or proprietary.

Finally, all information provided in a résumé/CV should be factual, as employers can and probably will check its accuracy. Like the cover letter, an applicant should have a résumé reviewed and edited before submitting it to a potential employer.

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