It seems that regardless of the age of the job seeker, the foremost question in their mind is "How do I write a resume that will get me a good job?" Unfortunately, this question is fundamentally flawed. A resume does not get one a job. There is only one purpose for a resume beyond the administrative record-keeping aspect of one, to convince the employer to interview the candidate. Once the interview is arranged, the value of the resume drops almost to zero. Any discrepancies in the document can be explained verbally and experiences that the candidate forgot to include can be brought up on the spot.
There has been much written about the death of the resume. I would agree with this sentiment with a few reservations. One only has to consider how many faxed resumes they have seen in the last few years to realize that how a resume is delivered has changed. More often than not it arrives as a .pdf by way of email rather than printed on nice paper and delivered by the post office. Many employers have dispensed with a resume completely by forcing applicants to fill out online forms which feed directly into their candidate tracking systems. This makes it easier for the recruiters to evaluate and sort the various applicants in a uniform way. So, the delivery may change (snail mail to email) and the form may also change (paper to electronic or even video) but there are some enduring elements of a resume that will remain: relevancy, perfection (no mistakes) and readability.
I am torn with which of these three elements to state as the most important as it is difficult to imagine a resume as effective without all of them. Therefore, I am going to weight them equally here and endeavour to explain their value without ranking them.
Make no mistakes. That is worth writing again and in big letters; MAKE NO MISTAKES! A resume is not a test. The job seeker is not forced to recall all he or she studied and made to regurgitate it in a specified time period. The resume is created in the comfort of home (although more often than not it is done in one's office) and usually with the very weakest of deadlines. The document or text or whatever format it is taking, can be drafted, re-drafted, edited and reviewed over and over again. Friends, relatives and consultants can be asked to look it over and even our computers these days will tell us if words are spelled wrong or if a certain sentence is grammatically suspicious. There is no excuse to send in a resume with mistakes on it. Yes, some employers will overlook a small error. But why take the chance?
Your daughter might create a beautifully formatted and perfect (no mistakes) resume and still it would not be effective if the content is not relevant to the job she is applying to. It is no longer good enough just to show that our kids have graduated from college. Everyone applying to that job graduated from college. It is also not enough that the GPA is high anymore. Companies receive more resumes than ever thanks to the Internet and a GPA is now used just to screen out candidates in the first review. The resume must show that our sons and daughters have learned something or experienced something relevant to the job and the company they are applying to. While equally important to a resume as readability and perfection, relevancy is the one element that requires some forethought and planning. The business major with a summer job as a lifeguard will find it almost impossible to create a relevant resume in order to apply for the entry level computer programmer job.
So your son now has a beautiful resume with no mistakes and documented experiences extolling his relevancy to the job. But, it is 4 pages long, size 10 font, single spaced and 1/2 inch margins. Whoever in the organization responsible for reviewing the initial batch of resumes (possibly in the 100s or even 1,000s) will be exhausted half way through the first page. If the reviewer is particularly conscientious they may read the whole resume but more likely they will either decline or put it aside to focus on other applicants first. It does not help your son to have written about his relevant experience only to have it lost in the formatting or volume of the application. Readability is about considering what the other person needs to see to make a decision and how to make it easy for them to get there. I use the word "readability" as traditional resumes are print based but this also applies to the oft mentioned video resumes as well. The video needs to be easy to watch and easy to understand so that the relevant strengths of the candidates can be recognized quickly.
I hope that this information is helpful to some of you parents as well as your kids. Perfection, relevancy and readability are as important to a mid-career application as they are to a new grad resume. Therein lies the rub. Many of us "old" folks don't know how to write our own resumes and are therefore not equipped to help our kids when they need it. Very few of the college students I teach come to my class with an understanding of what the real purpose of a resume is and how a recruiter looks at one.
So, here is the exercise for today (it will be graded pass/fail as all resumes are). Sit down with your son or daughter and write a resume with them. This assignment is for those of you with children at the age where they can read and write well enough to accomplish this task. If your son is finishing up elementary school this year and moving to middle school next year then use that transition as the goal for the resume. Ask him what he thinks he needs to be accepted for an interview by the middle school admissions team. Write out his accomplishments from elementary school and point out how those achievements might impress whoever reviews his resume. If your daughter is a freshman in college then choose a company and a job she might like to apply to when she graduates. Writing the resume now will help her to see the blanks that need to be filled in and it is much more useful to know them now when she still has 4 years to gain the experiences and knowledge necessary. While you are at it show them your resume. Maybe they will catch a mistake on it you missed!