The anatomy of the perfect resume

The anatomy of the perfect resume
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This question originally appeared on Quora: What are the best formats for a resume? Answer by Gayle Laakmann McDowell, author of Cracking the Coding Interview

Just as the best product is the one that gets the job done, the best resumes are those that communicate your skills and accomplishments in a clear, effective way.

Graphical resumes are, in particular, terrible. Unless you can be one of the lucky few to get a bunch of media attention for a nifty format, you will hurt yourself far more than you’ll help yourself if you use a graphical resume. Graphical resumes are typically difficult to read and they sacrifice content — your hard-earned accomplishments — in favor of pretty pictures and useless graphics. See: Why Your Awesome, Creative Resume Isn’t Working.

A good resume format has the following attributes:

  • Multiple columns: Multiple columns make it easier for someone to quickly skim your company titles, positions, schools, and other key facts. It also stores this information in a very compact way, allowing more space to list things you’ve done. (Note: do not use one of those templates where the entire left part of the resume is a column for the categories. They waste a lot of space.)
  • Short and sweet: People only spend about five-30 seconds reading your resume, and this isn’t enough to read even a full page of content. When your make your resume too long, it just dilutes the quality of each thing on your resume. Focus on just the highlights. One page is often all you need, but if you have 10+ years of experience and multiple roles, you can justify at most two pages. That’s it though.
  • The right sections: No objectives (they’re useless). Summary sections can be okay, but they’re usually not (after all, if your resume is short and concise, then you don’t really need a summary section).
  • Use tables: Okay, this is really nit picky, but it’s a personal pet peeve of mine. The way to make multiple columns in Microsoft Word is with tables (with invisible columns), not by hitting “space” dozens of times.
  • Bulleted — no long text blobs: Again, you only have about 15 seconds to make an impression. Large blocks of text will not be read. Keep your bullets to one-to-two lines (and, ideally, about half or more of those bullets should be one line).
  • Appropriate use of fonts and formatting: You don’t want to go overboard with fonts and formatting. However, a little bit of formatting (bold, italics, etc) can be useful to organize your resume.

So with that said, here are two formats that work perfectly well:

Image for article titled The anatomy of the perfect resume

This resume can be downloaded here.

Image for article titled The anatomy of the perfect resume

This resume can be downloaded here.

The first resume is a format I designed myself, whereas the second one is a format required by Wharton’s MBA program.

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