Dear Sam: I hear such conflicting advice when it comes to resume “rules.” I’ve been told by friends with leadership positions that my resume should only be one page (even though I have over five years of work experience), that I should follow templates, and that it’s unprofessional to include any colors or pictures. I’m concerned that their advice might be outdated since the job market has changed since they last conducted a job search. Are any of these “rules” still true? – Janelle

Dear Janelle: The good news (or bad news depending on how you look at it!) is that there are no rules in resume writing! There are some guidelines and best practices, but there is a lot of room for creativity and flexibility. Unfortunately, it is quite common for well-meaning friends (especially those who have been successful in their careers) to provide outdated career development advice, so be sure to do your own due-diligence and research current industry trends before submitting your job search materials. The most important thing to remember is that resume writing strategies must be tailored to each candidate’s background, current objective, and key strengths—there is no “one size fits all” solution!

Resume Page Length

As with most aspects of resume writing, the answer to the question “How long should a resume be?” is: it depends. In general, most resumes, at least those for mid-career professionals, would be two pages in length. Entry-level candidates and candidates with very few employers/limited work history can sometimes get by with a strategically designed one-page resume, and executives or professionals in certain industries like academia can exceed three pages. Instead of worrying about meeting a page limit, the best strategy when creating your resume is to choose the length that best suits your background and interests.

If your resume is two pages (or more), be sure to prioritize your information and place the most important content on page one. Hiring managers typically only spend about four to seven seconds screening a resume, so it is critical to capture their interest immediately. Make sure you pull out all of your achievements and place them directly beneath your qualifications summary, even if your professional experience section falls to page two.

Resume Templates

Many job seekers make the mistake of trying to follow step-by-step templates that they find online or through Microsoft Word, but these “universal” approaches can be detrimental to a successful job search. Not only are these templates extremely generic and overused, but they are often outdated and limiting. If the template includes space for an objective statement and a reference section, you should immediately know that it is not up-to-date with industry best practices. 
The goal of crafting an effective resume is to differentiate yourself from the hundreds of other candidates who are vying for the same jobs, so do not fall into the trap of using fill-in-the-blank templates out of convenience, time, or assumed ease.

Be cautious about simply inserting your information into a resume format that a friend or family member has used in the past as well. I see this a lot with entry-level clients who try to adapt a resume sent to them by their parents/older siblings/family friends. What has worked for someone years ago may not be the best format for today’s job market, especially if the resume was used for a different industry.

Colors or Graphics on a Resume

The level of creativity expected/accepted in a resume varies by industry. When it is appropriate for your field of interest, being creative in your approach will increase the effectiveness of your search because it will make you stand out from your competitors. An accountant, for instance, would not use a creative format. But, when creativity makes sense in your profession (such as in marketing or a design field), use it to make you stand out from the crowd and better engage the reader. While content is very important in the development of an effective resume, the formatting and aesthetic play a key role in compelling—or repelling—readership. Feel free to browse samples on my website to gather some ideas about how to incorporate logos, colors, symbols, lines, and creative formats: www.nolanbranding.com/portfolio

While the lack of defined rules in resume writing can be confusing at times, the ability to be creative, strategic, and subjective when writing your resume is actually a benefit. Your resume is a marketing/branding document and should be designed to “sell” you. Let your creativity and personality shine through your document, and don’t worry about adhering to outdated “rules”!

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Samantha Nolan is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and owner of Nolan Branding, a full-service resume writing firm. Do you have a resume or job search question for Dear Sam? Reach Samantha at dearsam@nolanbranding.com. For more about Sam’s resume writing services, visit www.nolanbranding.com or call 614-570-3442 or 1-888-952-3928.