How to format a resume is a question that has ten million correct answers. It's better to say it up front: there is no magic bullet or a surefire way to secure a job, especially in today's market, but there are some methods that are proven to be useful, and formatting your resume in the proper way is one of them. Considering that only 10% of the applicants for a given job are called in for an interview, you may want to take your time to make a difference.
We know that jobs on the market are scarce worldwide, and there are far too many people competing for the same positions. You think that if only you could get an interview, you will impress the recruiters and convince them that you are the right person for the job. But your resume doesn’t seem to be receiving the attention you want it to. So, how on earth do you stand out among the hundreds of resumes HR is receiving?
This process can be even more stressful if you're blind or visually impaired. If you want to know more about when to mention your blindness during job hunting, go ahead and take a look at Shane’s informative post about the obstacles in employment for a blind person.
There are too many variables, and how your resume looks is only one of them. Your level of education, your qualifications, if you are a good fit for the job, if you have an adequate level of training, if you have the network connections to reach the right kind of job for you, and which platforms you're using to look for a job are all variables that affect your employability. But don't get intimidated just because you don't know where to start. Getting your resume together is the easiest way to begin your job search, and it's fun too.
Step 1: Put the most important information on top of your resume
There are thousands of resume templates on the internet. The resume templates are usually “fake resumes” created to show you how a resume will look like. They include headings like professional experience, education, skills like computer programs, physical skills, former training, and internships, etc. These are useful tools that would give you an idea, so feel free to download a couple of them and just check out what they have as headings, sections, the general organization of the resume. They are either a pdf file or a word document. But never, ever use the template as it is. It’s only there to give you an idea. There are also some websites that let you create your resume online, but all of them have accessible interfaces.
The other way to create a resume is just to open a word document and start typing. Before everything else, put your full name, your address, your phone number, and your email address on separate lines. You can also center these for a professional look by selecting the information and pressing control E within Microsoft Word.
Then, without giving it too much thought, write your educational background and previous work experiences in reverse chronological order. Your most recent experience should be listed first. If you know any foreign languages, write them down. Any specific computer programs? Put them too. What you’ll include in your resume entirely depends on your background and also on the job you're applying to.
Change the headings where you find it necessary, change the order of the sections. Do you want to highlight your job experience first or your education? Rearrange your draft according to your own needs. Decide which aspect of your history is the most impressive, and highlight that first.
It’s also important to consider your font size. The text of your resume should be written in 12 point font, but make sure to create headings for your sections. For example, sections like “Work Experience” and “Education” should be a heading at level 1. With a screen reader in Microsoft word, you can press alt control 1 to create the heading on that line automatically.
Leave a space between the heading and the body text. You can use bullet points if you want to list things. They make your cv easier to follow. To create a bullet point, put a * symbol before each bulleted item.
Last but not least, choose your font wisely. Some fonts are more easily readable than others, and there are stories that a candidate was rejected just because he or she used comic sans in the resume. Well, no offense Comic Sans, but some fonts are just not suitable for resumes. Arial, Cambria, Calibri, Helvetica are great fonts, to name a few. In Microsoft word, you can change this from the home tab under the ribbon.
Step 2: Write the objectives
What are your career objectives? Which direction do you want your career to go? Where do you want to work, which of your skills you want to use to make a difference, how do you position yourself in your field of work?
Write your objective under your contact information within your resume. You want it to be the first thing the recruiter reads about you, so he or she can picture you. If you are applying for jobs in different fields, it’s better that you write different objectives for each of your applications. Tailor your objectives according to the position you’re applying for. Do you like to work in a competitive environment? Do you want to do some outreach work to help people in need? Do you want to transfer your previously acquired skills into your new field of work and introduce a change of perspective? You can have one life objective, which is excellent, but you might have different objectives you want to achieve in different jobs. Your objective as a teacher will vary from the ones you'll have as a manager. Think thoroughly about it and be creative. These are usually two to three well-thought sentences.
Step 3: Decide which information is the most relevant
It is good to show your potential employer that you are a multi-faceted person with many interests and hobbies, but filling your resume with relatively insignificant details might distract the person who will hire you, and he or she might get sidetracked. You wouldn't want that.
Before doing this, read the job advertisement very carefully. What do they want from an employee? What do they value? Compare your resume to their needs and decide which of your qualifications are best to mention first.
Generally, your education, your employment history, and your objectives are the things that HR people want to know. But don’t put everything in and leave the insignificant details out. If you are called to the interview, those hobbies and interests can be a fantastic conversation starter, and you'll have more chances to show that you are really interested in those things, not just writing in your cv to impress others.
Also, a ten-page resume may sound impressive, but no one reads them anymore. In fact, they are usually filled with too much extraneous detail. Have mercy on the eyes of the recruiter and keep it short. A clean 1-3 pages resume should be able to tell you who you are. Recent research shows that recruiters prefer 2 page resumes more than any other length. So if you're not a new graduate, or applying for jobs that require no experience, don't send a 1-page resume; it might make you look like you don't take the time to prepare your cv. But steer clear of a 10-page put-everything-in type of resume. And read the job description carefully. Sometimes they say a max three-page resume and a letter of intention/motivation etc. Don't miss any details.
Step 4: Add your references if requested
Most of the job advertisements require at least two references from your former employers. They don’t have to be handwritten and sealed recommendation letters but put their phone numbers and email addresses. Make sure you confirm with your former employer that he or she wants to be a reference for you. Get their permission and add them at the end of your cv. Alternatively, depending on the application, you can also state “References upon request” at the end of your resume so that you have more room to fill with your qualifications.
Step 5: Write a cover letter
Most job applications require a cover letter, and it's for a good reason. Resumes are a summary of your experiences; cover letters are a summary of your resume. You don't have to include everything on your resume into your cover letter and don't write longer than 1 page, which is around 300 Words. Be concise and use this document to your advantage. A direct and sincere approach is easy to maintain, and most of the time leaves a good impression on people who read your letter. When writing a cover letter, put your name and your email address at the top of the page, so it won't get lost among other applications, because your resume and cover letter will most probably get separated throughout the sifting and searching at the HR office. Put the name of the position you are applying for as well. You can start with a sincere hello and finish with a thank you.
Tell the recruiters why you are a good fit for the job, why you are interested in that specific position, and why you want to be part of the company. Meanwhile, briefly explain your previous work experience and give some examples of what you have done before.
Don't be afraid if you don't have a gapless resume with an unspotted employment history that you worked in similar positions and built your way upwards. It is perfectly OK to go to the sides, to try new things and it's never late to do that. Career changes in your early 20s are already quite acceptable but don't hold yourself back if you want to try new things later in your career. All of your previous experiences give you different perspectives and teach you new skills, and all of them equip you with more tools. So don't let them slip away.
Before you go, here are some useful links to check while you are on job hunting:
Job Accommodation Network (JAN) has lots of resources about employment and job search. The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has many articles about job search as well. Here is one about writing a CV.