The resumé, every which way: First things first

The resumé is often the first opportunity an editor has to woo a prospective employer or client and, as with all wooing, it’s no time for half-heartedness. For editors, their resumé is their first editing test. This seems obvious, but unfortunately, editors are not always the best at editing their own work.

I’ve written, edited, and evaluated numerous resumés, and in so doing, I’ve learned a few things that I would like to talk about here. Now, there’s no scarcity of information about all this, so I must emphasize that these are my own opinions. But, assuming that humans are evaluating your resumé (as opposed to robots, that is, resumé-reading software), I am quite confident that what I’m about to tell you can be of some value. In this post, I will focus on micro issues and, gradually, in other posts, move to macro issues. Some of the most banal things are the easiest to overlook, which is why they’re the most revealing. An editor, after all, must be meticulous.

Let’s begin with something very banal. There are three ways you can write the word resumé, but only one is right as far as I’m concerned. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary backs me up—resumé is correct. It makes sense, because that’s how you pronounce it. Yet in my experience, about two-thirds of resumé writers use the incorrect versions: resume, which rhymes with legume and means to begin again, and résumé, which makes me mispronounce it. I can’t help but mention this. It’s a clear sign that someone didn’t take the time to look it up (Wikipedia doesn’t count). A few people choose to call their resumé a CV, but it’s a different type of document, and in North America it’s not the right choice outside of the academic, research, and educational fields.

Now, here’s another thing to keep in mind: the email from which you send your resumé is important. If I get a resumé from, say, [email protected] or [email protected], I invariably send it straight to the trash bin. And I would expect the same if I made this error. Everyone makes mistakes. Even the most experienced editors have made this mistake. And it is a mistake. It’s like mailing a resumé with Land of Oz as the return address. Also, if you’re applying for an in-house position, and you’ve got an editing business, I would not advise sending your resumé from that email (you’ll be pigeonholed as an independent contractor, not as a serious applicant, and likely be excluded). Don’t forget that people who judge resumés are not always objective and logical.

Be sure to label files with your full name and file description, because it’s easier for someone to trash your files than figure it out. And while we’re talking about files, documents should be converted to PDF to avoid any MS Word and mobile device incompatibility issues and to prevent those squiggly lines from showing up. Also check the PDF so that everything is there, because things can get cut off during the conversion.

Use one typeface—but no more than two—per resumé. I think sans serif is the way to go; Helvetica and Arial are good choices. Avoid any odd or obscure typeface; your uniqueness should come through in the text, not the typeface. Arbitrary title casing is a real no-no. This, I think more than anything, irks me. And I think that it can irk non-editors, too, even if they don’t understand what is irking them. Typography is often overlooked, but it’s an important component of editing. This includes kerning, leading, and line breaks. Faulty parallelism is painfully obvious to a trained editor and has no place on an editor’s resumé. Consistency in all things is a no-brainer. Oxford commas randomly popping in and out of existence like ghostly particles is just not going to cut the mustard.

When it comes to design and structure, simplicity is the overarching principle you should apply to your resumé. In terms of length, one page is ideal, but whatever you do, do not exceed two pages. In fact, one-and-a-half pages should be your cut-off. If you’re going to include social media links, be sure your choices are pertinent and their content has been pruned and polished; otherwise, it can work against you. Here’s another thing: spell out all unfamiliar initialisms and acronyms. Please don’t make the reader Google them. Last, using ampersands, etc., and other such devices is evidence of laziness, tsk tsk.

These are some of the “first things first” technical details for editors who are preparing and submitting a resumé. For many of you who are more senior and experienced, I realize this is old hat. In future posts, I’d like to talk about bigger issues that have to do with language, content, and structure and divulge a few things I do know about the robots. I have to say that I am happy to see that formulaic cover letters and resumés, which go hand in hand with the interview rulebook that prescribes flesh-coloured pantyhose and starched shirts, are being overturned. But until something entirely new takes its place, resumés are still required.

This article was copy edited by a BoldFace volunteer.

The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous.

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