Resume Magic

7 Things I’ve Learned About Resume Writing in the Past Two Years

By Susan Whitcomb | 5 Comments »

I recently had the opportunity to renew my certification as a Master Resume Writer (MRW), a designation offered through Career Management Alliance ( As part of the process, I submitted a few points on “what I’ve learned in the past two years” about resumes. Here are my insights:


1. Succinct | Bite-Sized | Tweet-Like succinct-ideas-logo

Social media and the bombardment of info-overload have caused many people to have the attention span of a lit match. Keeping this in mind, I am shifting my writing toward a more tweet-like style. Indeed, in coauthoring The Twitter Job Search Guide with Chandlee Bryan and Deb Dib, Deb took the lead on two chapters that, I believe, will change the rules of resume writing and cover letters forever. She describes processes for writing a 10-tweet cover letter, a 6-tweet resume profile, and turbocharging your resume with tweets—her ideas are brilliantly simple.

Where possible, I am much more aware of writing one-line accomplishment statements, separated by 6 pts or more of white space, to make it more inviting for readers to want to read, as well as digest the information. The length of my resume paragraphs is also something I’m focusing on shortening. Several years ago, I wouldn’t think too much about a 6-line paragraph. Now, I try to keep them to 3 lines.

Although I’ve been using bulleted paragraphs in cover letters for years, I am now fanatical about making sure cover letters contain them.

2. Integrated Resumes

Twitter cofounder Biz Stone noted, “Twitter is the new resume.” His comment implies that what we write on Twitter, or anywhere online, becomes a piece of our resume. I am advising clients that they need to be aware of this and to strategize an orchestrated plan to integrate their resume with their online identity, making sure that resumes are aligned with data appearing on a LinkedIn profile or other site.

Recruiters can, in some cases, find old versions of a client’s resume online, which may not sync with the current version a client is putting out there. That may impact a writer’s decision about whether to eliminate a problematic or short-term work entry.

In addition, I am adding LinkedIn, Twitter, online portfolio, or other appropriate links into traditional resumes, whether 1) as part of the header, 2) as a “see more information on this project at,” or 3) as a footer at the bottom of the last page of the resume. I avoid shortened URLs, however, because in some cases they will go away over time.

3. Brandingpersonal-branding-stamp

Branding has made its way into resumes, whether obscurely with brand attributes woven into the summary, or obviously with resume headings such as “Brand Attributes” or “Brand Bio” as part of the resume. Although not every resume submitted in my client samples reflects this, I am much more aware of trying to convey both “hard” and “soft” elements of the client’s brand in the summary section, and in some cases including a brand tagline and colors that match the client’s brand. For example, one of my resume samples submitted used brown type with blue horizontal accent lines, matching the colors the client had used on her Web site.

Relating to branding, I’ve shifted in my choice of fonts, leaning toward sans serif fonts. A few favorites these days are Calibri and Century Gothic.

4. Shorter, in General, with Add-On Pieces

Although I still write 3-page resumes, they are the exception to the rule. When possible, for an executive or senior candidate, I shoot for 2 pages and then include a supplemental piece (or pieces) with a separate title, such as Project Highlights, Technology Initiatives, etc.

5. Mixed Messages, No Hard-n-Fast Rules

In some instances, recruiters are writing that “ugly resumes are the best,” meaning resumes void of formatting have a better chance of being “read” well in databases. While I can see this point, we also know from personal experience, conversations with our colleagues, and discussions with hiring managers and recruiters that a drop-dead gorgeous resume with plenty of visual appeal makes a lasting first impression. That also goes for ASCII resumes. One of my clients reported back that, when walking into an interview, the first thing out of the hiring manager’s mouth was “how’d you get your ASCII resume to look so good . . . I’ve never seen one this clean.”

Resume writers need to be flexible and learn how their clients plan to use their resumes before pronouncing definitive how-tos. In general, I advocate to a) get the resume into a target company’s database; b) have it hand-delivered by internal contacts in the target company to the hiring manager (not HR); and c) send it as a follow-up after meeting with networking contacts.

6. Cover Letters

The submission requirements for renewal of the Master Resume Writer require five cover letters. It was harder for me to readily come up with five resumes that met the submission requires and also included a cover letter! I realized that this is because few of my clients are requesting cover letters these days. My observations as to why include:

  • There doesn’t appear to be a standardized process for receiving cover letters on corporate Web sites (some sites have space to upload or paste in a cover letter, others do not).
  • Clients are less likely to write a “formal” cover letter when emailing their resumes to others. A simple note (“Looking forward to speaking more about [xyz]. My resume is attached.”) is not uncommon.
  • The clients I work with are using their resume as a “leave-behind” rather than a “lead-in.” In other words, they are networking with others to learn about their needs first and, as a follow-up to the networking, sending their resumes.

resume7. Resumes Are Not Going Away

Articles prophesying the death of the resume seem to surface once every year (and have now for the past five-plus years). I don’t claim to have a crystal ball, but I believe resumes are here to stay. Not too many people get hired these days without having to turn in a resume. They may not be the centerpiece of the job search like they used to be years and years ago (although many job seekers tend to cling to them, hyper-focusing on them as the magic bullet that will allow them to escape the necessity of networking), but resumes continue to remain a vital element in job search. That’s good news for us writers who love our calling!


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