When I receive a resume question without context, often my answer is, “It depends on your situation.” After I learn more about the person’s current goal, history, and expertise, I can provide a definitive answer. Beware of the terms, always and never. A resume strategy should be based on each person's unique history and goal. Here are a few examples of how following "always" and "never" resume rules can be problematic.
Common Resume "Always" and "Never" Falsehoods
Falsehood #1: A resume should always include a candidate’s entire work history.
This will vary based on many factors. Does the candidate have significant recent history to support the goal? Does the candidate’s history extend beyond fifteen years? If so, does the candidate's earliest history support the career goal, while the recent history does not? An analysis of the history may lead us to show history beyond fifteen or twenty years. On the other hand, we may exclude very early history if that would decrease the candidate’s marketability in his or her industry and if we can support the goal in another way.
Falsehood #2: A resume should always include dates of graduation.
Showing the degree completion year is common for recent graduates because it helps to explain why a candidate has limited work experience. However, for an established candidate with significant work experience, showing the year is not necessary. It is not the year that signifies completion. The proper listing of the degree does. In some cases, showing a graduation date from the 1970s, 1980s, or early 1990s can create unintentional bias.
Falsehood #3: A resume should never be longer than one page.
Almost all resume writing experts will agree that a resume should be as long as necessary to show the candidate’s top selling points concisely as possible. For most entry-level candidates, that will be a one-page resume. For candidates with one or two employers and one degree or training certification, a one-page resume will be appropriate. However, candidates with significant work history, multiple degrees and certifications, technical skills inventory, and impressive industry awards will likely have a two-page resume. In most cases, a candidate with more than two pages of essential accomplishments can create a two-page resume and then share secondary information (such as project details, key transaction lists, presentations, publications) in a resume addendum (a separate document). It is worth noting that in academia or scientific fields, a multi-page CV is quite common and expected.
Falsehood #4: Always fill your gaps in employment with some sort of work, volunteer experience, or work-related education, even if short-term or exaggerated.
Candidates have gaps for many reasons. Reasons may include a lay-off and extended period of unemployment, moving to another state due to a partner’s job relocation, a break to raise a family or care for an ill family member, a medical leave, or a gap year for personal enrichment. The reason and length of the gap will dictate how the gap is handled on the resume. If you had an ongoing consulting practice, a significant community service role, or academic work, this is an excellent way to explain the gap. Providing false or misleading information about the gap is not wise because the exaggeration or white lie can be uncovered eventually. Even a bit of exaggeration, such as consulting that really was only a few weeks for a friend, can cause trouble when you are asked for details in an interview. In some cases, a simple career break statement is best when it truly was a full break from professional work.