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The New (Old) Rules of Résumé Writing

July 2, 2018

VIDEO! ANIMATION! COLORED FONTS! SPECIAL ICONS! These days, many job seekers are going heavy on production values when writing their résumés. But do all those bells and whistles really help your cause? Turns out if you want to stand out from the crowd, some classic rules still apply.

It’s important to remember what, in the end, the purpose of your résumé is, says Marc Cenedella, founder and CEO of career site Ladders, Inc., and author of the Ladders 2018 Résumé Guide. "Simply put, it's a marketing document designed to sell you to a future employer." With that idea in mind, he offers these suggestions for presenting your credentials in a way that can help you land the job you want, whether you’re just starting out or switching careers later in life.

Transcript of Video

Count the number of dollar signs, percentage signs, and numbers on your résumé —then, if you want to stand out, triple it. —Marc Cenedella, founder and CEO of career site Ladders, Inc.


Avoid bells and whistles. All that fun stuff? Forget it. No fancy fonts or pictures, no color-coded dots to show experience. And that includes video résumés, unless you’re applying for the kind of media job that requires you to be on air. The quality is likely to be substandard, which isn’t helpful.


Focus on your audience. Try to view your résumé from an employer's perspective. With few exceptions, what matters isn’t you and what you’ve learned; it’s about what you can bring to the job right now. "Find out what your future employer is looking for,” Cenedella advises. “Then use your résumé to explain how what you can do matches up with their needs."


New grads: play to your strengths—not your experience. “The point is to convey your capabilities rather than experience and acumen,” says Cenedella. Your résumé should endeavor to show the kind of worker you’d be. “A summer job indicates you’re dependable. Elected roles at clubs—even sororities and fraternities—indicate sociability and likeability.”


Use numbers. “Count the number of dollar signs, percentage signs, and numbers on your résumé,” Cenedella suggests. “Then, if you want to stand out, triple it.” Numbers can demonstrate your impact better than general statements like “managed invoicing.” Show, quantifiably, how your work made a difference, whether through increased earnings, decreased spending or lower head count.


Mid-career job seekers: remember that it’s 2018. There’s no point including anything before 2000—“if it happened in the last millennium, it doesn’t exist,” Cenedella says. If you graduated before that, just list your school and degree. Don’t go over two pages, one page if you’re starting out. A home address is also no longer needed; an email and phone number are enough.


Follow up. Contact your prospective employer once a week for three weeks in a courteous, employer-focused manner. “By email’s okay, by phone is much better,” Cenedella says. “If you do that politely three weeks in a row, you should probably get a callback.”


Once you land that perfect job, consider reaching out to a financial advisor. She or he can help you understand your choices regarding management of existing 401(k) accounts, as well as how much to save and invest for retirement going forward, and work with you to help you pursue all of your most important financial goals.


First-time job seekers and mid-life career switchers: visit the "Work" section of to find more tips and insights on a range of topics, from managing your employee benefits to starting a business and paying for education to keep your professional skills sharp.

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