OK folks. Let’s end the confusion on what makes a good resume here and now. Ed’s seen a bazillion. And if you don’t trust his judgment alone, trust the judgment of editors of top magazines in New York City and the reps at the HR departments of the top magazine companies ‘cause Ed talked to them about what they like and don’t like, too. (Yeah, Ed has boring conversations, but he does it all for you.)
Here’s what you should keep in mind:
• Do keep it to just one page. When you become editor-in-chief one day, maybe then you can make it two pages.
• Don’t go too wild on the design. It should look good – but not so good that it should be framed. (Not that anyone but your mother wants to frame it anyway.) That means minimal colors, no funky fonts and no wacky columns and charts. Bottom line: Make your resume easy to read, not art.
• Do watch formatting. Ed sees a lot of resumes with funky run-over margins and weird characters. He assumes these are formatting errors (God, he hopes). Avoid this by saving your resume as a pdf or creating it in a program like Adobe.
• Do skip the objective statement. Ed doesn’t know why career counselors insist on this ridiculous section. When Ed’s hiring someone, he assumes that s/he wants to work in the magazine industry. It’s like, duh! Where else would you want to work if you’re sending me your resume? Use your cover letter to give details about why you want to work at a particular publication.
• Do stick to a style. Follow AP style — or another style; just pick one and stick with it. You should be consistent throughout your resume. Also italicize all publication titles such as magazines, books, and newspapers.
• Do put relevant experience first. Resumes should be read chronologically. Put the most recent job first. If your most recent job is not related to magazines or journalism, you can create two experiences sections: One called “Magazine Experience” or “Media Experience” and another called “Other Experience” which would include jobs you’ve held that aren’t related to magazines (which would come after the Magazine/Media Experience section). Make sense?
• Don’t put your education first. Unless you just graduated. Six months to a year post-graduation, move it after your experience. And always include the date that you graduated: month and year.
• Don’t list your GPA. Ed hates to break it to you, but everyone has a 4.0 these days (or higher—which is more annoying). You better be able to get an A in a copyediting class or heck, English Lit. Journalism ain’t physics. For the most part, journalism is a trade. So it doesn’t matter so much what your grades are. It matters more what experience you have. If you are compelled to keep your GPA on your resume for six months post-graduation, fine. But please stop after that. And please don’t list every single time you made the Dean’s List (again, everyone makes it). And if it’s not on there, no one misses it.
• Do give context for the publications/organizations you’ve worked for. Because most editors won’t be familiar with the publication or companies you’ve worked at, especially those in states other than theirs, you should explain further the company’s demographic/mission and clearly list what you did there.
• Do be detailed in your job descriptions. This is your one shot to show editors what kind of hands-on journalism experience you have. Say what kind of stories you reported for the school paper or other publication — i.e., “write dozens of campus concert reviews, including one on Electric Youth and another on Jack White” or whatever. Editors want to know how many stories you wrote/reported per issue or per week (or whatever’s relevant) and a detail about one or two that was especially challenging. Smart concise details explain what you did and how you were valuable to the staff.
• Do list relevant skills. Editors are looking for in entry-level editors/interns with a proficiency in tools we use, i.e., CMS (say which ones, ie., WordPress or Drupal), InDesign, InCopy, FinalCut Pro, PowerPoint, Excel. Also any social media tools (obviously you know how to use Facebook… but list HootSuite if you know it or programs like it.) List the proper names of software like Adobe PhotoShop or Adobe Illustrator. Also say that you know (if you do!) AP Style and if you speak a foreign language (but if you only “understand” it, just leave that off.)
• Don’t list skills we know you know. You better know how to use Microsoft Word! And editors are pretty sure you can pick up on any email program. And yes, of course you know how to tweet. Don’t say it here. Don’t state the obvious to fill your resume. Editors see it as filler and that’s not good.
• Don’t go overboard on the hobbies/activities section. Ed personally likes to see what you do in your spare time in a “Hobbies & Activities” sort of section, but not all editors or HR reps do. If you feel obliged to include, be sure that the stuff you list is relevant to the job you’re applying for. HR folks also warn against including any activities that show a religious affiliation, your age, your sexual orientation or any other factors that someone could use to discriminate against you. It’s fine to include national professional organizations, like ASJA, SPJ, Ed2010 (woot!), but lay off the long list of titles that you had at your fraternity or sorority.
Still need help? Ed offers one-on-one virtual resume critiques.