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Is Consistency the Hobgoblin of Your Resume?

When Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” he wasn’t talking about resumes, but nevertheless this saying can be applied to them, whether one’s mind is minuscule or majestic.

Foolish Consistency #1: Job Description Length

I wish I had a hundred dollars for every time I’ve seen a resume where every job’s description is the same length. There’s no reason for that. Instead, give a job more space when you have a good reason to, for example because the job was recent, more relevant than the others or longer term, or simply because there’s a lot to say about it, especially in terms of your accomplishments.

Foolish Consistency #2: Including Months in All Dates

If you started and left a job within one calendar year, it’s usually best to include the months. Even if the job spanned two calendar years you may want to give the months, because otherwise the reader may wonder whether “2017-2018” means you took the job in December and left in January! On the other hand, omitting the months reduces clutter and can also conceal gaps in employment.

Can you do both in one resume? Sure, as long as there’s a logical scheme to it, such as including the months for jobs spanning one to two calendar years and omitting them for the others.

Foolish Consistency #3: Using the Same Header on All Pages

This one is simply bad design; the first page should look different because it introduces the content. On page one your name should be in a large font–usually between 14 and 20 pt. or so — followed in no particular order by your contact information including your city, state and zip code. Put this information in the main body of the page; don’t use Microsoft Word’s header feature, because information formatted that way is not applicant tracking system-friendly.

On subsequent pages use a smaller font and leave out the location. Since this information is less essential, using the headers and footers feature is okay.

Foolish Consistency #4: Formatting All Sections the Same Way

Just because you have dates in “Experience” doesn’t mean you should include them in “Education.” If you earned your degree in the 20th century you may want to omit that date. Similarly, your choices about making certain items bold can be customized to the needs of each section, as long as it looks good.

Just because your other sections have a heading doesn’t mean your summary needs to be labeled “Summary” or “Profile.” This section is special, so you can treat it differently. It’s usually better to put a headline there, like the title of the job you’re applying for or a generic description of what you do, for example “Human Resources Leader.” That’s a much more meaningful way to start a resume.

And what about foolish consistency within sections? There’s no law that says you have to format the job titles the same way you format the company names. If your job titles were more relevant and impressive than the companies, why not make those a bit bigger so they stand out? Or make one bold and the other not? Experiment with it. But of course, if you format a job title in 12 pt., make sure you do all the job titles that way. Remember, consistency is only a bad thing when it’s foolish.

Not All Consistency Is Foolish

While you can make choices like those above to support your message, you still want your document to look professional, clean and clear–not quirky or cluttered. Don’t use too many fonts, for example, or a huge range of font sizes. Formatting should call attention to your content, not to itself.

Stay tuned for more guidance on essentials for an effective resume, surprising things you can include, and other savvy thinking for majestic minds (or moderately majestic?).

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