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What Does a Great Résumé Look like in the 21st Century?

What Does a Great Résumé Look like in the 21st Century?

For those people reading this article who are old enough to remember, even as little as a decade ago, a résumé was a simple document which provided some personal details (name, contact details, qualifications etc. and a listing of jobs held (with some detail on what work was done) usually provided in reverse order with the latest or current job role first. Such a document may have run anywhere from two to five pages and was sent in the physical mail (or perhaps as an attachment to an email) for an agency or recruiter to read and shortlist the best candidates for a face-to-face interview. So what has changed in the modern day?

Well, perhaps first and foremost, very few résumés run to more than two pages. In fact, most professional recruiters now suggest that a résumé should ideally be no more than one page and be designed to quickly capture the attention of the busy hiring agent or manager. The design of this résumé should now be very different too. Instead of merely listing jobs and qualifications as the prime focus, today’s résumé needs to quickly capture attention and meet the recruiter’s needs as closely as possible. The résumé below is therefore an example of how it may be written to achieve this.

Sample Résumé

Mary Sample’s résumé above has five key parts to it as follows:

  1. A clear heading statement in Bold type stating what job(s) Mary Sample is suitable for (with a sub-line to clarify exactly what is meant by these role(s) – and notice that her name and contact details are listed as a minor item under this.
  2. A quick summation of career highlights that support the claim that Mary has the ability to do the jobs she has nominated herself to be able to perform. Again notice that qualifications are a last line of this section, rather than the first.
  3. A listing of key career achievements. This is written in outcome-focused language to demonstrate that significant goals were attained in each position.
  4. A listing of key skills. This is not so much a traditional competency list (such as team player, good listening skills etc.) but a clear description of what Mary can be expected to do in the jobs for which she has nominated herself.
  5. Finally and very much last is a short career experience overview, providing a chronology of past jobs held and where (but with little other detail).

The whole purpose of this résumé presentation format is to get attention early and draw the reader or reviewer in. It is said that a recruiter spends 7-10 seconds on initially reviewing a résumé before disregarding it or committing to a few more seconds of reading further. This is why the sections provide greater depth in sections on a progressive basis and only provide minor details (like name, qualifications and job roles held) when a recruiter has probably already decided that this may be a person worth talking to. Don’t forget, the whole goal is to end up in the “possible” pile and then get an interview (which as often as not is now over the telephone initially).

It could be argued that even the above résumé example is too “busy” for some recruiters, so always be aware that keeping statements as short and succinct as possible is not only important today but will determine whether or not you even make it to the “maybe” list.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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