Your Three-Step Resume Checklist (and some templates too!)

Published June 26, 2017 by Steven Ruggles

“Is my resume okay?”

That is a question I hear a lot. It’s a fair question - people rarely get feedback on their job applications and without any feedback how are we going to know how to improve?

Below are some tips based on the thousands of resumes I’ve reviewed in the past, along with some clean templates so you have examples of stellar resumes. Because I work in the project delivery space, my examples and experience are all related to project manager, business analyst, and project coordinator resumes.

Clean Formatting

The first element to check for is the formatting. Inconsistent formatting, over-formatting, dates/bullets not aligned, insufficient white space are all weak points in a resume. Because employers often only glance at a resume for seconds, ensuring that formatting is consistent and aesthetically pleasing is important. This is especially relevant if your resume or cover letter claims strong attention to detail or Microsoft Word skills. Check off the following before you send your resume:

  1. Is the formatting consistent?: If the first former employer listed is bolded, ensure all former employers are bolded. If you use periods on one bullet, make sure all bullets have periods.
  2. Is the resume guilty of over-formatting?: (limit use of different sizes, bold, and italics). All one font - this should go without saying. Generally, the strongest resumes I see have three groups of format (with each group being a combination of size, bold, italics). One for headings, another for subheadings, and a third for bullets or exposition/summaries.
  3. Are the dates/bullets aligned?: the document needs to look professional and inviting. If the start and end dates of previous positions are not all aligned, it creates an obstacle to the reader and illustrates a lack of attention to detail.
  4. Is there sufficient white space?: If your resume is a block of text, it doesn’t look inviting to read. Do the work for your reader - be concise.
  5. Does the content fill the page?: Great resumes use the full page. Whether the resume is one page or multiple pages, be sure that the full page is used. Sometimes this just isn’t possible, but try not to leave one little line hanging on another page (unless it is its own section, like “references”.
  6. Do sections go for multiple pages?: Ensure that each block of experience ends on the page it started on - even if this means a little extra white space at the bottom.

In the example below, note the use of white space, formatting of the dates, ending of one section at the bottom of the page - it all comes together to create a document that is easy to read.

Good White Space Example Resume

Good Spelling and Grammar

Weak spelling or grammar errors are more common than you would think. A job application takes around an hour if the candidate is focused. That time is wasted if the resume demonstrates weak written communication skills.

Use spell check and always have someone else look over your application. Keep in mind that the most common mistakes are: names, dates, and numbers. Ensure that you don’t apply with a resume claiming to have a starting employment date after the ending date. It’s also not a good sign if you spell the hiring manager’s name incorrectly!

The other easy thing you can do is install and use Grammarly. It’s free and it checks for grammar and spelling mistakes for you. There’s a free download for MS Office as well.

Proper Bullet Points

Weak bullets are a discussion of their own in this post. The bullets are the meat of the resume. If a hiring manager is reading the bullets, then they’re already interested (they want you to pass the resume screening just like you want to get that interview). Check your bullets for the following features:

  1. Does each bullet begin with a strong action word? Here’s a list of strong action words for resumes.
  2. Does your resume quantify the value you provided? An employer pays an employee something of quantifiable value, so it’s fair for the candidate to be expected to quantify the value they bring to the employer. $’s and %’s should be common in your bullets. Increase engagement across your employer’s social channels by 15%? Sourced $5.0M of new projects? Be sure that your resume makes these facts obvious to the reader.
  3. State the value the business/organization received. Sometimes you can’t quantify the value you provided but you still want to identify your achievement. Make it clear how your employer benefited from your work.

Bonus: Templates

It takes some work to make your resume stand out and there’s no use trying to recreate the wheel here. To that end, VisualCV has some very well formatted project management resume templates (here, here, and here). Use these templates as a guide or check out VisualCV.

A good resume is something you’ll spend very little time on during your lifetime, but it can provide a lot of value, so take the time to make it great.

And remember - stay focused on the parts of your resume that will get you to the interview room. Everything else is just noise.

Did I miss anything? What's your biggest resume faux pas?