Stop the Insanity! A Call for Resume Format Standardization

People applying for jobs come in so many different facets in terms of what they offer in experience, skills, education, experience, and achievements that it is positively dazzling.

One thing I have learned in the years that I have been working with clients is that EVERYONE offers an employer several valuable skills… but the difficulty lies (in the employers’ eyes) in finding the best fit for the position for which they are hiring.

But there is a huge obstacle in the way.  Job applicants have a long way to go in understanding how to write their career credentials. Some of this can be attributed to simple lack of training in developing critical career materials.

But there is a bigger problem than that.

The real issue is that there are too many myths and conflicting arguments from the human resource side on how résumés should be developed.  One HR professional provides feedback to a job seeker to revise their document only to have a different HR person tell the candidate that they like the first format better.

Is it any wonder that job seekers are not only confused, but frustrated?

What we need is a proactive effort to help provide trusted advice on how applicants can reliably prepare their credentials in a way that employers can not only accept but also digest.

I’d like to issue a radical challenge to the human resources sector (Attention: Society for Human Resource Management leadership):  Come up with accepted résumé formats that HR folks can agree on that can be in turn be communicated to job seekers.  Think about how much EASIER everyone’s job would be if we all knew the expectations for writing career credentials.

  • Job seekers can have a go-to resource on how to prepare their materials
  • Career centers and one-stop job retraining centers can have up to date information on employer / HR expectations in developing résumés
  • Human resource professionals have a much easier time going through résumés because the format has become standardized

I know that there will be some folks who will say that how can we try to pound candidates into round holes- not everyone is going to fit.

What I am proposing isn’t a strict format, as in: You will write your résumé ‘this way,’  but instead, provide a SHRM-sponsored recommended format that provides human resource insight on what to include and where to include it on a résumé.

This would eliminate so much confusion among job seekers.  Heck, even some of the human resource clients that I have worked with who are looking for jobs are confused themselves on the formatting!


About the Author: Dawn Rasmussen, CMP, is the president of Pathfinder Writing and Career Services, where she provides results-oriented résumé, cover letter, and job search coaching services. She is the official “Get the Job” columnist for One+ Magazine distributed to over 26,000 meeting professionals worldwide, and, a job resource site for creative and marketing professionals.

Dawn is also a recognized career expert on – a top 10 world-ranked career advice blog – and a regular contributor to’s weekly meeting #tchat on Twitter.

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  • Dawn,

    I totally agree with you! As a Career Coach and Recruiter, with a background in HR, I have been advocating for resume standards for A VERY LONG TIME. I blog on this topic often. The point is easy: you may be an above average candidate, but that doesn’t mean you can write a resume. I think it is unfair to job seekers to be eliminated for something that is steeped in mystery and riddled with conficting opinions – their resume.

    Good luck.

  • I’ve heard of attempts to do this using XML or some other scheme to tag resume content, but I’m not aware of any method that’s become accepted as a standard. This is probably why keyword-based sorting systems have spread–they work with unstructured content. This also means that resume formatting isn’t the central problem–it’s a question of content, and both resumes and job descriptions are lacking. Perhaps standards for these would help employers and talent speak a common language…

  • Thank you for posting this – I completely agree. It is quite stressful – especially the one page or two page question, now that most resumes are seen online. I always hear different things, but my two page resume shows so many more accomplishments, so I use that as a PDF. But to other HR people, the two pages is a no-no! Applying is stressful enough; some more clarity would be nice!

  • Lmf

    Great idea..would save recruiters a lot of work and help candidates get through the maze faster.
    Linda Farley