Start Backwards

Templates are useful for reading resumes, but not for writing them.

Here is Google's recipe for writing a resume:

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I take the opposite approach: choose the template last, not first!

A template makes it easy for reviewers to churn through hundreds of resumes, because the standardized formatting helps the reader digest the content.

This is what makes templates useful. Imagine if every other day your local newspaper came assembled in a totally random format. Half the time reading it would be finding the right page.

And similarly, when someone is reading your resume, you certainly don't want them to get lost on the page, especially if they're only taking 7.4 seconds to read it.

I should note that this concern to start with formatting is not necessarily misplaced; appearances do matter, and in the resume business, it's easy to judge a book by its cover. So formatting is important, and it's reasonable to fret over our templates.

The Template Trap

But if you start with a template first, you are inviting that template to shape and influence the words you choose to fill it. And as we will see, the words you use matter far more than the template you choose.

Here are the big pitfalls in the formatting-first approach:

  • Every time you want to change the content, you have to make sure it "fits" spatially into the template
  • When it doesn't fit, you now have two tasks instead of one: finish your sentence, and also wrestle with your format
  • Omitting content to please the template
  • Even worse, adding content just to please the template

In sum, you're spending less brainpower on what to say, and more time fussing over how it fits. You are effectively letting a piece of paper dictate how you speak.

In 1964, the media theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote:

We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.

Avoid the template trap: don't let your choices about how something should look affect the content you choose, especially at the beginning, before your thoughts about what you want to say are in their early stages. Before you lift a finger to type, throw the template away.

Don't come up with words to fit your carefully-chosen format. Instead, go find a good format for your carefully-chosen words.

We now have a clean slate to start thinking about what we want to say about ourselves.

Pop quiz: which of the following "new document" prompts should you choose?

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© 2020 Ryan Prinz