You can see it in the flood of new job listings. Campaigns and consultants, advocacy groups and Super PACs are hiring. Yet even in the political world, applicants continue to outnumber jobs.
With so many candidates to consider, recruiters these days are spending a mere six seconds on each application. To make a good impression, your resume needs to convey your strengths and accomplishments, display them in clear and engaging way, and obey the conventions of grammar, spelling, and style.
Here are some pointers for anyone who works in politics and public affairs that will help you look good on paper.
You’re resume needs a strong visual hierarchy with clearly denoted sections and consistent formatting throughout. Pay close attention to margins, alignment, tabs, spacing, typeface, font size and style. Don’t cram everything together; use white space to make it easier on the eyes. Colors, graphics, creative fonts, specialty paper and other design elements should be used sparingly, if at all. You don’t want your resume to look like a restaurant menu or make employers question your judgment. When in doubt, remember that clarity nearly always trumps creativity.
Trim the fat
In politics, brevity is a virtue. It’s best to limit resumes to one page until you’ve worked more than 10 years. But many candidates accidentally forget to delete the blank lines that run onto the following page. Sometimes they’ll leave a lone bullet point at the top of page two. More commonly, the bullet points are sloppily written: one or two words spill onto the next line, wasting valuable space. Not only do these mistakes signal poor attention to detail, they may raise questions about the candidate’s communication skills.
Mind the gap
Unexplained gaps in your work history raise red flags, even if they have legitimate explanations. It’s better to show you were doing something productive than to leave employers in the dark about a missing year. If you were unemployed for a lengthy stretch, list your volunteer, blogging or temping experiences. If you took time off to start a family, travel around the world or launch a business that didn’t work out, just say so. Many employers look favorably on such experiences. Even if an old job is no longer relevant to your career, keep it on your resume and forego the bullet points. Employers want to know what you were doing.
Show off your skills
At the bottom of your resume, be sure to include computer skills, foreign language abilities and professional certificates, but don’t let them take up more than a few lines. The only extra-curricular activities from college that political employers generally care about are internships and real-world campaign experiences. No, student government does not fit the bill. Only include volunteer activities, memberships and hobbies if you have space. They’re the garnish: they shouldn’t distract or subtract from the meal.
Last but not least: follow all directions. And remember, your resume is your foot in the door. Looking good on paper is just the first step to success.
David Rosen is the founder of First Person Politics, a political psychology hub for political strategists. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.