For years, resumes were my life. As a marketing consultant, I not only submitted hundreds of resumes to clients but also maintained a stable of different resumes for all occasions. As a manager, I’ve waded through hundreds of the things. As a mentor, I’ve helped people write their resumes, and as a freelancer, I’ve written resumes for pay. From these experiences, I’ve learned that the average person’s ideas about resumes can be as strange and misguided as celebrity gossip.
The trouble is, unless you understand the conventions of resume writings, you are unlikely to write an effective one. Here are the most common misunderstandings I’ve run across — misunderstandings that, far from landing a job, may ensure that you aren’t even considered:
A resume will get you a job
Occasionally, people are hired on the strength of their resumes. However, more often, they are interviewed because of their resumes. A resume is really the second filter for applicants (the first is the cover letter).
Instead of thinking of a resume as an end in itself, think of it as the equivalent of a marketing ad. aimed at those with the power to hire. And, as with any ad, a resume should be tailored to its audience. That’s why taking the time to write and proofread a resume and format it in a professional manner is so important. A professional-looking resume suggests that the person it concerns is competent and business-like, the qualities that any hirer wants to see.
Your resume will be carefully read
Have you any idea of how many resumes may arrive for a single position, especially if it’s advertised in major newspapers or on the job-boards? Many companies can’t possibly afford to have anyone read every single resume. Just to survive, they have to develop techniques to weed out as many as 90% of all the resumes they receive.
If your cover letter is poorly written or suggests a lack of experience, at the most your resume will be scanned. It might not even be read at all. If your resume is poorly organized or relevant information is hard to find, only part of it will be read.
Think of the hirer as someone who is over-worked and has a low boredom threshold. This image is not very fair, but it should help you focus on the main goal of getting the hirer to read your resume all the way through. The easier your resume makes it for hirers to find the information they want, the greater the chances that they will read all the way through – and, as a result, invite you for an interview.
A resume is an objective job history
A complete and utter job history may be possible – and relevant – when you are just out of high school. However, people switch jobs so often today that, before you have been working for five years, becomes impractical.
Even more importantly, hirers are only interested in the parts of your resume that help them make a decision about you. Put in too many details, and they may miss the relevant ones.
A resume should be truthful and not exaggerate your experience. But nobody expects you to give all your history. Today, when nobody has a job for life, that’s just not practical.
It’s not a matter of honesty so much as the need to be selective. Think of the need to be selective as a chance to prove your organizational and communication skills.
A resume is a static document
Rather than writing a single resume and using it for every job application, you will probably land more interviews if you take the time to customize your resume for each job. Depending on the job, you may want to mention different skill sets, or even to describe the same job differently. For instance, if you were Manager of Sales and Marketing at a company, you might have one job description that emphasized your sales duties and and another for your marketing responsibilities.
Some job hunters maintain several different resumes, each with a its own emphasis. Another way to streamline customization is to use either the macro or autotext features of a word processor to store a variety of customizations in the same document. In this way, you can conveniently store variable content and quickly produce a custom resume. However, be sure to proofread each custom resume before printing it, just in case you’ve duplicated content.
A resume has an ideal number of pages
Ask each hirer how long your resume will be, and you’re bound to get different answers. Some will tell you a single page, citing Donald Trump as an example. Others will say two, or that it doesn’t matter.
The point is, no one agrees on the ideal length for a resume. The most agreement you’ll get is that if your resume is longer than four pages, you may want to take a long look at its content and layout. Yet, even then, some hirers might make an exception for exceptionally absorbing material.
Before you start fiddling with fonts and margins in order to squeeze your resume into an arbitrary length, ask the hirer what their preferences are. Alternatively, consider adding an executive summary, a single page description of your qualifications.
Whatever you do, think twice about removing content. Otherwise, you might wind up with a resume that is so general that you look unqualified for anything.
A resume is more effective if it includes keywords
Some larger companies scan resumes, then use software to look for keywords that cover some of the skills that the position required. This practice has led some job hunters to include a keywords section in their resume, sometimes in white letters so that they are invisible to humans.
Unfortunately, this practice is so easily abused that a prejudice against it has set in among many hirers. Many may actually resent keywords as an attempt to game the system.
To avoid this reaction, study job descriptions and try to fit the keywords naturally into your resume, so you don’t cause any resentment.
Education should come first in the resume
Since you want to gain the attention of hirers, the most relevant information should come first in your resume. If you are just out of school, that information may be your education. However, the older you are, the more likely that your education will be less important than your job experience. For this reason, experienced job applicants usually list education near the end of the resume. Some very experienced applicants even leave it off altogether.
A resume should include reasons for leaving a position
Forty years ago, some resume templates included this information. It was a different era, when many people wanted the same job for life, and switching jobs seemed unusual enough to require an explanation.
Today, however, people hold many jobs in their lifetimes, and the reasons for leaving a particular one are less important. Anyway, many hirers are more interested in what you can bring to the job than in such details.
Still, you should have explanations ready, just in case a hirer asks. But, whatever you do, don’t imitate one man I knew, who mentioned that he had left two positions after taking his employer to the labor relations board – then wondered why he never got an interview,
A resume should never include hobbies or interests
Hirers seem divided on whether they want such personal information on a resume. However, so long as it only takes up a few lines, such a heading can’t do much harm.
Moreover, in some cases, it can do you good, so long as you are selective about what you include. For instance, if you are a graphic artist, the fact that you design fonts shows another side to your skills that your work experience might not show. Also, some hirers like to see volunteer work listed, in the belief that such a background shows a team player with solid values.
Listing your interests also gives interviewers some talking points, a way to make both of you feel comfortable. For example, on my own resume, I list my interests as “Running; parrots; punk folk music; history, science fiction, and 19th century novels; Linux.” Almost every interviewer has asked me what I mean by “punk folk,” which gives us something to talk about.
Occasionally, too, you’ll find some common ground with the interviewer. I once got a job after a forty minute conversation about parrots that the interviewer and I had known. We didn’t spend five minutes talking about the job, but, by then it didn’t matter.
Understanding how resumes are used and written doesn’t guarantee that you will write a good one. You could note everything I say here, and still write an ineffective resume. However, at least you will avoid some of the more common errors – and that’s a start. The rest is up to your planning and ingenuity.
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