Resume Tips and Misconceptions to Make Writing Easier

Amy Kulisheck
February 3, 2017

Happy February!

Now that you’ve had a month to work on your New Year’s resolution and get serious about finding a new job…How is it going? What’s holding you back? Is WRITING your resume your biggest roadblock to launching your job search? 

For many, just the thought of writing or updating a resume is overwhelming. Believe me, understand your frustration. I don’t love working on my own resume and I have A LOT of conversations about resumes with friends, family, casual acquaintances, and business prospects who are actively seeking a job, thinking about launching a job search, or wanting to get ready in case an opportunity presents itself. I have these conversations because part of what I do is help people craft, design, and present their skills and experiences in the form of resumes.

But, even with my livelihood at stake, I feel I need to put this tidbit out there….

No resume – no matter how good – will ever get you a job.

Resumes are a tool, just one of the many tools, you will need as you apply to and interview for a new job. I will even go so far to say that, ultimately, resumes are probably not even the most important tool. Networking and interviewing skills are much more critical as you go through the process. That said, 99% of you will still need a resume – a good resume – to support your job search. Therefore, it is time to stop feeling intimidated and time get to writing or updating…..

There are plenty of articles about the 47-some-odd rules about what you definitively should or should not include on your resume. Inevitably, when you read the comments at the end of any of those articles you will see that most people completely agree on about 80% of the advice and are all over the place with respect to the final 20% – regardless of whether commenters weigh in as coaches, recruiters, or fellow job seekers.  What does that mean?  Simply that there are some best practices out there (most of which you probably already know and are non-controversial); but there are few hard and fast rules about the elements of a resume that end up stressing you out.

Now that I have laid it out there that there are no actual rules (which half of you will find freeing and the other half will find frustrating), you are probably wondering what I AM planning on talking about in this article…..

I’d like to give you guidance that will help you RELAX and feel less intimidated about working on your resume

I have 3 Misconceptions and 5 Tips to consider when working on your resume(s) that are based on my experience from working with job seekers, placement professionals, and hiring managers. Hopefully, after some consideration, this advice – while providing no answers – will ease a bit of your anxiety about creating and updating your resume, so you can get started with your actual search.

Let's start with the Misconceptions:

1) Your resume should be tailored to your dream job.
Think about it – unless you are actually applying to your dream job,  a rule like this makes no sense. Your resume should be tailored to the job you are applying for! Use the job posting to focus on the key skills, experiences, and capabilities the employer is seeking in an ideal candidate – highlight those on your resume. A lot of clients ask about “keywords” (which I’m pretty sure many think are magical codes that, if inserted properly, will land you an interview) but I encourage them to think of language. I tell them to peruse the employer’s web site, listen to their analyst calls, and read their white papers to get a sense of how they refer to different functions, priorities, and measures and mimic that language to describe their own experiences and qualifications. This demonstrates an understanding of culture and helps the employer envision you at the company, doing the job they need to get done. If you are working on your resume without a specific application in mind, starting with your dream job in mind is not a bad place to start. Find job postings that are in your desired industry, function, or company to use as a model, but recognize you’ll need to do some further editing when it does come time to apply for a specific position.

2) Your resume needs to convey everything you’ve done or achieved.
Does the marketing manager care that you sold popcorn at the local movie theater 12 years ago? When you first started your career early jobs demonstrated initiative and some semblance of responsibility and professionalism that is no longer necessary to convey when you’ve been in in workforce for a number of years. Unless your early jobs demonstrate experiences or skills relevant to the job posting, the employer is not interested in reading about them. The caveat to this advice is, as I’m sure you already know, don’t omit jobs that result in an unexplained employment gap. Instead, always be sensitive to the amount of space you allocate to jobs with little relevance to your desired position. In fact, in most previous jobs, you’ve had many responsibilities, duties, and accomplishments that are not relevant to a given application. A perfect example would be a Financial Manager who started her career as an Analyst or Customer Service Representative at the same company and has been promoted numerous times to get where she is today. The specifics of her activities in the earlier positions are likely not as important as the fact that she was promoted. She should select the 1-3 bullets for each that give context to the earlier role and/or have relevance to her desired position rather listing 7 bullets that cover all responsibilities and achievements. Be selective and focused in what you choose to include on your resume.

3) Creative formatting will make your resume stand out and convey personality.
Oh goodness, where do I start? If it makes you feel better, add a little color, use a little flair on those lines you’ve chosen to separate your sections, or use a more interesting bullet shape. But trying to make your resume “stand out” among the stacks an employer will be receiving is more likely to have it dismissed out of hand, especially in companies that established and risk-averse HR departments (who often do the first round of screenings). Instead, my suggestion for clients is to focus on two things: 1) Clear and logical presentation (layout, formatting, and language) and 2) Impressive qualifications. Employers don’t spend a lot of time reading resumes – at least for the first cut – I’ve read as low as 6 seconds per resume. Creative formatting slows a reader down. Ask yourself, do you want a recruiter to spend 1/12th of the time on your resume noticing the majestic blue header or your experience with statistical software? Make sure your creativity isn’t simply distracting. Design your layout and formatting to naturally guide readers to the information they are looking for and choose concise language they understand without hesitation.

And now for some Tips:

1) Think about your content from the perspective of your reader.
Stop thinking about what you want to tell the reader and start considering what the prospective employer wants to know about you. That small shift in how you think about what should or should not be included on your resume, or even how you phrase your accomplishments can make a big difference. Eliminate company-specific jargon, spend more time on impact and results. Instead of saying, “Presented and discussed PowerPoint of south-eastern territory results to the CFO and sales advisory task force at annual sales retreat” Focus on what is relevant to a future employer, “Presented sales data to top management and led discussion to identify key areas of growth”. The first statement accurately describes what you prepared for and delivered, the second example highlights your impact by eliminating employer-specific details that distract from the transferable skills a new employer would need.

2)  Understand why every bullet point, phrase, or statement is on your resume.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that regardless of whether you choose a 1-page resume or longer, you still can’t convey all your skills, experiences, and qualifications in this one document. Therefore, why have ANYTHING on it that does not have a specific purpose? The second reason is that when you do go in for an interview, the primary source of information your interviewer has is your resume. Most of your questions will be based on or in reaction to something on your resume. Be ready to talk about or defend anything you include!

3) When you are “done” with every revision, read it OUT LOUD!
First, the word “done” is in quotations because, as you’ve probably figured out, you are never really “done” with your resume. Each new job, role, volunteer work, or certification merits an update your resume. Every time you apply for a different job, some nuance or bullet list should be updated to tailor your resume closer to the position’s requirements. With all these small and large changes comes the opportunity for errors. Even if you simply “copy-and-paste”, “drag-and-drop”, or “delete-just-one-little-thing” – there is a chance for a mistake. Or worse, you will spend time agonizing over the perfect way to phrase a particular bullet so it conveys the importance and impact completely and, you will going back and forth about whether to say “and” or use a semicolon, or what order to list your bullets... In that process you will read and re-read the bullet(s) in your head so many times, you won’t notice the “and and” which is split across two lines. Guess what... a recruiter WILL notice it. Reading your resume out loud slows down your brain so that you have time to process each statement like you are reading it for the first time. You will realize that “perfectly phrased” bullet is a bit jumbled and long and you will catch the “and and” before it gets you eliminated from consideration.

4) Listen to any and all resume advice, but make changes selectively.
Yep, even everything I have written above – feel free to ignore whatever doesn’t feel right to you. People have a wide range of ideas about what makes a “stand out” resume and what is “run of the mill”, or even “bad”. Few rules are universally “correct” and you won’t have any idea what the person who ends up reading your resume actually prefers. Remember that, at the end of the day, your resume is YOURS, so own it! You have to be comfortable walking someone through it and explaining what you’ve described.  Most advice  on how to approach a resume is well-intentioned and often might even right to some extent; but you can’t follow everybody’s advice all the time. Plus, the more you network, and share your resume with friendly and helpful connections, the more constructive viewpoints you will gather. So, after you politely accept the advice, ask yourself, “Is the advice based on personal preference or an industry standard? Will it create a better logical flow for the reader? Will it further tailor your resume to a specific company or position?

Hopefully, some of this guidance will help reduce your resume anxiety. Getting the document “finalized” will help you feel confident and prepared to go out and do the real work of finding a new job: Networking. Now… if only there were some tip on how to reduce anxiety about Networking….