When I lecture on resume writing and Internet job searching, I have a PowerPoint slide I show that makes it clear what a resume IS and what it is NOT. Most people nod their heads knowingly when I mention things like: A resume is: 1) a tool to get you an interview, 2) your personal advertisement, and 3) a way to leave a lasting impression, etc. These statements still might surprise a few people, but most of the job seekers I work with have already accepted this premise and are working to “empower” their resumes to speak for them in all situations.
Yet when I mention the “NOTs” of resume writing, I often get the “furrowed brow, unblinking eyes, or the gaping mouth” effect from some audience members. It seems that people don’t realize that the resume is…
NOT your personal expression of frustration
I’ve read more than one resume where there was either specific text that was demeaning of a prior manager or the tone of the text was not complimentary of a prior work situation. I’m going to quote Thumper here…”If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all!” Don’t even hint at it. The recruiters and hiring managers want to read about your talents and expertise, not about the office politics at your prior job.
NOT a confessional booth of past mistakes or blunders
The recruiter is not your priest and your resume is not a confessional booth. We all screw up on occasions, but you don’t need to tell me about it in your resume (or the interview). In fact, in most cases, you never need to mention your mistakes and failures again to anyone during your job search. Keep the tone of your resume upbeat, positive, and enthusiastic. If you really think you need to express your problems, share them with a chaplain, a psychiatrist, or your mother…not your resume.
NOT just a list of tasks or job descriptions (boring!)
This is probably the biggest mistake of all. The difference between a resume success statement and a job task description is simple: a job description tells me what and maybe where/when, but the resume should expand this to why, how well, with what challenges, and who it benefited. Check out my posting on STAR statements for more specifics and remember…recruiters don’t post job resumes, so you shouldn’t write job descriptions.
NOT a compilation of irrelevancies regarding your prior career paths
Don’t get confused between reflection and relevance. A resume should be written in a forward-looking approach. If your new career goal is not 100% identical to your prior jobs, then eliminate things that aren’t relevant. Just because you earned an award for Salesman of the Month at Macy’s furniture department, it’s not relevant if you’re trying to get a job as a ditch digger, so don’t list it. Don’t confuse the recruiter with “reflective” items from your prior jobs if they aren’t “relevant” to your target job.
NOT a journal of your professional history over your entire life
Thirty-seven years. That’s how far back this guy’s resume went. Back to when he was a mail clerk in a law firm in the 1970s…and today he’s trying to get a job as a bank Vice President. First, I don’t need to know about every job you ever did. It detracts from your current story and the image you’re trying to present. Second, nothing existed before the Web was created. What I mean by that is, it’s very unlikely that anyone would need to know about what you did over 15-20 years ago. And if it was done prior to relatively modern technology (PCs, Internet, cell phones, texting, etc.), it probably dates you. It’s better to just let them think you might possibly be an old geezer rather than for your resume to confirm it.
NOT a repository of non-work related items (remember the “Hobby” section?)
In years gone by, it was common to list hobbies and other non-work related activities, such as church roles, soccer mom tasks, and your favorite baked goods. If you do list one of these, it needs to be relevant to your current job pursuit. For example, if you are applying for a sales position, the fact that you’re active in Toastmasters could be beneficial, but that you collect political campaign buttons doesn’t improve my opinion of you…in fact it might lessen my opinion if you get me too far off-track.
NOT a formal application document
No, you don’t need to list your formal name, you don’t need to list every job you’ve done over the last several years (but watch for gaps), you don’t need to identify references or provide salaries, and you don’t need to list every manager you ever worked for. The resume is a marketing document that sells you. For example, consider that in many cases your “formal” title with your prior company may not be exactly descriptive. I’m an “Associate”, but I list “IT Project Manager” as my title on my resume because it’s reflective of my role and it’s a title a recruiter can recognize. (Oh…on the actual job application you’ll need to provide the “formal” details, but a resume isn’t an application.)
NOT misleading or false or bragging
There is a tendency to “stretch” the truth on resumes. To say you “led” a project is valid even if you “co-led”. But to say you led when you just performed assigned tasks is misleading or even false. Your desire to make yourself more important can sometimes cross the line somewhere between lying and bragging. So take this simple test…would your boss or one of your prior co-workers disagree with how you wrote your resume?
NOT ever “finished”
In the days prior to word processing software and ink-jet/laser printers, a resume was written once and it was declared as “finished”. After which you printed it on off-white, heavy-bond paper and mailed it to the Whom-it-May-Concern people in response to jobs advertised in a weekend newspaper. Now, resumes are “living” documents on your computer that you can revise for possibly every different job you apply for. Keep the resume fresh. If it isn’t generating calls or e-mails, then change it. When you get that next job, update it. When you change roles within your current job, revise it. If it looks like the same one you wrote 5 years ago, refresh it.
Bottom Line: It’s NOT good to let a poor resume get your career search off-track. NOT everything you ever did in your career deserves a place on your resume. When you think a role or job you performed does NOT improve your chance for getting a job, then leave it off. If you NOTice that you have misleading statements in your resume, reword them. And remember that a resume needs to be relevant to your job search — it’s NOT a reflective document, but rather a forward looking advertisement of your skills and talents.
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See the Index of all my Job Hunter articles on my Backlog tab.