Brief, Boxed, and Branded – 3 B’s of Resumes

What’s that old phrase? “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” It’s another way of saying that getting someone to change from what they know or what they are comfortable with to something new or different is a real challenge. You might have heard something similar in your work environment — “But we’ve always done it this way!”

With resumes today, it’s much the same as the two sayings above…change is tough because it’s different, uncomfortable, and unfamiliar. I deal with this a lot when reviewing resumes. Some of the biggest offenders are:

  • Objective Line where you “want” something from the employer
  • References Available on Request — well of course they are!
  • Listing your job’s tasks without indicating success or results
  • Writing a cover letter that only regurgitates the resume
  • Resume full of your job history not relevant to my job posting
  • A one-size-fits-all 60’s styled resume that doesn’t fit anything in the 21st century

If you’re interested in shedding the leisure suit, thinking outside the box, grasping the bull by the horns (pick your favorite idiom), then let’s look at some things to help you avoid being seen as an “old dog” when someone picks up your resume.


The ultimate goal with a resume is to communicate your many talents very clearly to a person that will more than likely not give your resume more than a 30-second review. Your content, your writing style, your sentences must be brief. Think “Twitter” or “Texting” or “Instant Messages”. In many cases these messaging tools limit your text messages to about 140 characters. A whole segment of our society has oriented their reading and writing styles around this approximate constraint. How long is 140 characters?

 “Certified Project Manager with 10 years of experience directing IT integration projects, specializing in leading teams developing e-commerce” — That’s 140 characters

Yes, it’s a challenge to get your thoughts mashed down to 140 characters. You must learn to be succinct in your writing (repudiating verbosity), clarifying only what needs to be clarified (dwelling on relevancy), and leaving the reader with a modest grasp of who you are and what your talents are (clarifying your identity)!

When writing your resume, look at every sentence and ask yourself if you can say it smarter, quicker, better and more to-the-point. Keeping the sentences short, simple, and focused helps the reader grasp your ideas better. Oh…did I mention keeping your paragraphs very short? If a paragraph is over 3 sentences (or about 5 lines long on the printed page), then consider breaking it up.


Are you properly boxed?

When I work with job seekers that are trying to develop a network pitch (aka “30-second pitch” or “elevator pitch”), I find that I have to keep telling them to focus on a single career objective. There are very few firms that are looking for a “jack-of-all-trades” today — they want specialists. Similarly, you need to ensure your resume places you securely in a single career “box” that the hiring manager can recognize.

Your resume that says you are a project manager should emphasize the PM role throughout every job or company you’ve listed. Reorder your bullets under each job to always start and end with a PM task. Call out certifications or courses that are relevant to this “box”. Yes, you can list other tasks, but make sure they don’t detract from your primary role. I should be able to relate 60-90% of your career activities to your chosen role and thus to my job description.

Just to make it clear…you must be in a box, you must fill the box, and you want it to be a single box. I have to be able to see you in a role or position at my firm, so you need to be “boxed” effectively. Yet you need to make sure you don’t end up in more than one box on your resume, since that may cause confusion. Don’t confuse your flexibility to work at any job with my desire to find a perfect fit for my one job — occupy one box, fill the box, don’t overflow the box. (Yes, you can have multiple boxes or careers, but you need separate resumes and networking pitches for each…occupy one box at a time.)


When you look at a car or truck on the street, it’s seldom that you say, “There’s a nice sedan” or “That truck looks well designed”. You’re probably thinking, “There’s a nice Cadillac” or “That F-150 looks well designed”. We are quick to brand the things we look at. This holds true in the job search. A hiring manager or recruiter has envisioned what an ideal job candidate looks like. When your resume “drives by”, they try to put their “brand” on it to see if it fits. It’s similar to you looking at a car or truck and asking if it looks like a Cadillac or a Lincoln — or if it’s an F-150 or a Silverado.

You can influence this branding by focusing on the details in your resume, cover letters and references. It’s not just the Objective Statement or the Career Summary or the College Degree that tells a hiring managed how you’re branded, it’s the full suite of details that help confirm your role or expertise. For example, your LinkedIn profile that has an example of your work in a “project” section, or a blog where you write about your profession, or a local newspaper where you write a column, or where you’ve been a public speaker on your area-of-expertise.  Make sure your resume points to these links/items, or your cover letter lists your publications, or your professional references talk about your business speaking opportunities, etc. Branding goes beyond the resume, so “send” your resume readers to the other places that strengthens your brand!

Bottom Line: The three “B’s” of the Resume are Brief, Boxed and Branded. Readers are looking for you to get to the point and to be succinct in your writing, so keep your paragraphs, sentences, and resumes short and targeted. Focus your resume on one career, one job, or one role. This allows you to be clearly seen as fitting into the job “box” that the recruiter or manager is looking for. Moreover, ensure your resume has key items (such as certifications) or it points to other resources (blogs, publications, etc.) that extend your resume and help you develop a professional brand.

(Revised September 2014)

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