Writing a Great Resume

Everyone knows the more common mistakes made on a resume, such as overlooking typographical errors. But there are 10 mistakes rarely talked about, yet equally crucial. Avoid these resume ‘don’ts’.

1. One size does not fit all. You may not be able to get away with just one resume. Most job seekers with at least five years’ experience will need two resumes, perhaps even three. Why so many? With five or more years of experience, chances are you can comfortably land a job in more than one field or industry. You don’t want to confuse a potential sales employer with irrelevant technical experience.

Think of your resume as a 15-second television commercial. You simply don’t have the time to talk about anything other than what is most important. Chances are, whoever views your resume will scan it for mere seconds before flipping to the next “show”.
2. There is no one ‘right’ way. Some of your friends and colleagues will brandish some favored, dog-eared book written by an employment guru or other well-known expert in resumes and job hunting, quoting from it as if it were a holy book. “You should never do this,” they will say, or “Don’t you know? According to so-and-so, you should always . . .” The reality is that the only opinion that matters is your future employer’s. Maintain common standards of what looks nice — keep it clean, neat, and free from errors — but pay more attention to your industry and the position you desire than any job-hunting expert.

You can deal with those friends and colleagues, by the way, by fighting fire with fire. Show them books that offer multiple possibilities, such as 202 Great Resumes by Jay Block.
3. Don’t listen to your friends. Job-hunting, especially in the corporate world or in hospitality jobs often puts us in an insecure frame of mind. We’re scared. We feel judged. We may have been laid off or fired, further puncturing our ego. So it’s natural for us to turn to the people we love and trust the most, our family and friends, and ask their opinion of our resume. But this is a huge mistake. Unless your family and friends are in the same industry as you, and seek the exact same or similar positions, they don’t really know what your potential employer is going to expect. Instead, they will provide feedback based on their own careers and work experience, which may be completely contrary to yours.

Even if they have the right credentials, ask yourself: When did they last have to send out a resume? If their last resume was done on a typewriter, they don’t really understand the current job market in a way that is helpful to you.

Take a deep breath, and work up the nerve to ask a mentor or trusted colleague who understands your industry, your desired position, and the job market in that field.
4. Don’t put your resume on a pedestal. Your resume will not get you a job. Your resume is one tool of many that, when taken together, should provide you with a job offer, hopefully in a field you care about. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put a lot of effort into your resume, but don’t overlook other important factors — namely, your appearance, your attitude, your ability to be punctual, and how you conduct yourself. A jerk who shows up late (albeit with a winning resume) is still a jerk who shows up late.
5. Don’t ignore the resume recipient. While it is obvious that your resume is going to potential employers, you need to think about who, specifically, your resume will be read by and what they expect. For example, larger companies will probably have a human resources generalist read your resume first. This human resources person may be told to look for specific key words or phrases, but they won’t necessarily know every bit of esoteric jargon. That means you need to write your resume in such a way that it clearly shows your intended industry and position to a specialist and a generalist alike. While the human resources contact is the generalist, the specialist is the last step in resume review — your likely future supervisor, who will expect to see that you know what you should know.

6. Don’t ignore formatting. Leave the 20th century behind. Remember typewriters? If you do, you remember that we only had an underline and capital letters to make things distinctive. Well, we have so much more than that now, and you know what? Underlines and capital letters aren’t really that attractive. Unless your industry deems it standard, avoid underlining and all capital letters. To highlight and separate text, use boldface type, shading, and white space instead. For email resumes, stick with the white space, since formatting comes out differently in each email system.

7. Don’t court ageism or sexism. It is illegal for employers to ask you many questions about your personal life, such as marital status. Leave the year you earned your degree off your resume unless you need to show what you did during that gap in your employment or you just graduated. Don’t mention kids, spouse, or other family members. These details put employers in an awkward spot — they often can’t ask about them, but there they are on your resume. And, you have no way of knowing whether the person interviewing you considers it a positive or a negative. Stick to business.

8. Don’t make it sound like you barely work. Forget the activities and outside interests unless there is a direct tie to the position you seek. Even volunteer activities need to be measured carefully — one or two may be OK (it shows you are community-minded, after all), but a laundry list of charitable causes may make it seem like you merely come to work to rest between volunteer stints.

9. Don’t make it too long or too short. Academic resumes will be longer than those for most sales positions. A sales resume three pages long is going to come off as being untrue, unedited, or the work of an egomaniac. You should know what your industry expects, and stick to it. Don’t try to inflate your experience, and eschew pedestrian descriptions — if your experience is clerical, you can say you did “filing” rather than using three sentences to describe it. Think about what is truly crucial, what you did that really made you stand out. (Again, think of your resume as a 15-second commercial, not a 3-hour documentary.)

10. Don’t be surprised or offended if your resume doesn’t matter. People don’t read a lot. (If you made it through this article, you’ve probably read more than 80 per cent of the population today!) Many jobs are not advertised, and every person you meet could be the person who can recommend you for a job. That means you may never submit a resume, ever — or do so only after the fact, as a formality. Don’t jeopardize this route to a new job by plastering a resume into someone’s hand when it simply isn’t wanted.

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