Avoid These 6 Resume Writing Myths

In my daily interactions with job seekers, I am amazed at the inability that most people have in writing effective resumes.  Although, many times it is not really their fault.  Either they have been forced into the job market for the first time in many years and/or they have been receiving outdated advice.

Today’s job searching and recruiting techniques are very different from even a few years ago.  Therefore, if you have been out of the market for more than 3 years, it is time to rethink your resume approach.

Here are several Myths about writing resumes that continue to surface.  By dispelling these Myths, hopefully, it will help job seekers break the “old” way of looking at their resumes.  I have also provided strategies to help Job Seekers put a fresh spin on their resumes so they are noticed by more recruiters and make a lasting impact on hiring managers.

Myth #1.  Resumes must not exceed one (or two) page/s:  

It’s an old myth that 10 or 20 years of experience should be squeezed onto one page, or for that matter, even two pages.  To properly display your experience, your accomplishments should not be limited by length.  On the flip side, if your resume is approaching longer than 3 pages, you should seriously consider whether you are putting in filler or real accomplishments. A resume should never exceed 4 pages.

Better Strategy:   It is better to have a well laid out 3-page resume with sufficient ‘white space’ between roles than it is to try to squeeze it into two pages.  Nowadays, most resumes are viewed electronically (or online).  Therefore, page breaks are also less relevant than they would be on hard copies.

Myth #2.  Resumes should start with an Objective: 

Objectives limit your possibilities.  What if your objective says you “…strive to join an exciting company as a Security Manager.”  First off, you could get passed over because a Fortune 500 considers itself “conservative” and not “exciting.”  Secondly, another company may think you are qualified for a CISO role but passes on you because they don’t think you have the desire to be more than a Manager.

Better Strategy:   Use a Summary instead.  Bullet off 4 to 6 key skills or accomplishments that demonstrate the value you could bring to any company. 

Start each bullet with the number of years or a strong action word so you will immediately leave a lasting first impression.  Let the employer or recruiter envision where you could fit within their organization.  After reading your summary, they should know who you are without reading further.  However, never list more than 8 bullet points.  The more you list, the less relevant the Summary becomes.

Here’s an example of an effective Summary:

SUMMARY

  • Dynamic and results-oriented Executive Leader with over 18 years of hands-on experience leading high-performing information security programs.
  • Proven success in executing advanced security strategies for industry-leading organizations, optimizing performance, and managing budgets exceeding $100 million.
  • Recognized for steering global teams, providing decisive leadership, and driving excellence in software and hardware administration, system management, and quality assurance within high-profile enterprises.
  • Adept at strategic planning, cybersecurity strategy, governance, risk management, compliance, and fostering a culture of innovation.

Myth #3.  Use your Microsoft Word skills to dress up your resume: 

While Microsoft Word is a powerful tool to show off your creativity.  In general, a resume is not the place to start using your right brain … unless of course, you are applying for a creative director position at an advertising agency.   A resume is a left-brain activity.  Keeping it simple and clean allows your accomplishments to stand out.   Your content should be more powerful and impactful than your design.

In addition, with today’s technology, recruiters and companies use data mining engines which usually strip all formatting from your resume.  Therefore, your resume may look great when you send it out, but when corporate recruiters see it without the fancy formatting (tables, lines, columns, frame boxes, background colors, etc.) they can’t make heads or tails of it because the different sections (dates, job experiences, skills lists, etc.) are all mixed together.  If it is not easy to read, they will move on to the next one.

Better Strategy:  Open up the Microsoft application Notepad which is usually found under the Accessories folder in your Start Menu. (Note:  Do not use Wordpad, Word or any other document formatting tool).  Copy and paste your whole resume into Notepad.  Now how does it look?  This is how many recruiters will view your resume.

PRO TIP:  Instead of using tables or boxes, use spaces and some CAPITALIZATION to make words stand out.  It is also best to left justify your entire resume because that is how it may end up.  Feel free to bold and underline to dress up the resume you send out but, just remember many recruiters will never see that version.  Here’s a commonly accepted format that looks good either way:

Resume of
MICHAEL SMITH

       Email:   msmith@_____.net
       Phone:   888.555.5555

SUMMARY

    • Over 9 Years working with energy based commodities.
    • Strong familiarity with energy trading & scheduling functionality
    • 8 Years as a functional & system testing analyst on trading systems.
    • Experienced in providing business analysis and configuration of base data in test environments.
    • Strong communication, analysis and problem solving skills.

EDUCATION
B.S., Aviation and Transportation Management, Dowling College
Oakdale, NY

COMPUTER SKILLS
MS Access, MS Excel, MS Word, MS Project, Windows operating system (95, 98, 2000, NT, XP, Vista), Unix operating system, VB.net

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE
2/2008 – Present
MAJOR SOFTWARE COMPANY
Houston, Texas

Quality Assurance Analyst
An industry leader developing software utilized by energy and financial firms.

    • Authored Gas Scheduling test cases to be utilized as part of the manual and automation test suites.
    • Authored Power Scheduling test cases to be utilized as part of the manual test suite
    • Periodically perform peer reviews of test cases written.
    • Utilization of ITrack defect tracking system software, to submit and resolve application defects

3/2001 – 2/2008
ABC FINANCIAL INC.
New York, New York

Quality Assurance Analyst
A leading global software company, developing risk management software for financial and commodities trading.

    • Authored test cases to be utilized as part of the manual and automation test suites.
    • Manual regression and integration testing performed on windows and Unix platforms.
    • Performed client support duties, including testing bug fixes and resolving client issues.

Myth #4:  Personalize your Resume: 

Resumes should be treated as business-to-business document.  Keep it on that level.  With very few exceptions, most companies are looking to hire a productive employee, not a family member.  Adding in personal information such as marital status, number of children, age, hobbies, etc. are all potential areas of scrutiny and even possibly open the door for discrimination.

Furthermore, age discrimination is much more widespread than anyone will admit.  Whether it’s too young (which you can’t do much about) or too old, your age will be one of the first things the reviewer will try to determine.  While employers are not allowed to publish an age requirement, many will discuss it with recruiters when they are describing the “perfect profile.”  Unfortunately, many well-qualified candidates never even receive a phone call because they are eliminated during “age profiling.”

Better strategy:   Do not include graduation dates unless it was within the last 3 years.   You may also want to consider eliminating any roles that are more than 20 years ago.   Fewer companies will make a quick age judgment against you.  Finally, remove any personal references like family, hobbies, etc. unless it is specifically relevant to the role you are seeking (i.e. an Aeronautical Engineer who builds experimental planes as a hobby).

PRO TIP:  While you should include your hometown, leave off your home address.   Recruiters may make a quick judgement on you based on your location.  You may be willing to drive 30 miles or relocate to a new area for this position but will not get that opportunity if a recruiter makes a judgement call that it would not be in your best interest.  In addition, recruiters can map out your address and may make a judgement call based on the type of house or neighborhood you live in.  Maybe your house looks too nice and they think you wouldn’t be willing to take a Controller position instead of a similar CFO position you were previously in, or vice versa, the recruiter may see on Google Maps, that you own an old pickup truck and a modest house and may think you are not successful enough to be the type Executive they are trying to hire.

PRO TIP:  In addition, avoid using the first person to describe yourself.  In other words, eliminate the use of “I” & “my” pronouns.  Write the resume in the third person as if someone were writing it for you.  It comes across as much more professional.

Myth #5:  Include References or even “References upon Request”:  

Protect your references.  Never blindly allow your references to be called without your approval.  Treat your references as the most valuable asset you have when you are job hunting.  They can make or break your chances of landing that perfect job. 

When references are provided along with your unsolicited resumes there is no obligation to you or your references.  Recruiters are infamous for bypassing the applicant and finding someone on your reference list they prefer to talk with more than you.

As a general guideline, each reference should be used a maximum of three times per job search.  You only have so many ‘credits’ before a reference will become irritated for speaking up for you.  Don’t share references with anyone unless you are asked for references and you are willing to ‘burn’ one of your credits for the job opportunity.

Adding “References upon Request” is an obvious statement.  Employers know they can get them when asked.  There is no reason to waste space by putting the statement in your resume.

Myth #6:  Use complete sentences. 

A resume should be a summary of your accomplishments.  Brevity is key to getting your points across as quickly as possible.  Studies have shown, hiring managers and recruiters, will typically make initial screening decisions on resumes within the first 10 seconds of looking at it.  If reviewers don’t see what you can bring to the table immediately, you may miss out on the opportunity.  Long paragraphs with accomplishments buried within them can easily be overlooked.

Better Strategy:  Use concise sentences.  Avoid large paragraphs. Use short sentences that provide small, digestible pieces of information.  Bullet point wherever you can and use “Action” words to start every statement.

Sample Action Verbs:

Achieved Added Consolidated
Coordinated Created Developed
Designed Directed Eliminated
Established Evaluated Expanded
Generated Identified Increased
Maintained Managed Negotiated
Organized Performed Planned
Provided Purchased Reduced
Saved Simplified Streamlined
Strengthened Structured Supervised
Trained Transformed Utilized
Verified Worked Wrote

PRO TIP:  People remember what they see first and last, so place your least important information in the middle of your bullet points.

Conclusion:

Every recruiter and hiring manager has an opinion on how to write a resume.  Therefore, you may see many variations and differing opinions on this topic.  However, by breaking these Myths you will be better prepared to take advantage of how your resume is viewed.  Keeping the hiring manager focused on your resume longer, means you are more likely to get a call for an interview.  The rest will be up to you.

Other Job Hunting Resources:

Job hunting is a full-time job itself and companies are hiring.  Within these articles, you will find ways to be more strategic and productive, than just applying on-line.  We hope you find this helpful.  Your diligence and technique will outperform your luck.  Good hunting.

About Tim Howard

Tim Howard is the founder of 5 technology firms including Fortify Experts which helps companies create higher-performing teams through People (Executive Search and vCISO/Advisory consulting), Process (NIST-based 3rd party security assessments and Leadership Coaching), and Technology (security simplifying solutions).

How I can help you:

  1. Join over 30,000 People Getting Free Security Leadership Improvement Advice – Follow me on LinkedIn. www.linkedin.com/in/timhoward
  2. If you want to raise the expertise or performance level of your security team, Contact me.
  3. If you don’t have a Clear Picture of Your Cybersecurity Maturity Level or Need a Strategic Improvement Roadmap Contact me.
  4. Join our interactive Monthly CISO Forums.