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 Either they have been forced into the job market for the first time in many years and/or they have been receiving outdated advice.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 which 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 on to one page, or for that matter, even two pages. To properly display your experience, your accomplishments should not be limited by length. On the flipside, if your resume is approaching longer than 3 pages, you should seriously consider whether you are putting in filler or real accomplishments.
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 on-line). 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 business analyst.” 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 junior project management role but passes on you because they don’t think you have the desire to be more than a business analyst.
Better Strategy: Use a Summary instead. Bullet off 4 to 8 key skills or accomplishments which 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:
- Over 14 years of software development experience.
- Accomplished .NET Architect.
- Specialize in Microsoft technologies (i.e. VB.NET, C#, WinForm, XML & Web Services)
- Strong communication, software design and analysis skills.
- Ability to train and mentor other developers in new technologies.
- Strong documentation, database design, data modeling and web development skills.
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 context should be more powerful 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 most recruiters will view your resume.
Instead of using tables or boxes, use spaces and some CAPITIALIZATION 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 most people will never see that version. Here’s a commonly accepted format which looks good either way:
- 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.
B.S., Aviation and Transportation Management, Dowling College
MS Access, MS Excel, MS Word, MS Project, Windows operating system (95, 98, 2000, NT, XP, Vista), Unix operating system, VB.net
2/2008 – Present
MAJOR SOFTWARE COMPANY
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 a 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 opens the door for discrimination.
Furthermore, age discrimination is much more wide spread 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 30 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).
In addition, avoid using first person to describe yourself. In other words, eliminate the use of the “I” pronoun. Write the resume in third person as if someone was writing it for you. It comes across 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 your job hunting. They can make or break your chances at 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 by passing 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 an 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:
Note: People remember what they see first and last, so place your least important information in the middle of your bullet points.
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. By 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.
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About the Author:
Tim Howard is the founder of Fortify Experts (www.fortifyexperts.com) which helps companies find exceptional cybersecurity talent through executive search, permanent placement and project consultants. Howard has been leading technology staffing teams for over 15 years and is the founder of three other technology and staffing firms. He has degrees from Texas A&M University in Industrial Distribution and Marketing.