I went to a Private Career Fair the other day hosted by a large bank that failed in Seattle and received over 100 resumes with various backgrounds (executive, project management, IT, finance, legal, etc). Apparently this failed bank is using 30 or so career counselors and are providing this service to their x-employees as a layoff package to help them become employed again. In my opinion they’re doing them more harm than good. I almost called this post “Why YOU SHOULDN’T Use Your Company’s Career Transition Services“.

I would no longer like to receive resumes that don’t fit the minimum guidelines below: (hopefully the career transition folks will read this and update their own skills before giving bad advice to people!)

Structure & Grammar

  • Spelling: I didn’t see a lot of spelling errors on these resumes but I still review quite a bit of resumes with spelling mistakes. You can’t trust your spell checker because the word “Baked” and “Backed” are both valid but don’t read well in this sentence: “I baked up critical server data.”
  • Grammar: At the minimum please pick 1 tense and focus on it. If you’re going to write 1st person, stick to it; if you’re going to write 3rd person, please keep it consistent throughout the document. Also make sure you have no sentence fragments because Microsoft Word underlines them with green marks and it doesn’t look good when the hiring managers open the document. They don’t read well and are distracting.
  • Structure: If you don’t make it easy for hiring managers and recruiters to scan your resume, it’s not going to be read. I see a lot of paragraphs in resumes and to be honest with you, not many people read them. In this day and age where there is information overload, non-scannable resumes don’t have a chance. Make sure you have professional sections (education, career history, professional summary, etc), as well as bullets within the sections that make it easy to scan. In my Resume Writing 2.0 Seminar, I show different types of resumes and which are easier/harder to read.
  • Pages: Have a 1 or 1.5 page resume if you’re a college graduate, not if you have 5 or more years of experience. I would like to see at least 2 – 3 pages of quality content for senior professionals. If you’re in technology, you can even go up to 4 pages but no more than 4 pages is needed. When I was a hiring manager, I once got a resume that was 17 pages long! This person had every certificate that was offered in the market and more. We simply didn’t choose to interview him. While shorter resumes might have worked last year, they don’t work that well this year because of the number of submissions that recruiters get for one job posting. Longer resumes are able to optimize for keywords therefore appearing higher in the search results. Shorter resumes don’t get to enjoy this and therefore might not be found.
  • Contact Information: Please make sure you use a separate professional-sounding email address. Butterfly@email.com or cutie231@email.com isn’t appropriate on your resume. If you plan on relocating or job searching outside of your state, go ahead and drop your contact address because many resume search engines ignore out-of-state candidates. Please pick 1 or 2 phone numbers max. I once saw a resume with 4 contact numbers. Do they really need your 1-800/fax number?
  • Education: I get asked “Should my education be listed on the top or at the bottom of my resume?” Let me ask you a question. Is it a prestigious degree/school? Did you graduate with honors? Hopefully that will help you decide.

Content

  • Not Enough Information: I see so many resumes that are about 2-3 sentences long for 2-3 years of job history. Please tell me that you did more than 2-3 things at your previous position. What if your resume is already too long? Well, make sure those 2-3 sentences are the strongest sentences that are going to sell you to the new position.
  • Too much Information: While some candidates don’t put enough information on their resumes, some put paragraphs upon paragraphs! Ask yourself this one question. What is the purpose of your resume? The purpose should be to highlight your experience to the prospective employer and sell you to the new position. If you write too much information, you overload the recruiter/hiring manager and they’re inclined to review the next resume because yours is too much work! Also, too much info applies to candidates with a decade or more of experience that is trying to get credit or list every position they ever held. Your resume is not a job application; it’s a sales tool. Make sure it’s selling you properly. In my Advanced Resume Writing Workshop we first go over your personal branding, define your career objectives, and then we start to craft a resume that highlights that path.
  • Worthless Information: There are such things as “worthless information” on one’s resume. I saw a 1.25 page resume that highlighted a skill “Taught introductory Spanish lessons” back in the 1970s. The position he was applying for was accounting. I don’t see the relevancy here, do you? Also I see some candidates that put what they did as extracurricular activities that doesn’t show relevancy for the position they are applying for. Think of your resume as a marketing brochure. Ask yourself, what would you put on your brochure to get the customer to buy?
  • Worthless Skills: I was surprised to see so many professionals that listed Microsoft Word, Windows, Typing, etc as their top skills when they were mid to senior level professionals. If you’ve been a Project Manager for 5 years and use Microsoft Project, I’m going to assume you know how to use Excel and Word. If you’re going to highlight technical skills, please make sure you list the strong ones. For IT Professionals this can be a little different. We actually want to see how many technical skills you’ve been in contact with. Make sure to categorize them under programming languages, networking, operating systems, etc if you have enough under each bucket.
  • Objective: I get asked a lot, “Paul, should I have an objective on my resume?” I always respond “If it’s relevant to the position you’re applying for and it’s selling you to the job you’re applying for.” Objectives can come across as “This is what I want” vs. “Here is what I can do for you”. If you choose to put an objective, make sure it has the client in mind, not yourself. I personally avoid using objectives and instead rely on Professional Summaries. They’re cleaner and can highlight your expertise while keeping the client’s best interests in mind.
  • Personal Information: Coaching your son’s basketball team, being on “Who wants to be a millionaire“, likes knitting at night is information you should probably put on your Facebook/MySpace page instead not on your resume.

While I can go on and on about resume writing tips, I’m hoping that this will give you an opportunity to review the basics on your resume and make sure you aren’t making the mistake the masses are making. If you only take away one point from all of this, it should be: Your Resume is a Sales Tool. Make sure it helps you STAND OUT!

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Learn more about the author Paul Anderson.

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6 Responses to Resume Writing Basics

  1. Excellent blog Paul! Great ideas and information. Definitely takes it to the next level. I’m so glad you included information about “personal info”. I’d love to give you some information that you can share with you readers on “Personal Branding Through Appearance” – being intentional with how your wardrobe and appearance support your personal brand attributes and strengths instead of working against them. Being present is more than just showing up.

  2. Kenny Joe McMullen says:

    Dear Mr. Anderson,

    I regret that I want be able to attend this morning seminar due to a late arrival back into Seattle. Is there any way that I can be considered for another resume writing seminar? However, I will be in attendance at the interviewing seminar on tomorrow. Thank you for your time and consideration. Kenny Joe McMullen.

  3. These resume writings tips are very up to date reflecting a new trend of modern cyber based business world. Search, selection and hiring techniques have changed drastically in the last 7-9 years. There are very few “insider” info and guidelines reflecting on those changes. This one from Paul is one if not THE BEST I have ever incountered . I am changing my resume litereally as I write and learning from Paul personally how to do it at the best.
    I wish the same to you and GOOD LUCK!

  4. Bess Fontenot says:

    I am very impressed with your advice. Will any of your free seminars be available as podcasts?

    Many thanks!

  5. Yes, we will launching audio and video programs soon. Please stay tuned.

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