Your Résumé is Probably Embarrassing You. Here's What to Fix Right Now.
Over the course of my 30+ years in entrepreneurship I’ve looked at a lot of résumés. And though the trends for layout, buzzwords, and length have changed, one thing has stayed the same: most of them are a chore to read.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received a “resume.doc” file from someone I’ve met in person, looked it over, and thought, “The dud on this page has nothing to do with the smart, fascinating person I met!” And I’m not talking about basic table stakes stuff like typos and grammar issues. Because I care what happens to them, and because truth is one of my core values, I am always forced to give uncomfortable feedback. It usually opens with, “Your résumé is embarrassing you. Here’s why…”
I know no one who would intentionally share a marketing document if they knew that its content would tarnish their public image. A résumé is essentially a type of personal marketing collateral. So why settle for something that compromises your personal brand? The examples that follow, which I have seen over and over in actual résumés I have evaluated, do just that. If your current draft has any or all of these issues, I hope you will take corrective action before you ask anyone else to read it.
1. Your career objectives aren’t my concern.
As a business owner, I have always cared about my current employees and been invested in their goals and ambitions. But a job candidate isn’t my employee. I don’t care if you want a C-suite job within five years or what you think the available position will do for you. I want to know if you can make my company better by being part of its life, not vice versa. I’d rather you led out with your core competencies than your objectives.
2. Your employment history is obviously boilerplate.
And I’m obviously reading the same generic list of titles and responsibilities as every other employer you approach. Basically, you’re asking me to extrapolate from your broad description of job functions and guess whether you have the key traits I want. I know it is extra work to customize your résumé for every application, and that you might have been advised to focus on making your cover letter unique, but I still have to engage with your résumé. If it looks exactly like every person in a 100-mile radius with your job title, I won’t remember you. I’d rather you describe specific projects or initiatives where you made good things happen.
3. You ignore specific instructions.
I use a couple of simple tests in my job posts–just some instructions on what to submit and how to submit it. They come in handy for a couple of reasons. First, any application that fails to acknowledge my request goes in the slush pile. Second, the responses I get will tell me a lot about the applicant’s personality and abilities. If an employer asks you to submit specific format, style, or content with regard to your résumé, then you must regard that as a test. Ignoring their request signals that you either can’t follow instructions, you don’t care what the employer wants, or you hope to be forgiven for poor time management. None of those impress me.
4. You are current to the point of overcompensation.
As a writer for business-oriented publications, I know that the lingo is constantly changing. Evolving technology also inspires updated formats using new templates, online tools, and visuals such as infographics. Some of these can be helpful or refreshing, depending on your industry. But when I see a résumé crammed with the trendiest jargon and hippest formatting, I see someone who is desperately trying to look relevant. The only way that hip language or layout works is if I don’t notice it for its own sake. I’m too busy admiring how articulate and stylish you are. When in doubt, show the résumé to a savvy mentor. If they spot the trend before they spot the information you want to showcase, it’s not working.
5. You’ve applied for your perfect job, not the job I have open.
I expect most applicants to have a detailed fantasy of their dream job. Smart, creative people typically do. I also get that any position in the real world–including the one I have open–will likely only meet some of those ideal criteria. So you might think that if you position yourself as the perfect candidate for your perfect career, that will be more than enough for this imperfect reality. But if your résumé isn’t grounded in the current situation and tailored to my company’s actual needs, I can only speculate whether you’ll have the skills and the drive to be an A player.
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