December 17, 2008

Resumes Speak Volumes...Without Saying a Word

I reviewed and revised my umpteenth resume this morning. A friend of mine, who is looking to advance in her profession and move onto to a new and exciting opportunity asked me to review her resume and make suggestions for changes. Now, I normally reel at the very thought of reviewing, let alone revising resumes, as often the resumes are so befuddled with irrelevant and useless information or hopeless spelling and grammatical errors, that I end up having to nearly rewrite the darn things! Well, this is a friend, so I did not feel so much loathing and dread as I did honored that she thought of me as enough of an expert to define for her the one piece of the candidate portfolio that is arguably also the most important piece.

Now I say "arguably" because inevitably there will be mass critics that will argue that the resume is but a stepping stone to an interview and is really not as important and the KSAs (knowledge, skills, and abilities) that you bring to the table.

To that I say, " a dregree."

While KSAs are truly important attributes of any candidate it is the resume that even gets you in the door to showcase you knowledge skills and abilities. A well-written and concise (key word: concise) resume is key to opening the gates and receiving a sought after invitation to interview with the company of your choice.

"This resume is actually not bad," I thought as I red-lined, deleted, and added information to her resume.

The formatting was great...simple, with neat lines and plenty of white space, but the context was rather circumlocutory; rambling, incoherent explanations of unecessary facts and overstated, yet easily misunderstood definitions of organizational experience. There was just too much information to read and decipher, and as a previous recruiter (although I still play one on TV sometimes), I can tell you that the last thing we have time to do is decode a voluminous resume.

So, here is the advice that I gave her that I think everybody should take heed to:

1. Keep it short - Try to minimize your resume as much as possble, without detracting from the meat and potatoes of your experience. If possible, keep the resume to a single page but no more than two pages. Don't get too bogged down in the deatils...we won 't. Most recruiters, especially in today's economy get inundated with hundreds, if not thousands of resumes a day. If we have to read a novel to gain a better understanding of your worth, please believe that we won't. We need to know, in as little words as possible, what you bring to the table and what makes you better or more qualified than the rest.

2. Keep it sweet - We don't need your entire life story...just give us the basics. Stick to the essential functions of the job...those things that could not have been done if you weren't doing them. And be realistic. Granted, while you may have been Queen of the copy maching, I am sure that if you fell off the face of the Earth, somebody could pick up the slack. Also, If you have been in the industry since before dinosaurs walked the earth...good for you...just don't tell us. We really only need to know what you've been up to for the last 10 years or so, anything beyond that and you could be inadvertantly facing age discrimination (hey...I'm not saying I've done it, but trust me, I've heard the stories).

3. Spellcheck and then check and recheck you resume - Spellcheck is not fool-proof as it only catches those words that are absolutely spelled incorrectly. It will not pick up on grammatical user errors, such as the difference between their, there and they're so it is up to you to ensure that you are using the correct word choice. One of my favorite bloggers, Penelope Trunk, believes that while typos are a fairly easy way for you to be counted out of the running, they are not total deal-breakers. As she puts it: "You sent your resume with a typo? Get over it".

4. Chronological Order is the best order - There is much debate over chronological versus functional versus educational resumes out there on the web. Chronological, or reverse chronological, in which all jobs are listed from most recent to oldest is the easiest resume format to read and understand. Functional resumes, which only list your experiences not the companies you worked for, titles you held, and length of time on the job, were the fad for a while and may still be necessary or common if you are changing fields or have been out of the workforce for a while.

According to Drs. Randall and Katharine Hansen, "Some employers are unaccustomed to functional formats of any kind, finding them confusing or even annoying". This former recruiter couldn't agree more. In the five to ten seconds that we spend skimming your resume, we want to see: a) what you did, b) who you did it for, c) when you did it, and d) what you accomplished while there. Simple as that...

5. Speaking of what you accomplished - Make sure that we know, right up front, what you are proud of acomplishing in your last position in accurate and quantifiable prose. The resume is the best and often, most appropriate time to toot your own horn, so don't waste it. Remember...quantifiable terms. While it may be great that you implemented cost savings initiatives at your last job, we are more concerned with how much you saved the organization. A more appropriate entry would be something like:

"Reduced costs by 18% while increasing productivity by 7% in nine months."

Now that's quantifiable.

Remember, too much information, is just that...too much. I could go on and on with other things to take out of your resume, but that would just be too much information...

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