Albert Einstein's genius extended in many directions, including how to write. Einstein gave this advice: "If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to to the tailor."
In my writing, I try to use language that is plain and direct. Too often, I read resumes that are cluttered with details that are not relevant to hiring managers. In many cases, clients use jargon that will only be understood by their current employer, the job they want to leave. How can you avoid this problem? Read what you write through the eyes of you intended audience. For resumes, that means recruiters and hiring managers. Use language that speaks to what they need and understand. Simple and clear wins the day.
Employers screen and read resumes with one question in mind: Can you do the job? Any information that you include that is not relevant to that question brings your resume closer and closer to the recycling pile. The biggest mistake I see in resume clients bring me is dated information from early career jobs or school. You might be very proud of the study abroad you did 10 years ago. However, most employers will not care. If you’ve been in the workforce for more than 10-15 years, most employers don’t care about early jobs. Finally, many job seekers add technical skills to their resume without taking off software that is outdated or programs they can no longer use. Keep your resume focused on what you are doing now and what is relevant to the employers’ needs. Everything else? Hit the delete key.
Recently, I met with Jake (not his real name), a mid-career sales professional, who said he wanted a basic resume. Jake told me, “The facts speak for themselves.” It’s not that simple.
I want to be honest in representing clients, but it’s important to do so in a way that highlights each individual’s qualifications and strengths. The resume also needs to show qualifications for the job you are applying for. Too often, clients have given me resumes that are very detailed – very factual – about jobs they want to leave behind. A good resume will demonstrate what you can do for your next employer, not the last one.
I worked with Jake, and together we produced a strong document that will speak to the kind of employers he wants to work for. Because we’ve called out some of his strongest selling points, we’ve taken the facts and made them show Jake’s value over other applicants. If you can do that, the phone will ring.
I was discussing revisions with a client, and he said, "Clay, I want to add some bullets." I asked why and he didn't have a good reason. Many resumes are nothing more than point after point, bullet after bullet.
When I write a resume, I use a paragraph to describe job duties and bullets to call out achievements. I'll also use bullets at the top of a resume to call out key words/skills. My problem with the all-bullet resume is that it gives an illusion of order when the opposite is often true. Some people have told me, "bullets are easier to read." That's not true. When we read a paragraph, we know how to move from sentence to sentence quickly, skimming a document. We've been reading that way since the second grade. Bullets meant to make us stop. A resume that has too many bullets is actually harder to read because it is constantly telling the reader to stop, stop, and stop. If all bullet documents were easier to read, why are books, newspapers, magazines, and letters still written in a paragraph style?
Well used, bullets are a good tool for formatting any document. They should be used to call out as items of equal or similar performance and used to make it easier to read a document. If you're using a bullet to format a document, know how and why you are using it. Have a reason. "I read it on the Internet" is not a good reason.
When describing your work history on a resume, be sure that you show how your level of responsibility fits what prospective employers need. Review the samples below and note how it is possible to describe “scope” or “weight” depending on your career level. Demonstrate how your previous experience will let you fill the role you are applying for.
Worked as lead and assistant analyst for several projects. (Marketing, Project Management)
Prepared journal entries and government reporting as well as annual, quarterly, and monthly consolidated financial statements. (Accounting)
Contacted college instructors to promote books and materials from an academic publisher. (Sales)
Researched clients’ businesses and determined what events/awards would raise their profile and brand. (Marketing)
Mid-level and Managerial:
Oversaw facilities and service along with supervising 150 employees.
Supervised a team of 20 in delivering services to seniors, homeless, and victims of child abuse. Oversaw a $1.5 million budget for department operations and program costs.
Oversee radiology and MRI operations at an orthopedic practice that has had as many as 14 physicians.
Quickly took on increased leadership roles over 15+ years at 3 large corporations, moving from a positions as Process Engineer to Brand Manager to COO and President.
Directed operations at three casual dining American restaurants located in Wheeling, Illinois (Chicago), San Diego, California, and Naples, Florida. Managed annual revenue of $10 million and a staff of 100-120, including three Executive Chefs.
Direct finance and operations for a $500 million portfolio of student housing that generates $50 million in annual revenue. Collaborated with the CEO in establishing policies for acquisition, pricing, and sales.
Hired to turn around regional accounting operations in Russia and former territories of the U.S.S.R. ($175 million annual revenue) for a global leader that provides technical support to the energy industry. Reported to the European CFO headquartered in Zurich and a Regional Sales VP in Russia.
Should the language of a resume be specific or general? Really, this isn’t a good question. The language of a resume should fit the kind of job you are applying for. It should show how you are qualified to fill the level of responsibility that the employer needs. Sometimes the terms will be broader. If you’re looking for a sales job that cuts across different industries, you will talk about sales in more general language. However, if you’re only seeking a sales job in IT, your language needs to reflect your background in that industry. That language needs to be more specific.
Beware of simply taking the job description for your current job and repeating it point by point. That language works for the job you are leaving, but it doesn’t show your next employer how you fit her needs. I recommend gathering 5-10 posts for the kind of job you’ll be seeking. Write your resume to appeal to the needs of these employers, speak to their key words, and match your technical skills to what you see in the job posts. A good review of the job posts will tell you how specific or general the language in your resume needs to be.
I’d estimate that 25% of prospective clients bring me a resume that makes the same mistake: It asks a busy employer to figure out what the applicant is looking for. In such a resume format there is no objective or profile/summary to guide the reader. Instead, the resume simply lists job after job. I’m looking at a sample in which a prospective employee describe three positions in accounting and six jobs in teaching. Is this person looking for a job in accounting or teaching?
Don’t make the employer guess about your goals. They do not have time. Keep your resume focused. Begin with a brief frame that tells the employer what you want to do and why you are qualified. If you’re applying for jobs that can have a variety of titles, I recommend starting with a simple objective that states the position you are seeking. After that give a brief summary of your qualifications. Some summaries offer a paragraph style description. I use two or three descriptive points along with six to nine key words. Here is a sample:
OBJECTIVE: To obtain a position as (TITLE)
EXPERIENCE: Controller & senior accounting professional who has managed financial record keeping and advised owners on internal controls and operations.
LEADERSHIP: Proven team builder who directs staff, resources, and projects so goals are met and efficiency maximized.
• Accounting Systems • Tax Preparation • Compliance
• Cash Flow Management • Payroll & Benefits • Negotiation
By framing the resume in this way, you make it easier for someone who is reading quickly. Most HR professionals have to sift through large stacks of resumes for each job post. Keep your resume clear and easy to read. No one has time to figure out what you want to do.
It’s true that employers read resumes quickly. However, you still need to give them something to read. A client recently showed me a resume that looked good, but said nothing. It gave no reason to hire her beyond broad generalizations.
A good resume has content that is relevant to employers. It is not wordy because it shows why a candidate is qualified for a position. A resume becomes wordy when it includes elements that are not relevant to the employer. Over 10 years, I’ve found that employers will read two page resumes formatted in a paragraph style. They will do that if they can quickly see that the applicant might be a good employee.
Don’t hide your skills. Sell them is a good resume that is rich in content and relevant to the employer’s needs.
A client looked at a sample of my resumes and said it was exactly the way a resume should be formatted. I asked her why she said this. She heard an expert say so on the radio. While an easy sale is always nice, I challenged her thinking a little. Rather than thinking one way is right or wrong, the key question to ask is about function and strategy: How does it work?
My priority in a format is to create something that is easy to read. To do that, I arrange my work using a combination of paragraphs and bullets. I also avoid frames, lines, and boxes except for a line at the top of the page. Some resumes are formatted with great attention to graphic design. There are two problems with this approach. First, heavy formatting that makes a resume look good also makes it harder to read. Rather than the eye moving from word to word and line to line as it would on the page of a book or magazine, it has to jump from box to box. Worse still, some formatting features (headers, footers, tables) cannot be read by scanning software and never make it to a human screener. What good is a great looking resume if it is never read by an employer?
My biggest problem with formats and functions is the claim that “bullets are easier to read.” Every time we see a bullet, we stop reading. So the all-bullet resume involves a series of start and stop actions that make it difficult to understand what a person does. A well written paragraph (block) that describes job duties is easier to read. Bullets are great to describe success stories and achievements, places where you would want a potential employer to stop and think about what you have to offer.
Never accept any resume “rule” as right because some experts says it is. Go behind the “rule” to think about function and strategy. There is no one size fits all. While I use a similar format in all of my work, it changes from client to client based on what elements I want to highlight. To put it simply: Beware of simple rules, especially when they involve resume formats.
Too often resumes simply convey basic qualifications for a job. This information is important, but it is equally vital to show the value you will bring to a new employer. Describe the achievements that will set you off from other candidates. Think of achievements this way: How have you been a hero at your previous jobs? If possible, quantify your success stories, but you should tell them even if you can’t represent every success with a number. Here are a few examples of how you can present achievements on a resume:
• Won several accounts from a major competitor (Symantec).
• Achieved year-over-year growth of 25% for license renewal.
• Increased market share from $100,000 to $900,000 in one year.
• Reduced cell phone costs for 500 units by conducting detailed research of market and price trends used in negotiation.
• Cleared a back log of 50 overdue performance reviews.
• Ranked #1 of 75 Account Executives.
• Completed an average of 500 projects per year.
• Established protocols and procedures for a new PET CT Department.
• Recognized by supervisors for providing outstanding customer service.
• Consistently exceeded goals for productivity.
• Achieved 110% of goal in the first year; planned and delivered 500 events.
• Launched social media and email marketing to reach younger consumers.
• Played a key role on a team that improved workflow in the Emergency Department by 20%.
• Entrusted with customers’ confidential data during computer repairs and data migrations.
• Achieved +$1 million in saving by negotiating price reductions outside of the market.
How have you helped your employer or former employers? Find a way to make these hero stories part of your resume.
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