weak words for a resume

Posted: June 22, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Experts and the Internet love lists.  They look authoritative, and they are easy to organize (Just count to 10..  However, I often find some advice given about resume writing beyond laughable.  I found a list from U.S. News & World Report that offers some good advice and bad.

Here is an analysis of this list:

  1. Never use an objective:  The advice presumes that all objectives are about how the job applicant wants a position that offers advancement.  Yes, that is stupid.  However, an objective that lets the employer know what position is being sought can be a very good thing.  What’s the alternative?  To let an employer guess what job you are seeking.  Unless the job being sought is obvious (i.e. someone who has always been a restaurant manager seeking the same position), I recommend using an objective as a way to let the employer know what job you are seeking.  Keep it concise:  To obtain a position as (title of the position being sought).
  2. Leave off short term jobs:  Generally I agree with this advice.  The one exception would be if a short term job exposed you to some skill or experience you would take to the next job.  In that case, including a short term job can be a benefit.
  3. Avoid functional resumes:  I almost always follow this advice.  The only exception is a time when a chronology is impossible – ex-offenders who have just been released from jail.  That is the only case in which I recommend a functional presentation.
  4. No photos:  Amen (except for actors and models).
  5. Fancy Design:  Another amen.  Employers and job seekers agree that resumes need to read quickly.  Fancy design may make a resume look good, but it usually also lead to a document that is not easy to read.
  6. “Subjective Description”:  One example given that I use is “creative innovator.”  I agree that in itself this statement is meaningless.  However, if the resume gives some clear examples of creative innovation, I see nothing wrong with using the term.  It’s not subjective if it’s backed up with evidence.
  7. Any mention of high school:  In most cases this is true.  However, I include high school if it is required (federal resumes) or if the client went to a school that might  be meaningful to the employer.
  8. Extra pages:  Here again, we get a simple rule:  People in their 20s should only have one page.  Often true, not always.  My strategy for length is to include information that is relevant to the employer.  I almost never exceed three pages. The writer from U.S. News says that employers spend 20-30 seconds on each document.  If that’s true, it’s easy to read 2 pages of resume.  The real problem is when resumes are not set up so the reader can quickly see how the applicant is qualified.  Rather than debate a 1 or 2 page rule, I say the most important part of a resume is the first half of the first page.  That’s where you have to show how you are qualified.
  9. Salary: Usually I agree.  However, some job posts ask for salary requirements or salary history to be included on the resume.  If applicants don’t include that information, will their resume be considered?
  10. References available upon request:  I still use this phrase as a way to show the end of the resume.  It has not hurt my clients who have gotten very good jobs.  Can it be cut out?  Sure.  I look at this line on a resume as similar to the appendix in the body.  Useless – also harmless.  Any employer who rejects a qualified employee because a resume includes this line should not be making any type of hiring decisions.

Overall, this list does give some good advice.  My problem is that it relies too much on “rules” that are simplistic.  Beware of one-size-fits-all advice -- and lists of 10.

Posted: May 10, 2012
By: Clay Cerny

Beware of simple rules that don’t pass a logic test.  “Experts” are using the web to give advice that makes no sense.  For example, you can find countless posts that say things like “words you should never use on your resume.”  One of the words (or phrases) commonly cited is team player.  Why is this bad advice?  Let’s test it against a job posting a client recently showed me.

The position being sought is financial analyst.  Here are three lines taken from the posting:

“Demonstrated leadership and project management skills in a team setting, especially in  situations where team members are not direct reports.”

“Demonstrated ability to effectively (and collaboratively) deliver results in cross-functional teams.”

Team player with superior, communication and facilitation skills.”

Does it sound like this employer wants a team player? Who would be more likely to get an interviewer, somebody who listens to the expert or someone who demonstrates she has the skills and qualities the employer is looking for?  Experts give simple-sounding, one-size-fits-all rules that sound good.  Test their “rules” against what you see in job postings and job descriptions. Beware of rules that keeping you from presenting skills and qualities that employers are looking for.