You Are Great, Your Resume Is Not

By my own count, I have read well over 1,000 resumes and probably closer to 2,000. Without an analytical study, I would say only 15% of those resumes were resumes that screamed a loud “YES, hire me for this job!” Probably another 30% were just mediocre and I would estimate that a full 50% actively worked against the candidate.

I am asked all the time what makes a good resume. The short answer is a resume should scream – “Yes, pick me, pick me.” It should clearly show your qualifications for a position. A good resume should have clear easy to read bullets or paragraphs that make sense to someone who has never met you. A great resume should list accomplishments and what you have done at your previous positions using the method of “showing, not telling.” A good resume incorporates quantitative, measurable results. The general rule of thumb is less than 10 years of experience is less than a page and 10+ years can work up to two pages. There are some specialized cases, e.g. Federal, highly technical, where longer resumes are acceptable.

Even if your resume is scanned by a computer, there are some tips you can use because at some point a human will lay eyes on it.

1. Grammar / Spelling  / Typos – Have at least three people, who are careful and detailed, read your resume. This works even better if the people reviewing your resume do not know you because they are less likely to “fill in the gap.” Your resume cannot contain any grammar errors, spelling mistakes or typos. If am reviewing a resume, depending on the egregiousness of the error, I will forgive a single error because we make mistakes. However, if your resume contains multiple typos, all you are doing is signaling sloppiness and laziness to the hiring manager and sending them on to the next candidate.

2. Unintelligible bullets – A person must be able to understand each bullet and/or sentence on your resume as a stand alone sentence. For example, do you know what this means? “sell multiple digital and online solutions for clients” Neither do I. What were the exact solutions? What were the results? How many clients? What’s the difference between digital and online? A better phrasing would be – “Sell B2B customer relationship management software for more than 10 clients resulting in $32,000 in additional revenue.”

3. Misuse of verbs – Actions in the past should use past tense verbs. Sounds very easy, but it is not. Again, this is where a review of your resume would comes in handy to make sure that your verbs are aligned in tense. If verbs are not in agreement, it makes it hard to read and understand.

4. Descriptions that are overly generic – You are a hard worker. Great so is everyone else. What does that even mean? People remember and notice specific details. Tell me you lead a team of four people across three time-zones, not that you lead international teams.

5. Combining multiple formats – If someone is reviewing your resume, either in person or online, they will spend less than a minute reading it. Make sure it is easy to follow by ensuring your format is simple and consistent. This includes small things like making sure you are using one font for your resume. Also make sure if you are using bullets they are all aligned. Generally speaking, bullets are easier to scan and digest for the reader than a paragraph. However, there are ways to incorporate both depending on the specific requirements for your professional experience.

6. Not using a cover letter – While some positions require a cover letter, if I am applying for a job that I really want, I ALWAYS write a cover letter. The majority of candidates online will not use a cover letter, even if the position application specifically requests one. Also if any of the following apply to you, you should definitely use a cover letter to explain your qualifications and transferable skills:

  • Switching industries or functions
  • Leveling up (explain why you think you can perform a higher level)
  • Other significant change from what your resume explains

7. Not customizing your resume – It is absolutely critical to customize, at least partially, your resume for each position. Or if you are working full-time and trying to job hunt, have at least three versions of your resume that you can use for positions. One easy way if you are applying for a position that might use a computer scanner is to update your resume with the language used in the job posting/description. When doing this you should never lie or exaggerate your experience. However, switching verbs such as “Managed three analysts” for “Supervised three analysts” is fair game if the job description uses the word supervised. In certain industries, e.g.Federal Government jobs, there are certain requirements that are necessary for a resume. Before applying, consult with an industry expert to make sure your resume meets minimum expectations.

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