Steve, a talented albeit painfully unemployed writer and editor, couldn’t see that his own resume was undermining his job search efforts. Yet it only took me a few seconds – and a fresh set of eyes – to see why he wasn’t getting more than an occasional interview. Or even if he did manage to get called in for the first interview, why he might not be getting asked back since resumes have a life well beyond the first interview.
Although many people forget this and some even proclaim resumes dead altogether – beware all proclaimers – resumes do indeed have a role to play both in getting you that initial interview and later on in getting potential co-workers to buy into the idea of you. And in Steve’s case, because of some “small stuff”, the only thing his resume was getting him for sure was dumped by resume screeners in 8 seconds or less. And he didn’t have a clue.
Why Steve’s resume was NOT working for him
Sad thing is…Steve had wisely turned to a few people he trusted (including a “resume expert”) to proofread his resume – and he specifically asked them “please be honest!” And yet, there right before my eyes, were MBD (minor but deadly) typos everyone else had missed, including a glaring verb-tense consistency error in a section where Steve was proclaiming his own excellent editorial skills. OUCH!
Might seem like a small thing on the surface, but that alone would have gotten his resume tossed into the “no way Jose” pile quicker than you can say “irony” – assuming the screener knew enough to realize the mistake. And if the screener missed it (screeners do make mistakes), then professional writers and editors down the interview-process line would have caught it for sure.
And it’s not just about typos.
Another resume I got to look at recently from someone I’ll call Eydie, had one of the weakest Professional Summary sections I’d ever seen – again from a writer who also does PR. Now the rest of her resume was fairly strong; and to give her the benefit of the doubt, maybe she pieced together the summary section last-minute in an effort to better target a specific job (highly recommended). But instead of clearly heralding her brand and enhancing her chances, her summary was a yawn. And since the early section acts kind of like a lead-off batter for you (to borrow a baseball metaphor), the very first few sections of your resume better be especially strong to set up your chances to later bring in that run…er…offer.
If your lead-off summary is just a bunch of words that talk about skills, you are missing a great chance to grab the reader in a way that makes them think “now THIS is someone special I need to meet.” (Initial impressions really matter.) A weak “I have to put something here” summary is the surest way to downplay your potential contribution and therefore minimize your chances of getting called in for an actual interview. But done right, that initial summary section can seize hold of their attention and leave them asking for more – and it’s worth really working it until it reads like an exciting (but 100% believable) mini-portrait of a star hitter – you! (If you catch yourself doubting that last part, then there is more than a mere resume getting in your way. But that’s another story.)
Can you really see what your resume says about you?
Both Steve and Eydie are extremely capable people who have produced countless quality documents professionally, yet they can’t see what their own resumes are saying about – and doing to - them. Seriously… they (and so many others) are looking at their resumes (maybe right this minute) and thinking they are good enough…and instead, their very own resumes may be killing their chances for a job.
I’ve seen this again and again – and again and again the person thinks his or her resume is good when it’s not. It’s not that there is any one way to do a resume the “right way” (no matter what you read), but things like typos and weak or mis-targeted presentations of your talents are deal breakers. So even if you think your resume is perfect, it might be worth giving it an extra close look – and asking for some tough feedback. Your resume needs to be typo-free and shout something special about you and what you can make happen for that company – and not just present a list of skills and accomplishments!
Don’t be afraid to turn your normal way of thinking about resumes (and other job search tools) inside-out and upside-down if need be to fully examine whether your search methods are working to your best advantage. I know it’s hard and I know you’re sick of job search advice – especially after reading tons of articles and still seeing doors shut in your face month after month. But wouldn’t it be a shame to keep going – just as Steve and Eydie did – blindly unaware of what you’re doing to yourself? All those missed opportunities! Sometimes small changes can lead to big results.
I say this not as a cheerleader, but as someone whose resume for most of my career was ignored by headhunters for being “hard to place.” (I didn’t follow a standard path in my career, to say the least.) And yet I always found a way to create my “career story” and – aided by a strong resume and cover letter – get myself to that next job. Really.
How would someone seeing your resume first time react?
Sick and tired as you may be of folks like me harping on your resume, look at your resume again with fresh eyes as best you can. Take a long hard look – even if it was prepared by a pro. (Hint: They can’t know you or your brand as well as you do; they can only build the resume using what you feed them.)
Be brutally honest. If you saw this resume for the first time…would it make you go “Wow! THIS is someone I have to speak with”? If not, don’t stop until it does!
I had a reader comment that he’s sick of all this talk about resumes; average people with average resumes get jobs every day he says. Maybe they do, but not if they have a red flag or landmine that does them in. And anyway…why present less than your best? Do you really want a life of average jobs? I know…for some of you at this point any job will do. But you may as well present yourself as you want to be seen and treated. Quite often, an attitude during job search reflects the attitude in your job and everywhere else – and employers get that even if you think they don’t!
Definitely ask people you trust to proofread and offer tough suggestions, including folks in your line of business. While there are good resume experts out there, sometimes even the best-meaning resume experts just don’t know enough about each individual business to apply knowing eyes to the page. So no matter whom you turn to for help, in the end YOU have to take responsibility for the final resume product.
Hope that helps at least some of you. When it comes to creating resumes, it’s important to remember you are painting a whole-person picture of yourself and your brand. But that said…the details most definitely do matter. In other words, sometimes it pays to sweat the small stuff.
~ Ronnie Ann