hard truths“Could you take a quick look at my resume and tell me what you think?” If we had a dollar for every time we’ve been asked this question, we’d be rich!

Let’s go a little deeper into this question and gain a little insight.

One of the primary reasons people spend so much time and effort in writing a resume is that it’s the one activity within the whole job search process they think they can control. So, instead of just picking up the phone and calling a prospective employer to ask for a face-to-face interview (which risks potential rejection), they sit and obsess over their resume.

Here’s the hard truth: It’s very rare to get hired by simply submitting a resume. The real purpose of a resume is to help you get an interview. At the interview, remember that 40 percent of the hiring decision is based on your personality, so you actually have to make it to the interview, then sell yourself!

How does your resume play into that? It’s really very simple — make it a good one:

  • Preferably no more than one page, but two is ok for people with more experience
  • Even in technical roles, most of your experience should be comprehensible by a recruiter (avoid talking over their heads if you actually want to get in the door to impress the hiring manager)
  • Don’t get too creative with your design, layout, and other visuals. A classic style is classic for a reason.
  • Stick to a PC/Windows or universal font, 10-12 point size and black or charcoal color on white paper
  • Go easy on boldface type, italics, and underlining. If you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing!
  • Prepare it in a simple Word format that can easily be viewed on most computers, or a PDF if you want the format to stay locked and clean
  • Use reverse chronological order. List your present, or most recent job first, and then work backwards
  • State the complete name of the company you work for, or have worked for, and what they do, how long you were there – You can often list your employment time using only the years, omitting the specific months
  • List the position you held and your accomplishments
  • Begin with verbs, i.e. “Managed company tax reporting, finance, invoicing, purchasing.”
  • A well-written summary is a powerful introduction to a resume. It primes the reader on a few key tenets before diving into your positions. It’s not an objective statement, just a 3-4-line narrative summary (written in third person, with no personal pronouns) of who you are and what you bring to the table.
  • Skip personal information, i.e. married with three kids. It might sound stable to you but to a hiring manager looking for someone who can travel, it might keep you from gaining an interview. And since it’s often illegal for employers to consider that kind of information in a candidate, your resume could be thrown out for simply introducing potentially biased information.
  • Recruiters and hiring managers love numbers. Give them any sort of quantitative data – statistics, percentages, or dollar amounts to grab their attention.
  • Avoid vague or over-used keywords, jargon and phrases. These include “customer-oriented,” “excellent communication skills,” and “creative.” All of these words lack substantial or concrete meaning and do absolutely nothing to help you obtain an interview.
  • Use industry-standard titles. If your employer has a strange title like ‘Senior Marketing Advisor II” and that’s not clear to recruiters, you have the creative license to change this to the most appropriate and widely understood title, for example “Sr. Marketing Manager, Lead Generation”.
  • Photos shouldn’t be included in any resume in the United States (some other countries have a different policy). Including your photo on a resume actually opens a company up to potentially discriminating your application based on appearance. Because of this, most companies will specifically toss out your resume if it includes a picture, since nobody wants to be accused of hiring (or not hiring) you based on your appearance.

Here’s another hard truth. People misunderstand who is reading their resume and over-estimate how much time is spent reviewing it. Most organized companies have an HR department with at least one recruiter whose job is to identify potential talent and fill an interview pool of 5-10 candidates to present to the hiring manager. And since those 5-10 people come from hundreds of resumes (thousands if your name is Google!), that means they’re skimming resumes for roughly 6 seconds each until something interesting catches their eye.  The hiring manager is actually much less concerned with the resume than you might think. He’ll look it over, but his job is to trust the recruiter’s selection of the applicant pool, then make decisions about those applicants in the interview. Let’s make it clear:  The resume must impress the recruiter first and foremost.  That is your target.  The interview is where you impress the hiring manager.  Approaching your resume from this perspective with this information might drastically change the way your resume looks.

One final hard truth. Don’t be bashful. You have to have some guts and be willing to take the risk of picking up the phone and having someone say no. Getting interviews is hard work. It requires tenacity, persistence, determination, and courage to push yourself upon people – even if it doesn’t come naturally to you. No one likes being rejected, but applying for jobs is a numbers game.  You prepare the right documents, adopt the best behaviors, then you apply and apply until your options start surfacing.  Plenty of people will offer you the easy way out: Posting your resume on a job board in hopes that awesome jobs start contacting you daily with great salaries. We both know that’s a little too good to be true. Third party recruiters/headhunters often mean well, but they may only help you until they lose confidence in you.  And while all avenues are worth exploring, finding a job will usually require effort, and there’s a reason people still do it “the hard way.” It works.