Is your resume a mess?

This past weekend, my husband and I stood in our garage, in the tiny bit of free space that wasn’t occupied by boxes, bins and other clutter. Actually, we had done quite a bit of consolidating up to this point. Having sold our home of 20 years in 2010, we had moved belongings that filled the cabin and two rented storage units. Having emptied out those facilities, we now faced the remnants of what needed to be de-cluttered in order to move our cars in when needed. We have too many boxes filled with stuff we will never need or use again. So, here we were; doing the three-pile thing: purge, donate or keep.

Okay, I’m a bit of a resume nerd, meaning I love these documents! I love how good ones tell stories and sell value to help, what in the end is each candidate’s goal: to be the chosen one. So, as I sorted and purged, I could not help but think of analogies to that career document. Sometimes our resumes are a real mess. We get lost in dense or superfluous text, crowded by trying to get too much in a finite real estate space. Not pulling out the old or irrelevant when we don’t need it. So it builds … and builds … and builds.  So here are three tips to tidy up yours:

1.    Narrowed focus

Quite frankly, folks like to do things the easy way. Many make the mistake of using a one-size-fits-all resume. Many start to market before they know what they want to do. So they include too much, trying to cover the bases. Don’t! You just dilute your message, forcing the reader to try and find the hidden “wants” in a haystack of “don’t-needs”. Employers want someone who meets their specific needs, not a Jack or Jill of all trades. Either give yourself a credible focused title like “Corporate Acquisitions Attorney & Litigator” or consider putting the exact goal, such as “Interested in Senior Architecture opening with Jay Reynolds Corporation”. Then change it for each opening and save as new file with relevant name.

Read every position description for the specific job applied for, pull out the key words and requirements. Pay attention to “required” and “preferred” criteria. Manipulate your keywords and content to directly address these. If you have more than one or several goals, created multiple versions of your resume. My client, Mary recently did that. Much of the content remained the same. But tweaks were made to address different requirements for a Human Resources Generalist, Training Associate, and Executive Assistant. She did not try and give them the kitchen sink version.

2.    Ruthless editing

Boy, Don and I had to make some tough decisions last weekend. We came upon box after box that held memories going back to the mid-nineteenth century. Special items stored because they meant something to someone at some time. But reality check! We have the full cabin and garage already mentioned, plus a tiny town home devoid of basement or much storage. That’s okay! We want to downsize. But it’s still tough to decide sometimes.  You face a similar challenge with your resume; it has only so much space. Scour, sift, sort and slash!

  • Edit up-top statements, summaries and sentences. Present only information true to your brand and relevant to your goal. How many years of experience. Specializations. Known for what? Relevant degree or credentials? Experience mirrored back to stated criteria? Get this up front to make them want more. You’re wasting space with talking about what you want (they don’t care). Toss it. You’re wasting space in an HR generalist resume talking about sales software. Donate that to your sales version resume, should you have one. Don’t let your skills read like a laundry list. Be selective. Pull out and keep only what you need.
  • Edit work experience. Give a brief paragraph (2-3 lines) aerial view of your positions. Why were you brought on board? Promoted? Challenged to do what? People or money managed? The snapshot. Devote the gist of each position to bulleted accomplishments in themes relevant to your goal. Again, lean, lean lean. Shoot for no more than two lines per bullet, front loaded with the metrics. And think strategically. If you’re re-entering the market or a career-changer, you particularly may want to reposition experience as to what’s most relevant to your current goals. If you’ve moved up the ladder progressively, consider consolidating old stuff that happened 15 or more years ago into an early career section. If you’re reentering the workforce or shifting gears from one career to another, it’s particularly important to write strategically. My client Dan went from intelligence analyst in the U.S. military to architectural designer. He gave himself credit for his military time, roles and honors. However, the majority of his resume was relegated to diverse background that demonstrated his lifelong interest and extensive (although unpaid) architectural design experience. He tucked away some of those older items for future use. Some hit the shredder.
  • Edit education. Relevant skills, training and education are triplets. They all support knowledge to do the job you’re targeting. The job the employer needs done. If you’re applying for a project manager position, having that PMP credential is a huge plus; the community education certificate in Microsoft Works from 1996, not so much. Again, think strategically. If you’re a new graduate with little real-world experience, give your education area more space, and delve into class leadership roles or projects that showcase your transferable skills. If you’ve been a CPA for 15 years and in a CFO role for eight, it is highly unlikely you will need to detail your undergrad classes or training a decade ago. Toss it.

3.    What employers want to know

Employers are the potential buyer; you are the product. When they read your resume, they are thinking, “Convince me you’re the one. Make me care! And do it fast! I bring this up because there are other components to keep that resume clutter-free and on point.

  • Avoid repetition whenever you can.
  • Use a font size not too small or large and easy to read.
  • Have enough white space  around major headings and between sections of information.
  • Bullets have impact. Don’t overuse them, and don’t turn them into long paragraphs that just happen to have a bullet at the beginning.
  • Add visual interest with charts, graphs, text inserts, and color. Make sure you test out the documents, and have plainer versions ready to send.

By the way, September is International Update Your Résumé Month. Check out this form, courtesy of Career Directors International, an association for career experts and those we serve. You might find it handy in updating your resume. And while you’re at it, de-clutter the old and not-needed away!

Photo: puuikibeach

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