Resumes: The 7 Deadly Sins (and Tips on Redemption)

Resumes 7 Deadly Sins

Your résumé is arguably the most important document in your job search. Are you submitting résumé after résumé and receiving dismal results? Phone not ringing? No interviews in the pipeline? Your résumé may be fatally flawed and sabotaging your success. Even the most well-intentioned job seekers commit some deadly sins regarding their résumés.

As a résumé writer, I see hundreds of résumés. The majority of them are much weaker than they could be. Here are seven deadly sins and how to ensure redemption!

Resumes The 7 Deadly Sins: Here are the 7 deadly sins (in no particular order of importance)

I hope you find nuggets that will be helpful to you!

Resumes The 7 Deadly Sins:  #1: ERRORS

Even with Spell Check, résumés filled with typos and grammatical errors remain a major irritant for those who read résumés. Spell Check will not catch a misused word (“on” instead of “in”) or a wrong date (1979 instead of 1997). After spell checking your résumé, read it over carefully aloud! Wait awhile and reread it two or three more times. Have a handful of people you trust proofread your résumé. Even one small typo on your résumé can be disastrous to landing an interview and the job. Proofreading multiple times is essential to ensuring your résumé is reviewed in a positive light.

Resumes The 7 Deadly Sins: #2: VAGUENESS

Résumés are frequently too general in terms of 1) target and 2) language used.

Résumés that lack focus and aim at a “one-size-fits-all” approach can be deadly. Hiring managers want to hire you as an expert rather than a Jack or Jill of all trades (and master of none). In a recent study by, 71% of hiring managers preferred a résumé customized for the open position. Give yourself a headline, branding statement and profile rich with specific keywords. I am a fan of the above rather than the standard objective, as the first gives you instant credibility without being “me focused”. However, if you prefer to use a job objective, it must be specific and employer centered. Example: “To contribute 10-year career in healthcare reimbursement auditing to ABC Healthcare in an Insurance Reimbursement Specialist capacity.” With today’s software, anyone can create fresh versions suitable to the specific job applied for. Just make sure you’re qualified in general! If you have two very different targets, i.e., Sales Manager and IT Project Manager, you may want two versions revamped throughout.

What does “good communication skills” mean? Does this mean you can give a speech to an auditorium of people, negotiate a critical business deal, or write high-level public relations material? What does “problem-solving skills” mean? What is a “people person”? My English Cocker is a people “lover”. The same, tired phrases, words and concepts are used repeatedly by job seekers. In a recent survey examining skills cited by job seekers on more than 150,000 résumés, half used one or more vague phrases to describe their work skills and strengths. There’s no room for ambiguity on a résumé. No hiring manager is going to contact you for clarification. He or she simply will not be interested in you. Instead of writing that you have “time management skills,” state that you “consistently met all deadlines and performance benchmarks through dedicated work over a 12-month period.”

Resumes The 7 Deadly Sins: #3: DISORGANIZATION

A sloppy, disorganized résumé positions you poorly. A jumbled mass of information without clear connection makes you look bad to an employer. Why? Because a disorganized résumé indicates a disorganized worker. Who wants to hire this type of worker? No one! Ask yourself, “What do I need to communicate to the reader that will ignite interest in me so that he or she will want to read the rest of it with interest; and invite me to the interview?” The important information that showcases your value must come first. The reader’s perception will occur within the first 10-15 seconds of the read! If you put education first and your education is the same level as your contenders, you are wasting that value 10 to 15 seconds communicating things that don’t separate you from your competition. In Writing 101, this is called the “hook”. You must organize your résumé so that the first 10 to 15 seconds delivers the hook that creates interest in you and your qualifications. Then, the reader eagerly reads the rest of the résumé with interest.

Resumes The 7 Deadly Sins: #4: FLUFF

A résumé without quantifiable achievements is like a report card without grades or a credit rating without scores. Since the popular Wendy’s commercial of the 80s aired, where’s the beef has become synonymous with lack of substance in an idea, event or product. Well, you are the product and your résumé is your marketing collateral. It’s not only what you have done that is important, but how well you have done it. If 25 job seekers had the same titles, in the same industry, with the same job description, what differentiates them? Success stories! Quantifiable, measureable achievements might read, “Increased sales $1.3 million a year,” “Improved customer service levels from 89.3% to 97.2%,” or “Grew market share $1.08 per share.” Many people feel that because they don’t work in sales, finance or a similar role, they don’t have success stories.

A company needs all its talent in order to run smoothly. It’s not always about dollars and cents. Ask yourself what you have done to save time, improve efficiency, turn around a challenging situation, etc. Start a journal of successes drawn from each of your positions, as well as volunteer, academic and life experiences. Use the CAR approach. What was the challenge? What action did you take? What were results? Then load your résumé with these bulleted successes. Use numbers and data to support them. If you managed projects, a success might read, “Guided a 20% productivity increase as lead engineer on ABC’s technical team.” Perhaps you were a retail store manager. You could write, “Reduced theft 42% by integrating ABC loss prevention software.” Maybe your contributions had dual results: “Enhanced staff morale through a three-month incentive program that subsequently ignited a 28% increase in sales.”

Resumes The 7 Deadly Sins: #5: INVISIBILITY

Even if you have the best résumé in the world, if it’s not cyber-friendly, it may well get lost or worse””trashed by hiring managers. Your résumé must be in sync with the internet-based world we live in. Make sure that your résumé is available in an ASCII or plain-text format and PDF versions. After you’ve reformatted your résumé into a text document, make sure it really is e-friendly. For your Word or similarly formatted résumé, make sure the “track changes” feature is turned off. Practice sending your new résumé via email to yourself, as well as friends who use a different Internet service provider. If you use AOL, send it to a friend who uses MSN Hotmail. Also send your e-résumé pasted in the body of an email, rather than as an attachment. Have your friend alert to you to any errors that show when they open it, like illegibility and organization. After getting feedback, make any necessary adjustments.

Make sure that your résumé is rich with keywords that mirror back those in the job of interest, including skill sets, relevant credentials, and competencies. Go back to #3 and make sure that your content is ordered so that your biggest selling points are up front.

Go social. Employers are increasingly looking online for talent, including Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn and other social networking sites. Google yourself. What do you find? Not much? Put yourself out there. Consider using Visual CV, a free online résumé, in addition to your traditional résumé. Use all your online profiles to position yourself as a viable candidate.

Resumes The 7 Deadly Sins: #6: DECEPTION

Do not lie or misrepresent yourself on your résumé. With today’s social networking technology and employee verification processes, lies won’t last. Employers are on the lookout for the significant increase in lies or serious exaggerated claims on résumés. Fabricating education or experience may endanger your career. One of my former clients, a Human Resources director, once told me that her company had hired someone claiming to have had a different, higher-level position than they really had. Within two weeks, they found this out. She was fired on the spot. Your résumé should truthfully make lemonade out of lemons. If you were fired from a job or had a gap in employment, focus on what you accomplished at that job and in between jobs. If you went to college but did not get your degree, focus on the courses rather than the degree. Everyone has baggage. Present these as real and positive learning experiences. Okay, you may say, “I would never lie on my résumé.” There is another even more prominent practice””that of copying content from other résumés. This is one of the worst forms of plagiarism, to be sure. It also will not serve you. A résumé format that looks too familiar will not make you stand out. It is essential that you have an original and customized résumé to be seen as an A candidate. The time invested to create a well-planned branding message and overall strategy will show the reader that you are indeed not an ordinary candidate.

Resumes The 7 Deadly Sins: #7: TALE (NOT A SALE)

Résumés should not be long-winded biographies (and should in fact, be no longer than two pages for any level, including senior executives). Rather, they must communicate what you can do for the employer and how you can improve its economics and bottom-line. Have you ever seen an advertisement for McDonald’s providing you with a complete history of the company? Toyota doesn’t provide a year-by-year account of its background when selling its cars. Employers don’t want to know about your history. They want to know what your value is to them. They want to know how you can benefit them and how they can profit from you! Your work experience, education and other résumé content are relevant only to the extent that they provide evidence of how you can help the employer. You are using your résumé in what is called the “job market ” and the job market is no different from the marketplace; there is stiff competition. A résumé without any value-added messages can kill the sale. If an employer is seeking a sales professional and the top three candidates all have about-equal education, work experience, achievements and are all well liked, what will tilt the scale in one candidate’s favor? If the above sales opening is in the food industry and one candidate grew up with parents who owned a restaurant, that is value-add! Work it in. Think about what value-added aspects you bring to the job that would benefit the company and differentiate you from the competition.

Evade the trash/shredder of doom by avoiding these seven deadly résumé sins!

For more Resume Tips . . .


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