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Résumé Writing Roadblocks

Be Selective And Careful With Your Résumé Content

Job Seeker's Story

Merle had worked for 22 years as a Social Worker at various local non-profit and government human-services agencies. In her last job with the county family-services agency, she was promoted to senior social worker with a large caseload. She had been hired throughout her career on the recommendation of friends and professional colleagues who were employees and, thus, had never had to have a résumé—until now. With the advent of automation and economic tough times for social-services agencies, Merle's job was eliminated and she was in the job market for the first time in a long time. As many job seekers do, Merle realized she needed a résumé as soon as possible. These are some of the items Merle included in her brand-new résumé:

  • • E-mail address: IHearVoices@xxx.com.
  • • Education: bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) dated 23 years ago, with no continuing professional development or certifications listed.
  • • Complete job history covering 10 jobs over 22 years with details of job duties and responsibilities for each.
  • • Footnotes to her job history, citing more information that could be obtained and where, including names of people, addresses, and phone numbers.
  • • Computer skills: Windows 95, MS Office 95
  • • Community involvement: Pen Pal Program (PPP) with State Division of Corrections facility inmates over 12-year period.
  • • Hobbies: bungee jumping, para-gliding, Internet dating, and exotic dancing.
  • • Awards: Most Bungee Jumps in 2007 (Over-50 Category)—National Bungee Jumpers Association.
  • • Detailed salary history and reasons for leaving each job (in many cases multiple reasons for leaving just one job).
  • • 12 references (covering her jobs going back 22 years), as well as their home and business contact information (addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses).

Merle's fully loaded résumé printed out at 10 pages. She had worked hard over six weeks to verify and acquire all the information. By including every detail of her career, Merle felt sure someone somewhere would sift through all of the information provided in the résumé and see a “match” with what his or her organization needed.

Merle opted to print 20 copies of her résumé on good paper. “Surely,” she thought, “I won't need more than 20? After all, I got my previous jobs fairly quickly before and those without even having a résumé!

Job Seeker's Stumble

Merle may be doomed to a protracted and perhaps even unsuccessful job search due to the content she chose to include in her résumé. Although much of it is résumé overkill, other aspects are inappropriate and off-base, raising more questions about Merle's suitability to be entrusted with another position of responsibility in social work.

Job Seeker's New Strategy

A résumé does need to reflect your career history accurately, but it also must be a selective marketing document. What you choose to eliminate and include can make or break your chances of being considered as a serious applicant by employment reviewers. Let's analyze each of the bulleted points in Merle's story (listed previously) to determine a more marketable and reader-friendly document. Each bullet point represents a glaring mistake, any one of which can be fatal for a résumé:

  • Questionable E-Mail Address: Changing her e-mail address from IHearVoices@xxx.com was absolutely critical to Merle's professional credibility. Upon urging from her friends and career coach, Merle decided to use MPearceBSW@xxx.com, which reflected both her name and professional status. Cutesy, objectionable, or hair-raising e-mail addresses may seem funny, but for job-search purposes must be avoided. Do not raise red flags before the reviewer has even read your résumé. In fact, your résumé will most likely end up in the reviewer's spam folder due to the questionable nature of the e-mail address.
  • Education: Because a BSW is the minimum requirement for a Social Worker position, it was essential that Merle list it on her résumé. However, including the date the degree was granted reminded the reviewer that Merle's training in the field was old, and who buys old knowledge? Also, Merle did not list her social work certifications, licenses, and professional development, which leaves the reviewer to assume she did not have any certification or up-to-date training. The quick fix for this section was simply to eliminate the date of the “old” degree, list Merle's recent (past five years) professional development seminars and courses by topic, and prominently display her licenses and certifications. These professional-development topic titles, licenses, and certifications are often keywords that employment reviewers deem required for an applicant to make the cut to candidate.
  • Job History: Detailing 22 years of work experience is an information “dump” and résumé overkill. No one would spend the time reading 10 pages of the stuff—probably not even Merle's mother! One of the really difficult challenges in writing your own résumé is having the objectivity and insight to realize what is relevant to the job target you are pursuing, and to eliminate (or greatly minimize) what is not. Covering the most recent 10–15 years on a résumé is sufficient, unless there is compelling evidence to make your case in an earlier time period (perhaps within the past 20 years). Do not date yourself with “ancient history”; employment reviewers need to know how you have handled the multiple challenges of the modern work world with all of the inherent technological and social challenges in your recent jobs.
  • Footnotes: This one is easy: Simply do not list them. Again, this level of detail in a résumé is just not needed. If an employment reviewer feels a detailed explanation is needed for anything on the résumé, he will ask!
  • Computer/Technology Skills: It is important to list computer skills if you have them, but you do not want to showcase old computer skills. This is a tip-off to the employment reviewer that Merle has not kept up-to-date with the world of technology and begs the question about what else she has not kept up-to-date on (such as her education and continuing professional development). The possible fixes here are, in the short run, to eliminate Computer Skills as a category (it is doing more damage right now than helping) and, in the long run, to acquire training on the latest computer software used most often in Merle's occupation and then list them in this category.
  • Community Involvement/Leadership: This can definitely be an asset on your résumé if chosen wisely. For Merle it leaves the employment reviewer wondering, “Hmmm.… Why exactly has she been communicating with a prison inmate or inmates for the past 12 years? Does this demonstrate lack of judgment in someone who would hold a position of trust and confidentiality?” Merle has a couple of options:
    1. She can eliminate this item from her résumé.
    2. She can highlight her leadership in pioneering the county social services department Pen Pal Program that connected families of inmates with their loved ones and that the warden cited as “the linchpin factor in the declining rate of recidivism in the county.”
  • Hobbies and Awards: Chose carefully here if you are listing these categories. Relevancy to your job target and to characteristics needed by a successful person in the occupation counts. Hobbies and awards that showcase your value, and further differentiate you and your personal brand in a positive way from your competition can often be the tipping point in your favor. Unfortunately, Merle's choices demonstrated her high risk-taking nature and were not necessarily a good match for a position that requires stability and common sense.
  • Reasons for Leaving: It is best to leave this for the formal application form; if it is not asked for on the application form, do not include it.
  • Salary History: This information is not needed in a résumé. It may be required on an application form, but even then think twice before divulging this information. Salary history and salary requirements are most often used by employment reviewers as factors to screen you out of consideration, whether your salary is too high (“we can't afford you”) or too low (”why aren't you worth more?”).
  • References: Although references used to be listed on résumés (perhaps 20 years ago), it is no longer the norm. It breaches the references’ confidentiality and could result in identity theft. If the résumé is broadcast too widely and indiscriminately, the references listed could get “burned out” with calls from companies before you have even been invited to an interview. Provide a separate “Reference Data Sheet” (prepared on the same stationery as the résumé) at the time of an interview. Do so only if it is requested and if you feel there is a good fit between you and the job/company. You will likely need about five references unless you are a senior-level candidate, in which case more will be expected. If you have “juicy tidbits“(one- to two-sentence testimonials), you may want to incorporate them in the Summary section of your résumé that serves as the overview, or perhaps in a pullout sidebar for a more creative approach. Keep in mind that more traditionally conservative industries (such as banking and accounting) may not appreciate a creative approach to your résumé; other industries (such as the arts and entertainment) will find it highly relevant.

Creating a résumé that is a marketing document means you need to hit the nail on the head with up-to-date and appropriate information that proves your skills, industry knowledge and credentials, accomplishments, and value. Anything else in your résumé is the Styrofoam peanuts in a packing box: just pure fluff! Depending on what you chose to include, it may even be downright dangerous to your career life!

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Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesJob Search, Job Interview Questions, & Job Interview TipsRésumé Writing Roadblocks - Be Selective And Careful With Your Résumé Content, Caution: Résumé Typos Ahead!, Oh, The Tangled Web We Weave…