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Résumé Writing Roadblocks

Market Your Strengths, Not Your Weaknesses

Job Seeker's Story

As an Information Technology (IT) Manager rising through the ranks, Patrick had worked diligently on his job search after being let go from his last company due to a merger and restructuring. He prepared his one-page résumé and submitted it numerous times in response to online job postings where he was certain his skills were a perfect match for the job listed. He was surprised, therefore, when the résumé failed to produce results, especially in instances where he was very well qualified for the advertised position.

Patrick decided to consult with Lance, a professional résumé writer, to shed some light on the lack of responses his résumé was getting. In the analysis that followed, the first thing Lance noticed was that Patrick had used a functional format for his résumé that segmented his job duties into three functional areas: Networking and Systems Administration, Project Management, and Client Relations. Each of these functional areas summed up his relevant job duties at all of his various employers into brief paragraphs with no information on achievements related to each job.

Second, Lance was struck by the fact that Patrick had placed the listing of his jobs at the beginning of the résumé rather than positioning it at the end. This uppermost placement was particularly unfortunate because, out of the six jobs listed in Patrick's seven-year career history, three jobs had lasted six months or less.

When Lance questioned Patrick about his choice of the functional format and his list presentation of jobs first, Patrick replied, “Well, I have switched jobs frequently and want an employer to know that about me first, so then they can decide whether to interview me after that.

Job Seeker's Stumble

There are three major blunders in Patrick's résumé, and they are all related to not showcasing his strengths. First, Patrick's rationale that an employer would be eager to assess negative information to determine whether to call him in for an interview did produce results, but not the ones he desired. By putting his red flags of working at 50 percent of his jobs (three out of six) for less than six months each in the top one-third of this one-page résumé, Patrick unwittingly and prominently characterized himself as a job hopper. This made it easy for employment reviewers to screen Patrick out of consideration, which is the initial step in the candidate selection process.

Second, Patrick used the functional résumé format, not a particularly good choice for the IT management field where it tends to produce a low rate of return for interviews.

Third, simply summarizing job duties in a brief paragraph for each of three functional areas may be the easiest and quickest way to write a résumé, but does not do much to impress the employment reviewer. After all, wouldn't others who have worked at jobs similar to Patrick have similar job duties? So, what reason would an employer have to select Patrick for an interview over someone else? Patrick had succeeded in compiling a one-two-three knockout combination of reasons in his résumé for being dropped from consideration—100 percent of the time!

Job Seeker's New Strategy

Turning around Patrick's “knockout” résumé involved tackling the three major mistakes. The following techniques addressed each specifically:

  • Lead With Your Strengths: Patrick's focus should have been on using the résumé as an opportunity to present himself in the best possible light. Leading with your “good stuff” allows the employment reviewer to form a positive first impression. Even if the reviewer only scans the résumé quickly, most “eye time” is spent on the top one-third of the résumé. So, place your strengths above the fold (the top half of the page).
  • • Your strengths might be your degrees or certifications, either because they are recent (new) or prestigious for your field. Or perhaps your most recent job is the one you were in the longest and where you had the most significant accomplishments. Maybe you possess unique technology or language skills that are in-demand for the job you are pursuing. Any or all of these could be included in a Summary at the top of your résumé or in a categorized section above the fold.
  • • If you have a career history that contains several short-duration jobs, you could certainly use years only, instead of months and years, for the dates of employment. If your job history is longer than 10–15 years, you could condense the earlier work history into one-line entries at the bottom with a category title of “Early Employment” and leave off dates altogether. You may even want to consider omitting early employment, especially if it dates back 20–30 years.
  • Choose the Most Marketable Format: There are three most commonly used résumé formats: reverse chronological (the traditional hands-down favorite of employment reviewers), functional (least appreciated by reviewers), and combination (marriage of both the reverse chronological and functional formats). In Patrick's field of IT management, the reverse chronological format is the most accepted by hiring authorities. By making use of that format, Patrick would have immediately signaled to the reviewer that he understood the conventions of his field for résumé acceptability and was willing to provide his résumé content in that manner.
  • Gain Credibility With Accomplishments: Being the same as every other candidate by listing a rote set of job duties (probably taken directly from a job description) for résumé content is not going to win many interviews. However, standing out positively with powerful accomplishments can be counted on to gain attention and calls. Wouldn't an employer rather hire someone he can depend on to produce valuable results for the organization, rather than someone who is a “seat warmer”?
  • • Do not expect an employment reviewer to read between the lines. Give him clear and compelling achievements, quantifiable measurements of success for past jobs, and he will be able to envision similar results being produced for his company. Be careful not to overstep the bounds of believability. Stretching the truth is never a good practice for your résumé. However, claiming every ounce of real accomplishments is not only desirable; it is a must-do résumé tactic if you want to generate enough calls to land interviews. And interviews are the route to job offers.

After Patrick incorporated these suggestions into his résumé, he called Lance back in 10 days exclaiming, “The phone has been ringing non-stop ever since I implemented your suggestions. Thank you for pointing out what should have been obvious to me.” Patrick accepted a new position in IT management shortly thereafter.

Additional topics

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…