(Update: Part 2 is here) When a potential employer reviews your resume, s/he thinks: a) Can this person help me to do my job? and b) I have about10-30 seconds to scan this resume. Hence, the Golden Rule of resume writing: Your “how I can help you” message needs to jump off the page in the 10-30 seconds it’s being reviewed. You’ll hear many rules (like this one) tossed around by experts. My suggestion from experience and training is to forget all those other rules, and just follow this one rule. Anything that serves this Golden Rule is good, anything that doesn’t is bad– which brings us to the top two resume mistakes:
Mistake #1: Too much focus on your current or last job, not enough on the job you want
Taking the extra time to portray your experience in a way that’s relevant to a potential employer is always key, and is even more imperative when you’re seeking to change industries or responsibilities. Your resume should tell a story about how your background can be useful to a hiring manager. Emphasize the things that will help the employer, and de-emphasize, or leave out, the things that are not relevant. In other words, don’t waste their time and hurt your chances for the sake of being literal or complete.
A summary section goes a long way toward creating a resume that resonates. Think of it as your “elevator speech” or “pitch” right at the top of your resume– the first thing a reader sees. In a summary section, the most relevant, impactful accomplishments are at the top of the first page where they will be seen, not buried somewhere on page 2 (you can repeat the accomplishments again further down in the resume, under the appropriate job).
Case Study: Lori came to me for help after getting nowhere with her job search. I quickly spotted the problem when she showed me her resume. She was going for a Business Development Director position but her resume led off with her most recent job as a social worker in private practice. No wonder hiring managers were sending her resumes to the “round file”!
So, in Lori’s case, we placed a title at the top of her resume, in large font, that reflected her job target–“Director of Business Development.” The rest of the summary section contained keywords and phrases that resonated with her target audience (e.g. “marketing,” “publicity,” “staff leadership,” etc.) and separated her from the competition. Also, crucially, the summary section contained her “greatest hits” – bullets about her business development successes that were pulled from throughout her resume.
Mistake #2: The resume is a literal list of everything you have done
If you keep in mind the aforementioned rule, you’ll pick and choose what you want to include in the resume. Taking this targeted approach to your resume means often leaving out significant accomplishments and responsibilities because they distract from showing how you can help an employer in your target profession or industry.
For example, in Lori’s resume, we left out an impressive accomplishment– that she received countless thank you notes from her therapy clients about how she helped them overcome their psychological challenges– because it would distract from her business development pitch. Instead, we included how she attracted new clients to her private practice by delivering presentations– a point that is very relevant for her business development job target!
To further this same example, in the “non-summary” section of her resume, we chose the wording carefully for Lori’s most recent position. We could have left her job title as “Therapist,” the way she first showed it to me. Instead, we chose “President” of her private practice. While both ways of phrasing her job title are true, the latter is far more relevant for her business development job target.
By the way, after making all these changes, Lori started getting the interviews she wanted! In Part 2 of this post, I’ll cover additional common resume mistakes and how you can avoid them.