When clients first contact me for résumé help, they often say things like “I heard that you should never…” or “I was told to always…” Most of these rules are just plain wrong, because they contradict the one Golden Rule of Résumé Writing: your “why you should hire me” message needs to jump off the page in the 15 seconds or less that your résumé is being reviewed (one study says your résumé is looked at for only 7.4 seconds).
Keeping the Golden Rule in mind, let’s look at the top four résumé myths that I’ve come across in my work with clients.
Myth #1: I need to list all my jobs and experiences, exactly the way I described them at the time
Your résumé should not be a literal list of all the things you did in your career. Instead, make it a document that quickly tells an employer how you can help them by using selective emphasis and inclusion. That is, keep the Golden Rule in mind. For example:
- One client was targeting a Chief Technology Officer role. Her most recent role, however, was “SVP of Technology,” although she held CTO-equivalent responsibilities. To make this equivalency clear on her résumé, we wrote her job title as: “SVP of Technology (CTO-equivalent)”
- Another client was targeting a senior finance executive role. Two-thirds of his most recent job experience, however, involved setting up a new customer service function, which had nothing to do with finance. On his résumé, we left out the customer service part and instead emphasized the financial leadership-related accomplishments in that role.
If you are too literal in describing your experiences, both you and your prospective employer might lose out, the latter because they won’t truly understand your value.
Myth #2: My résumé needs to be on one page (or two pages)
Most résumé reviewers are not thinking “oh this résumé is on two pages (or three pages), forget it.” What they are thinking instead is “I only have a few seconds to look at this and figure out if a conversation is worthwhile.” You therefore need to prioritize ensuring that your résumé can be quickly scanned for value over having your résumé conform to a predefined length.
I too often see résumés with fonts that are too small, margins that are too narrow or space between jobs or experiences that is almost nonexistent — all to make the résumé shorter. The result looks like a wall of tiny text that’s difficult to quickly scan. Address these issues if present in your résumé, and make use of white space so that the reader can quickly skim through your résumé and pick out the key points.
Similarly, too many résumé writers leave out highly resonant accomplishments for the sake of one or two-pages, which is counterproductive. Don’t hurt your case in service of a “rule” that most résumé reviewers aren’t thinking about!
The benefits of de-prioritizing page length in favor of these other factors have been evident in the results from my work with over a thousand clients, where their one page, two page or even three or four page résumés have landed them interviews. My career-coach colleagues’ longer yet concise résumés are similarly being selected for interviews and high praise as well. To take one of many examples, my work with universities enables me to see which undergrad résumés recruiters select out of a pile. Very often, they select the résumé that goes onto two pages out of a bunch of one-page résumés.
That said, ensure your résumé is as concise as possible (remember the Golden Rule). Make every word count. For example, when I see that a résumé is just over two pages, I’m usually able to find and remove unnecessary words or phrases to get it onto two.
Myth #3: I was told to leave off experience that’s older than 10 years
This myth violates the spirit of the Golden Rule, as you can see in these examples.
- After a successful 20-year career in corporate marketing, my client wanted to return to the developing-country non-profit work she had been involved with 20+ years earlier. Instead of leaving this old experience off her résumé, we led with it as the first sentence of the summary section at the top of her résumé. From feedback she received, this experience was key to her landing interviews and offers.
- Here’s the opposite situation. My client was targeting Director of Information Technology roles. On his résumé he listed some applications experience from five years earlier that had no relevance in today’s technology landscape (things change quickly in tech). We took this experience out, as it was just a distraction; we made every word on his résumé count.
The bottom line: add experience to your résumé if it helps, take out or deemphasize experience if it doesn’t.
Myth #4: I should use a non-chronological format to fix problems with my background
Some jobseekers feel they need to use a different résumé format to hide issues with their experience. These issues include long gaps in employment, relevant experience that is old, or perceived experience gaps resulting from an attempt at a career or industry change.
Look, I’m all for breaking convention when doing so will help you to get across your “why hire me” message more effectively. But dispensing with the reverse chronological format will have the opposite effect. The résumé reviewer will get confused by a different format than the reverse-chronological one that they see on 99% of résumés; they either won’t take the time to figure out what you’re doing, or they will think you’re hiding something.
There’s a better way to handle problems, and it’s called a Summary Section. Place it at the top of your résumé (the first thing the reader sees), and think of it as your “elevator speech” or “pitch.”
Include: 1) your target position, i.e. what “box” you would fall into within an organization chart, 2) what differentiates you from your competition, and 3) your summarized “greatest hits” — hard hitting bulleted accomplishments — so they don’t have to go searching on page two to find that amazing accomplishment you want them to see (you may repeat these accomplishments later in the résumé if appropriate).
By the way, the analysis of myths one and three applies equally to your LinkedIn profile.