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Bad Resume Advice (and Plenty of It)

Everybody has an opinion about your resume.

The recruiter who contacted you about a job. The HR screener. Your spouse and family members. Especially your network—the colleagues, co-workers, and contacts you have reached out to as you begin your search for a new job.

How do you know what to believe, who to believe, and how to address the problems they’ve flagged?

Let’s look at a few common pieces of advice. I’ll share my thinking that comes from more than 20 years of experience—

  • writing executive resumes
  • reviewing resumes
  • publishing resume books
  • evaluating resume certification candidates
  • launching and leading a resume training academy
  • connecting with recruiters and hiring managers
  • keeping myself up to date through regular conferences, training programs, and interactions with hundreds of career professionals

In other words—I live in the resume world, so the advice that I share has the benefit of years of experience and multiple points of view!

 

BAD ADVICE: “Your resume should be no longer than one page.”

Where did this “rule” come from? No reasonable hiring manager or recruiter will eliminate a candidate because of a two-page resume.

What’s more, very few executives—with 15, 20, 25, or more years of experience—can consolidate a rich career onto a single page without omitting valuable information. (Unless, of course, they shrink the margins and the font size to cram it all in—and thereby make it practically unreadable.)

COMMONSENSE SOLUTION:

Your resume should be as long as it needs to be to convey critical information about your experience and achievements—and no longer.

In every case, I create the content first and then determine the best presentation so that the page is attractive and easy to read. Typically that means one page (or sometimes two) for new grads and those in the early stages of their careers; two pages (occasionally three) for experienced professionals and executives.

The bottom line is that content dictates length and format. Rigid rules are ridiculous. But I also know a lot of tricks for condensing content and tightening format while retaining readability.

 

BAD ADVICE: “Go back 10 or 15 years—no longer.”

This advice assumes that your earlier career experiences have no value given your current career goals. It also assumes that you want to avoid making yourself appear “too old.”

Yet if you follow this “rule” arbitrarily, you may eliminate information that is valuable, relevant, and interesting. Your career story may be incomplete.

COMMONSENSE SOLUTION:

Spend most of the resume real estate on recent experiences. As you go back in time, condense and consolidate so that you are showing your career foundation (assuming it’s relevant) without getting bogged down in details and without expressly stating your age.

There’s never a single solution, but professional resume writers know many different techniques for “mining” early experience and extracting what’s valuable and relevant.

 

BAD ADVICE: “Wow your readers—tell them all the things that you’ve done.”

If you follow this advice, you are more likely to bore your readers! What’s more, you send the message that you are not a strategic thinker because you don’t know what’s important.

COMMONSENSE SOLUTION:

People are busy. They don’t need or want to know every detail of your life and career, so focus on what’s relevant.

It’s fine to include a bit of personal information, unique characteristics, uncommon qualifications. You do want your resume to be interesting, distinctive, and authentic. But it’s also important to respect your readers by telling them what they need to determine (relatively quickly) if you have what they’re looking for.

 

BAD ADVICE: Always have a resume at hand—keep it up to date so you can respond as opportunities arise.

This is actually great advice—but no one does it! Most people dislike the job-hunting process and, as soon as they land, gladly put all of that activity aside. It’s perfectly natural.

 

COMMONSENSE SOLUTION:

Two options—

1) Mark your calendar for a resume review/update every six months. You’ll have a good memory of the highlights, and as long as your career goal hasn’t changed, an update should be a fairly painless process.

2) Don’t worry about your resume, but do keep a file of your career success stories—your key accomplishments. Then, when you are ready to update your resume, you’ll have all the details at hand and can remind yourself of all that you accomplished, the challenges you faced, how you got results, and other insights that will lend color, authenticity, and value to your resume.

 

WRAPPING IT UP:

Looking for a job is stressful, and it’s easy to put too much stock in advice from people who have your best intentions at heart—but who may not be experts in the art and craft of resume writing or the skill and science of job search.

If you apply common sense, you can avoid the “musts” and “must-nots” that abound but often have no basis in reality.

You know your profession. You know your value as an executive. To create a resume, a LinkedIn profile, an interview strategy, and an effective job-search plan, focus on your relevant experience and what’s important to your audience. Consider all advice from that perspective.

And find a few sources (resume writer, career coach, mentor, support team) that you can trust to help you stay focused, confident, and moving forward.

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