Employer Branding Workplace

When Bad Resumes Happen to Good People

If your 401K has dwindled to a 201K and your real estate has gone soft, it’s possible that the most important thing you own right now is your resume. But if the flow of e-mails into my office is any indication, the number of people with bad resumes has reached epidemic proportions. Worse, they don’t understand why I’m not doing back flips to schedule a meeting. To stop the spread of this viral vitae, I offer these remedies:

Less is more.

The sole purpose of a resume is to get you an interview, period. It’s not an autobiography. If you blurt it all out now, why should anyone want to meet you? Rather, think of it as wrapping paper that will make its recipient eager to tear open the package and see what’s inside. Once you’ve accomplished that, take a bow and start working on your interview skills.

Report, don’t editorialize.

Resist the urge to tell me that you’re a “highly motivated, results-driven, visionary, worldclass entrepreneur.” May I decide that for myself, after we’ve met and I’ve had time to consider your multitude of accomplishments? Save the adjectives for a topic other than you. This might be hard, I know, but it will be far more meaningful if I conclude that you’re a “seasoned, savvy professional with a distinguished career” than if you announce it beforehand and I have to hunt for evidence to support your claim. Give people credit for having a clue and they may just return the compliment.

Control your audience’s eye movements and you control the audience.

This ancient wisdom comes from Alfred Hitchcock and I urge you to learn from the master. Get your reader on a short leash with a choke-chain. Oh, did someone tell you those horrid little bullets will make it easier to scan your resume? That’s exactly why you don’t want to use them. Shameless self-promotions, garish buzzwords and inventive graphics are as image-positive as polyester leisure suits…and about as likely to get you a date. Avoid gimmicks aimed at luring the window shopper inside. If you want to provide a quick and dirty overview for that ADD reader in your life, write a brief, dignified paragraph and call it “Expertise” or “Summary.” Put it at the top of the page and get out of there.

Just the facts, ma’am.

Write the way Jack Webb spoke on Dragnet. Simple, direct statements in government style, gray flannel prose. No lying, no embellishing. Say what you were genuinely responsible for and don’t merely feature “highlights” or “achievements.” Again, no bullets – they resemble advertising copy. (Think how your filter kicks in when you see media hype. Same goes for hiring managers and recruiters.) So let it look and sound like…well, information. Leave out the poetry (together with any other unnecessary words, including articles and pronouns) and write in clear, journalist declarations that begin with verbs (“Woke up. Got out of bed. Dragged a comb…”). The number of pages doesn’t matter; substance does. Tell your story and be done with it.

Be realistic.

If you’re a dermatologist in Buffalo who wants a job pitching for the Yankees, you’ll need a wicked slider because even the best resume won’t help. And no, you can’t break down 10 years of accounting experience into core competencies and demonstrate how qualified you are to become the next CFO at Google, either. By all means say what you’ve done, but if the dots between that and what you’d like to do can’t be connected, the resume isn’t to blame. Putting your fantasy on paper won’t make it come true. Ask yourself honestly,

“Can I get there from here?”

Keep your cash in your pocket…you’ll need it for gas. Don’t hire a resume writer. Not for $100 and certainly not for $10,000. It’s a waste of money, honey. Hire a seventh-grade English teacher to help with your composition, if you need it, but not a pro. Although often well-intentioned and fiercely proud of their so-called credentials, very few professional resume writers have significant, direct experience actually placing executives in corporate functions. While you may be impressed by their aesthetic standards, they simply do not have skin in the game.

Follow the leader.

Charles Montgomery Burns (The Simpsons), arguably the most successful executive of both this century and last, has generously made his opus available to the world. See how it’s done, and done to perfection, right here. What are my qualifications for making all these sweeping generalizations and decrees? Judge for yourself… I’ll send you my resume when it’s done.

Related: Why Your CV is Boring and Ineffective

A 25-year veteran of executive search, Mark Jaffe has a reputation for seeing beyond the package and posture of highly accomplished business leaders. He is uncompromisingly direct and focused on his task – finding the perfect match for his client. Mark is one of the most frequently quoted talent brokers of the new economy and was named by BusinessWeek as one of the World’s 100 Most Influential Headhunters. More information about Wyatt & Jaffe can be found at: 

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