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Tuesday, 2 September 2014

12 Fatal Resume Flaws by Deborah L. Schuster, CPRW

12 Fatal Resume Flaws by Deborah L. Schuster, CPRW:

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12 Fatal Flaws
in Do-It-Yourself Resumes
As a resume writer, I've critiqued thousands of resumes over the last 15 years. And I've found that about 90% of the resumes I see have at least one of the "Fatal Flaws" below.  While typographical errors are a well-known resume killer...there are other lethal mistakes I see more commonly:
  1. Focusing on duties rather than accomplishments and results.  This is by far the most common error I see in resumes. And it is also one of the worst mistakes you can make. Why? Because employers don't just want to know what you did -- they want to know how well you did it! Giving someone your job description does not tell them why they should hire you. You must show how you helped the company by improving productivity, saving money, increasing revenues, or solving a problem. Whenever possible, include numbers to quantify your results. 

    And don't think you don't have any accomplishments. You do. Many of my clients say they have no accomplishments, until I start asking probing questions during the consultation. If I do some digging, I can usually uncover some very impressive accomplishments in every candidate.
  2. Poor sentence structure.  An overwhelming number of resumes I critique -- from entry level to executive -- use passive sentence structure or contain verb confusion. Many begin their job descriptions with two words that are guaranteed to put the reader to sleep: "Responsible for...." That is the passive voice, and it is weak and vague. If you want your resume to be lively, clear, and action-oriented, use the active voice.  Begin each sentence with a verb: "Managed $2 million inventory of..." 
  3. Using "I" and "My" is another resume no-no. The "I" is understood.  But yes, you should still write the resume in the first person.  Even though the word "I" is omitted, it is still you talking, not a third person.  So you would say "Develop promotional materials..." on your resume, not, "Develops promotional materials."
  4. Copying Your Company Job Description.  One of the reasons people often make Mistake #2 is that they copy the exact wording from their company job descriptions. Those are always easy to spot because they're written in the third person and full of redundant legalese and excessive detail. But your resume is NOT a job description and it shouldn't read like one. It's a marketing tool that should sell your abilities. Job descriptions don't sell!
  5. Writing a "Career Obituary."  That's what I call a resume that is past-oriented.  It tells everything the person ever did in his past, whether it is relevant or not, but does not show how it applies to the future job. Or they give equal space to all positions, including old or irrelevant ones. But your resume is about your FUTURE, not about your past. You must show your ability to excel in your targetposition. Everything in the resume should support that objective.
  6. Using the Wrong Format.  Copying a format from a friend or a resume book is a mistake. The format may be great for them, but all wrong for you. Using a free Microsoft Word template is not a good idea, either. At best, your resume will be identical to thousands of others floating around. And whatever you do, don't use the same format you were taught in college. Chances are, it's all wrong for you at this stage in your career.

    Your format and design should be carefully planned as part of your resume strategy. The right format will play up your strengths while playing down any weaknesses, such as employment gaps, job hopping, unrelated employment, etc. Even the placement of dates is crucial. Putting them in a prominent place (such as isolating them at the left) will only draw attention to employment gaps.
  7. No Career Summary, or an Objective instead of a Summary. The first three inches of your resume are the most important in capturing the employer's attention. Yet many still use that precious space to state an Objective that is either obvious or vague. Objectives are for entry-level candidates. If you have over five years of experience in your field, an Objective looks silly and outdated. Instead, you should top your resume with a very strong, well-written Career Summary.

    An Objective tells "What I want to be when I grow up." A Career Summary states "Who I am...what I've done...what I can do for you."

    Here's another way to look at it:  An Objective tells what you want FROM the company...but a Career Summary tells what you can do FOR the company. Which do you think will appeal more to the employer?
  8. Getting Long Winded.  One of the biggest pet peeves among hiring managers is long, narrative style resumes with huge blocks of text. "And in 1985, I left the company to work for my father...." Use short, concise statements, and avoid "I" and "My" altogether. Your resume is not a biography -- it's a marketing tool. Avoid excessive detail.
  9. Making the Big Squeeze. I know...they told you in college that your resume should only be one page, right? And that was true -- when you were a new graduate. But if you have over 10 years of experience, forget that outdated "one page rule"! As long as the resume is easy to skim (see #11) and you're not cluttering it with a lot of old and irrelevant information (see #10), two pages are ideal.  In fact, two pages are now the norm for professionals with significant experience. You and your family couldn't live comfortably in your college dorm, right?  Then why are you trying to squeeze 15 or 20 years onto one page?
  10. Irrelevant, Old, or Personal Information. Don't list positions more than 15 years old. Executives may go back 20 years, but no more. Listing positions dating back to the 70's is a major liability on a resume. Even worse is listing information that is not related to your career objective - such as unrelated jobs or hobbies. And including personal information (height, weight, marital status, children) is as outdated as a double-knit polyester leisure suit. Actually, it's worse. If you make this error, your resume will be tossed immediately by liability-wary employers.
  11. Poor Design.  In order to pass The 15 Second Test, your resume needs a clean, professional, distinctive, and eye-catching design. (Examples)  If not, it will be difficult to compete among a stack of thousands. Use short paragraphs and bullets to guide the eye of the reader.

    Another error I often see is the overuse of bullets. If you bullet every line, the eye of the reader does not know where to fall. This is called "Death by Bullets"!  Don't get me wrong -- bullet points are essential in your resume. But they should be used strategically to emphasize key points or accomplishments -- not every sentence.
  12. Leaving out industry keywords. Keywords are a crucial part of today's resume. They are particularly vital if your resume will be screened using applicant tracking system. But they are equally important when your resume is read by humans, since a Keyword Summary provides a quick overview of your core competencies and areas of expertise. These keywords vary from industry to industry. One of the most important things I do for my clients is provide a skills assessment to identify these keywords.
Of course, there is much more to writing an outstanding resume than avoiding these flaws. As you can see, your resume must have strong writing that is concise, clear, focused, persuasive, and credible. It must be aesthetically-pleasing, strategically formatted, and relevant.  And above all, it must answer the question "Why should I hire you?" 
Although developing a resume is complex -- by avoiding the 12 Fatal Resume Flaws, you have taken an important step in making the first cut!
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