Writing your resume can be like cutting your own hair. You’re so close to the action that it’s almost impossible to avoid one or two gaffes without input from someone you trust.
That’s why so many resumes, including this month’s example, fall short of their potential. Writing about your work history puts you so close to the action that you can leave out or botch key details.
I reviewed this month’s IT consultant resume with Ron McManmon, a former recruiter and currently executive vice president of Careeradex. We marked up Ben’s resume, shown in Figure A, to show specific changes. You can also download the edited resume and use it as a template during your resume rewrite effort.
I’ll explain why our suggested changes need to be made and how to make sure your resume does the job it should.
Lots of text, little specifics
After a 20-second read, which is what many hiring professionals give your resume, Ron and I both saw the same problem—too much information could prevent this candidate from being called for interviews.
Even with all the text, there aren’t enough specific results—a resume killer. For Ben L., the owner of this resume, all of this adds up to a job search that is likely dragging on for much longer than it should.
So, here are the best tips for fixing the three key errors.
1. Don't give too much information
Remember that the goal of a resume is not to tell your life story. Instead, you want to make readers interested enough to pick up the phone and call you for a job interview.
Invite readers into your resume with more concise writing, especially at the top. Opening your resume with a seven-line paragraph, as Ben does, is like stringing barbed wire across the starting line of the Boston Marathon—progress will be slow and painful.
The best and easiest way to chop sentences and paragraphs down is to read your resume out loud. Observe your breathing pattern—do you find yourself gasping for breath halfway through a sentence? If so, it’s time to insert a period and create a new sentence. After all, words on paper are really nothing more than a substitute for speech. If you wouldn’t (or couldn’t) say it, don’t write it.
2. Get rid of the fat
Ben needs to tighten up the wording in this resume, which is largely uninspired.
Imagine Tom Brokaw or a CNN anchor doing a 30-second news story about one of your best workplace achievements. Would they use language like the following?
Project management oversight of pharmaceutical sales database replacement project to migrate a legacy mainframe sales database to an Oracle database on a client-server platform
No. It’s not at all compelling, is it?
It can help to think like a newscaster when writing your resume, since TV viewers and readers of your resume have equally short attention spans.
Just as TV newscasters must enthrall viewers to keep them from changing channels, you must engage readers with your resume. If you don’t, hiring managers may miss crucial facts or simply trash your resume.
With that in mind, here’s how the above section could be rewritten:
Managed team of 13 IT professionals on project to replace pharmaceutical sales database. Led efforts to migrate from legacy mainframe to Oracle client/server platform. Finished within six-month deadline, $23,000 under budget.
Try reading your resume out loud to friends. Watch their expressions carefully. The moment you see them lose interest, stop and put a checkmark next to what you just read. Then come back later and revise that section to make it more interesting.
Please note, just because I italicized here to show the different text versions, I don't recommend using italics in a resume—they make the text hard to read.
3. Uncover buried achievements
Keep in mind that you need to shoot off your big guns early, since readers may never get to page two or even all the way through page one if you start off slowly.
“The awards and top career accomplishments should be at the top for impact, not at the bottom. And the accomplishments need to be better prioritized,” said McManmon.
To turn this resume around, try to mention at least two to three of your top achievements within the top third of page one. I consider this area the most valuable real estate in your resume.
Ben’s current summary section is on the right track. I would expand it to contain four or five bulleted paragraphs, each one or two lines long. Bullets make for easy reading and allow you to make your best points quickly, no matter how long ago you may have accomplished them.
Here’s a quick before-and-after treatment of Ben’s summary section:
Seasoned Project Management Professional, Information Technology Manager, and Business Process Consultant with experience in pharmaceutical, financial, high technology, and healthcare industries. Track record of effective projects in information technology, business process redesign, network design and optimization, and network and desktop migrations. Proven management capability and the ability to solve business challenges through the creative application of new technologies and concepts. Manages projects to meet requirements on time and within budget. Electrical Engineer (EE) with Project Management Professional (PMP) certification.
- Seasoned project/IT manager and business process consultant. Experience includes pharmaceutical, financial, high technology, and healthcare industries.
- More than 15 years of success managing projects in information technology, business process redesign, network design/optimization, and network/desktop migrations, with 100 percent on-time, on-budget record since 1989.
- Solve business challenges by creatively applying new technologies and concepts. Draw on expertise as Electrical Engineer (EE) and Project Management Professional (PMP).
Despite its shortcomings, career pro McManmon noted that, “Overall, this resume is better than most!” That, however, may say more about the sorry state of most high-tech resumes than about how effective this document is, I’m afraid.
But that’s good news for job hunters because, with a little revamping, you can avoid the three common mistakes of too much information, flabby language, and buried achievements. As a result, your resume will stand a better chance of making the phone ring with interview offers.