Tech & Work

Results beat out responsibilities in resume creation

One of the most common resume mistakes is focusing on responsibilities instead of results. Expert Kevin Donlin offers tips for avoiding this error.


When I asked Rick Fox, branch manager for the recruiting firm Princeton Search Group, in Edina, MN, to review this month’s consultant resume, submitted by a TechRepublic member for a professional critique, he called it a classic. In this case, unlike with cars, it wasn’t a glowing adjective.

Fox was pretty blunt in his analysis: “This resume is a classic, in that the candidate clearly defines what they did but fails completely in letting the reader (the hiring authority) know how well they did at it.”

I completely agreed. But the good news is that even a few well-placed improvements can enhance this resume immensely. My edited, marked up version of this resume, shown in Figure A, is also easy to download and use as a guide.

Together, Fox and I came up with an armload of suggested changes for this resume, sent in by "John Jones" from Denver, CO. The first goal is changing the resume's tone, which may turn off many hiring managers and recruiters.
Figure A

First impression is crucial
Me, me, me—that’s how this resume translates to readers and it’s a no, no, no. This resume starts off with an all-too-common objective that can rub readers the wrong way:

Objective: A challenging IT position in a company that supports creativity and growth opportunity in the workplace.

I’ve highlighted the words that focus the resume on the candidate’s need—12 out of 16, to be exact—which is almost 12 words too many.

John could greatly improve his objective by editing or removing language that makes demands on the reader about what he wants in a job (“a challenging position”) and workplace (“a company that supports creativity and growth opportunity …”).

To be blunt, employers couldn't care less about whether you're challenged or you get opportunities. They want to hire someone to solve their problems. Keep your needs, and demands, out of the objective.

Think of job hunting as a courtship—how far will you get when you approach that potential mate and say, "Want to have a drink and talk about me?” Not far—you need to give in order to get when romancing, and the same is true when job hunting.

Avoiding tombstone syndrome
A major issue that Fox noticed with this resume was that “there are no accomplishments listed that show whether or not the candidate ‘made a difference’ or merely showed up at work every day.”

In a nutshell, the resume assumes too much—it takes for granted that the reader will automatically figure out why it’s a good idea to hire John after reading through the long list of responsibilities. This is common, and dangerous, thinking.

John’s resume is all about responsibilities and offers nothing about results produced. An obvious giveaway is that whole sections are titled Responsibilities, but none have the more valuable heading, Results.

That’s why it qualifies as what I call a “tombstone” resume—there’s a name, some dates, and cursory descriptions, but no spark or reason for me to call the candidate.

Obviously, John was hired and kept on the payroll for more than 90 days, so he must have been doing something right. He just needs to state that clearly in the resume by focusing on results.

Text should be easy on the eyes
Every resume expert has some pet rules, and one of mine is that you don’t have paragraphs that are longer than three lines. Fox agrees with my rule on this. “The paragraph form is text-heavy and hard on the eyes. Bullet points would definitely break it up and make for easier reading,” he said.

Here’s just one “before” and “after” example, with grammar and punctuation improved.

Before:

Administrator of a 40-node local area network utilizing Windows NT primary domain model, integrated with a Novell Netware server for GroupWise E-mail access. Windows NT Server 4.0 provided DHCP-TCP/IP services for the intranet, as well as account validation, and management of shared resources. Windows NT Workstation 4.0 provided access to the domain.

After:
  • Administered 40-node LAN running Windows NT primary domain, integrated with a Novell NetWare server for GroupWise e-mail access.
  • Managed Windows NT Server 4.0 (DHCP-TCP/IP for intranet, account validation, and shared resource management) and Windows NT Workstation 4.0 (domain access).

More tips to share
If John has trouble developing concise results to use in his resume, a good approach is to talk with someone in his industry who can help him pin down the specifics. Sometimes this conversation ultimately provides the perfect text.

Next, read through the resume to avoid text-heavy sections and then ask a few objective colleagues to read it. Ask them a valuable question—does this resume show how I can help an employer, or does it just provide information on what is wanted in a job?

The resume that results from conducting these exercises should be much improved.

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