A compelling resume: 5 things you shouldn’t do

The folks at DocStoc.com invited me to teach an online course on resume writing and interviewing.  If you haven’t dropped in on their video courses, do it. It’s an impressive and ever-growing bank of info on business topics ranging from “raising start-up capital” to mastering social media. How such smart people could believe it’s good idea to put my mug in front of their audience I’ll never know.  But they did, so as I design the course I’ll share some thoughts with you here. First, some temptations to resist while crafting your resume. Some of these might seem obvious, but I view hundreds of resumes weekly, and the follies below inevitably show up in the pile (and subsequently in a dark, moldy corner of the cloud, never to be considered again).

Don’t include a portrait of yourself.

Most of us don’t look like Christie Brinkley. But even if you do, don’t put a headshot on your resume. If you’re counting on your looks to give you the upper-hand, you’re in trouble.  Just don’t do it.  Unless your portrait was taken during an epic laser battle.  With a lynx or other predatory large cat.  Or even just a kinda large/ kinda intimidating house cat.  Or a small, frightened-looking kitten is cool too. Those instances could really add some intrigue to your brand.  Especially with the ladies.  So, to review…don’t use a portrait unless you’re this guy:

Don’t make it complicated.

I’m bad at baking.  My friend, Laura Hawkes of Hawkes Winery, is an excellent baker.  Her advice to me was, “KISS.”

“Huh?  That’s allowed?”

“Keep it simple, stupid.”

Ok, I see what you did there.  The same must be true about your resume.  Here’s the thing. You’ve got like 10 seconds to pique my interest. 6 seconds for most others.  That data came from a compelling study published by TheLadders, a must read if you’re working on your resume.  Maybe that seems cruel to you, since you spent many hours writing your resume and many, many more hours building a career that you’re trying to adequately detail to me on a single sheet of paper. That’s just how it is, cruel as a Wisconsin winter.  Don’t cry.  Just make it count. A well-organized, elegant, easy to navigate resume is more effective than a snazzy, visually challenging, intricate one.  Even if you fear it belies your creativity, it’s best to stick to convention. In six seconds a recruiter will judge whether or not she’ll consider you for the job.  She will not consider learning a new resume language.  If it isn’t blatantly evident why she should be interested after six seconds, you’ll lose her and you’ll never get her back.  Shoot me a note on LinkedIn and I’ll email you a sample .DOC with the format I like to see the best.

Don’t get crazy with fonts.

I love good design. I can spend hours on end looking at typeface books.  The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog. Love that sentence. We’re talking about an art form that’s been around since the 15th century.  Longer maybe.  And now we have access to thousands of free font downloads.

“Hey! Why not add a little flair to the ‘ol resume?  I just got the Ice Cream Cherry Drop Sans font from DaFont.com and I’m ready to go!  The font is whimsical and beautiful and poignant and super impactful, just like me! ”

Once you lose the recruiter, you’ll never get her back. Art is subjective.  We interpret it differently. Our taste is informed by our individual experiences. I don’t much care for Dali’s paintings, though many do.  I also loathe the Lord of the Rings movies, an unpopular stance amongst my peers. By choosing an alternative font that is edgy or arty, you’re betting that you and a recruiter you’ve never met share the same aesthetic taste.  All you stand to win in the bet is having your recruiter NOT throw your resume away.  On the other hand, you risk losing a career opportunity. I don’t think it’s worth it. Just use a tried and true serif font, art-be-damned.

Don’t write an objective.

I’m surprised that this is still a relevant question, but since I see resumes all the time with an “objective” section, I feel like I should address it briefly. I suppose that at some point in history it was important to explain why you were handing someone your resume. Not anymore. Regardless of how we state it, isn’t our objective in submitting a resume for a given job opportunity always the same: TO GET THE JOB! So, let’s put a moratorium on the objective. Instead, use that valuable real estate to provide a “PROFESSIONAL PROFILE”, a snapshot of your qualifications, a brief list of what makes you so incredibly awesome. Think about the “PROFESSIONAL PROFILE” section as an opportunity to give the recruiter a reason to keep reading.  For me an “Objective” is reason enough to stop reading.

Don’t worry about fitting everything onto one page.

My dad was born in the forties and got a job with a large Financial Services firm in the sixties. 30 years later he left that company.  In a simpler time, when people worked toward a pension, when the corporate marketplace was made up of complexly layered companies and highly specialized skillsets, the one page resume made sense.  People were more inclined to sign on for the long (and I mean, very long) haul.  Forcing someone to read more than one page about your job of 30 years is a terrible thing to do! Punishable by death in some countries.  But now it is much less common for employees, especially talented ambitious employees, to stick around one role or one company for a such a long time.  Conversely, hiring companies value a diverse professional background with evidence of an upward trajectory.  I’d argue they value “corporate athleticism” as much as they value loyalty.  So, if you have a compelling and relevant professional background that is deserving of more than one page on a resume, go for it.

I’m glad to discuss at greater length.  Leave your comments below or shoot me a note on LinkedIn.  I give this stuff away like halloween candy.


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