7 Myths About Great Résumés

When friends find out I work in recruitment they often have a lot of questions.  They might ask for funny stories, the strangest applications I’ve seen, but it’s never that long until I’m asked if I’ll look at their own resume.  Sad though it may seem, I don’t mind doing this, actually I quite enjoy it.  Almost every time I’ve done this I hear the same justifications for formatting, length, and content come up again and again.

I’m sure that this advice is always given with the best of intentions to those seeking jobs.  It’s folksy, friendly and given in the same tones as the motherly maxims we were fed as children. However, times have changed.  We know that if we pull “that face” we won’t stay that way, we know that eating those crusts didn’t put hair on our chests, we even know that if you swallow chewing gum it wouldn’t “wrap around your heart and kill you” (my elder sister used to tell me this with absolute conviction).  So much of this weird advice is now dismissed and yet when it come to job seeking we hold certain things to be absolute truths.  Here are seven thing people blindly accept as the “right way” and the reasons I think we can now give up on them.

Myth Number 1 – “Your resume should only be 1 page.”

Truth – This is one of the most pervasive pieces of advice I hear.  Often I find people struggling to fit their experience on a page, resorting to 10pt font size or self-censoring and leaving some great things out, desperately attempting to make everything fit into no more than two sides of A4.  The problem with that?  I will probably never print your resume.  “Sides of paper” is a physical restriction that modern ATS’s (Applicant Tracking Systems) and candidate tracking systems have made redundant.  The truth is that I will scroll through a CV on a screen, normally in a frame within another application, I’ll be reading your resume not counting pages.  Some recruitment software even removes page breaks so the length is purely a measure of holding a recruiter’s interest. Write interesting, relevant content and a recruiter won’t mind if you add a page.

Myth Number 2 – “Avoid all complicated fonts or design elements.”

Truth – This is another of those things that was potentially true in the past.  When looking at a paper resume it may have been the case that in printing a complex design would be corrupted in some way.  Similarly, early ATS’s couldn’t cope with any design elements as they tried to parse documents and strip out information.  Any modern system will now happily display submitted resumes in a variety of formats, even as beautifully crafted .pdfs the better systems are now advanced to the point where they can do this and still strip out information and enable searching.  Never has this advice been so misplaced when I was recently looking for designers.  The number of standard template resumes I received was scary – if you’re a designer show it! If the design you send to a recruiter is overly complex and doesn’t convey information clearly it will tell them a lot more about your abilities than the content.


Myth Number 3 – “Recruiters only spend 5 seconds looking at a resume.”

Truth – Recruiters only spend five seconds looking at a bad resume.  With clarity of format and inclusion of relevant information you encourage a reader to read on.  Irrelevant, clichéd or boring copy means anyone, not just a recruiter won’t linger for long.  You should write in a consistent format that is easy to take in – I have suggested the following format for wring about each job –

Company – Role Title – Dates of Employment
Who the company are, what they do – just a couple of sentences. 
The role you were tasked to perform – the duties you had
Achievements in the role – Call attention to specific things that match the role you’re applying for or experiences you want to call out. 
This makes for easy reading, it tells me what you did, and how you did it. I don’t have to second guess obscure job titles and still offers you the chance to blow your own trumpet a little.
 
Myth Number 4 – “Use Bullet Points.”
 
I like bullet points, when listed the duties you undertook or telling me about specific individual elements of a whole they’re great.  However, not everything should be bulleted.  I’ve seen resumes that are so clipped and hammered into bullet lists that they are no longer comprehensible.  As a rule any stylistic choice should enhance legibility.  If a resume is comprised totally of bullet points, each with their own clipped structure it can be like reading a newspaper using only the headlines.  I’ll thank you for the brevity but I’ll also doubt your ability to write a complete sentence.


Myth Number 5 – “Identify the problems of the employer.”

Truth – Don’t do this. I’ve never seen an example of this that doesn’t sound arrogant.  I can’t imagine a case where it wouldn’t.  Cite relevant experiences, give examples that you think may resonate with the problems that your target employer would also face, but the assumption of a candidate leaping in and saving the company they are applying to work for is a turn off for most recruiters I know.


Myth Number 6 – “Don’t use jargon.”

Truth – Don’t dumb down your resume to the point that it looks as though you don’t know what you’re talking about.  This is particularly true for technical professions.  A candidate is correct to assume some level of knowledge from the recruiter who is reviewing the resumes before they reach a hiring manager.  If a developer or sys admin is giving more details about a project they worked on I want to to know what technologies they used.  There’s another reason to keep in the technical terms too – they are often how resumes are searched and candidates are discovered in the first place. In any database of resumes, LinkedIn included, search is initially about filtering millions of people through key words – they have to be there.
   Technical terms are not meaningless, include them.  Don’t include the truly meaningless, clichéd company specific terms or management speak but if the term is relevant and needed don’t be afraid to use it.  A good recruiter can either be relied upon to google the term or if the rest of the resume is good they’ll ask you.

Myth Number 7 – “Don’t add your hobbies or interests.”

Truth – As a recruiter I tend to see all candidates as meaty flesh bags containing a skill set, their only possible use being to serve the organisation for which I currently ply my trade, said no one ever.  An organisation that would discriminate against you for your hobbies or interests probably isn’t one you would want to work for.  However, there are some people who may have legal yet contentious pastimes.  Things that might not be a good idea to add are religion or political activity or hunting as an example.  It’s important not to give the recruiter a reason to reject your application out of hand but at the same time as a recruiter I’d still like to know you were a well rounded human being.  
In a related area, don’t make up hobbies or interests, recruiters will ask you about them.  There’s nothing more awkward for us both like a sudden improvisation about your made up live action role-playing experiences.

Remember as Mary Schmich said “Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth“. The next time that someone offers you some advice on your resume make sure that it really applies to the application you’re making, but this is just my advice.


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