Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Keeping Your Resume Out Of The Trash

It’s common to believe the hiring manager reads every word of our resume. However, have you ever wondered what happens to your resume after you submit it for a juicy job? You know you are the perfect fit for the job, so obviously you expect the phone will be ringing any day. In fact, you decided to take a breather from your job search because it’s a matter of time before the job is yours. Many of us have been in this same fantasy world.

In my years as a hiring manager I have read too many resumes to count. The harsh reality is your resume may have just a few lines read; if read at all. Most resumes are written so boring or are so nondescript the reader is unimpressed in a few seconds. The trick is to make your resume interesting enough that it is actually read. The recipe for a resume that gets read involves properly praising your own skills and expertise, stepping away from boring standards, and telling them why they need you today!

Writing a resume has never been on the top of anyone’s list of “favorite things to do”. If you write the resume yourself, you soon begin to think a trip to the dentist is more enticing…at least there’s laughing gas at the dentist. The thought of pouring yourself into hours of labor over a keyboard gets distressing. That’s why so many people are hiring “professionals” to do work for them (if only we could hire someone to go to the dentist for us)! Be that as it may, the bottom line is you only have one shot at capturing the attention of your future boss! And, now that you have this “career in a nutshell”, you want it read.

One of the most interesting things about us is we have a hard time touting ourselves on a resume. As a silly example, one day I was walking through downtown Seattle hustling to get to a bus stop. As I passed Nordstrom’s, I heard the “blat” of a trumpet. It was the sound of an inexperienced blowhard which obviously knew nothing about a horn. As I got closer to the source I saw a man with a hat on the ground standing with a partially tarnished trumpet. Soon he took another big breath and with big puffed up cheeks, blasted another heart stopping “note”. Now here’s the amazing part: people were dropping money into the hat! The strange thing is that as bad as his playing was, he made money! So what is my point? He blew his own horn! Chances are, if he just stood there without the horn, hat in hand, no one would notice him.

But, I want to be clear. I am not saying blow your horn badly! It is important to blow your horn, but with a beautiful melody. Though it may be true that some “squeaky doors get the oil”, as it worked for this man; some squeaky doors just get ripped off the hinges! As far as your resume is concerned, write a phrase that is attractive and draws the reader to the next line. You may have performed brilliantly for your previous employers but unless you use a “beautiful melody”, it’s just boring!

When I worked in the Human Resources department of a Fortune 500 company, I saw oceans of resumes with information so flat I couldn’t set them aside fast enough. Take for example this line on a typical resume:

“In charge of getting the organization to make improvements.”

Wow! Sounds like you drew the short straw to get stuck with that job. What if we take the same task and set the tone a little differently. Like this:

“Known as a results oriented change agent with the vision to apply a balance of analysis and action.”

Now I want to hear more… Let’s see another example:

“Provided customer service as necessary.”

Let's face it; Customer Service is always necessary! Let’s see if this phrase can be made stronger…

“Strong customer service skills honed through years of training and experience in retail as well as interfacing with parents in pre-school environments.”

The sound of the trumpet is a little more interesting now.


  1. You are exactly right about "drawing the reader to the next line" on the resume. Assuming the employer or recruiter will read your entire resume line by line is naive and potentially dangerous to your job search.

    Turn your job duties into accomplishment statements because employers always want to see that you got results. If you were the change agent for improvements at your company, exactly what were those improvements? How did they add to the bottom line? And give me some evidence via quantifiers ($, #, %, etc).

    Finally, we often have a hard time touting our own horn precisely because we cannot be objective about ourselves. It is for that reason that the services of a well-qualified certified professional resume writer may be needed. But check out credentials and recommendations first for a resume writer before you lay your money down. There are many folks starting out in resume writing or who "process" volumes of resumes every day via subcontractors who will be cheap but who have very little training and experience. Also, look for someone who will collaborate with you to produce a more powerful resume.

  2. Great comment! I have seen statements like, "I was process improvement leader." Without some quantifiable evidence of actual improvement results that resume wouldn't be on my desk for long.