For years I’ve resisted speaking about resumes thinking that everything that could possibly be said about writing effective resumes has already been covered. But after seeing candidate after candidate rejected based on what they had—and didn’t have—in their resumes, I realize it’s time for me to step up and share what I’ve observed over the years: Resume secrets that might surprise you.
What is a Resume?
The Cambridge Dictionary says a resume is, “a written statement of your education and work experience, used especially when you are trying to get a new job.”
That definition is wrong.
So if your resume is not a summary of what you have done, and not a summary of what you can do, then what is a resume?
A resume is a vehicle that shows whether or not you match what the reader is looking for.
And that’s all it is.
A resume is not a summary of your skills and professional experience. It’s not a capabilities overview. It’s not your life story condensed into a few pages.
A resume is just a vehicle that shows whether or not you match what the reader is looking for.
Why is Someone Reading Your Resume?
You may have sent your resume to someone in response to a job posting. You may have sent it to a company in the hopes of working there with no particular job in mind.
But why you sent someone your resume doesn’t matter.
What does matter? Why someone is reading it.
And why are they reading it? To see whether or not you have what they are looking for!
So that is Resume Secret #1: It doesn’t matter why you sent someone your resume. What matters is why someone is reading it.
What is a Resume Redux
What’s wrong with the following definition from Webster’s Dictionary?
A resume is short account of one’s career and qualifications, prepared typically by an applicant for a position.
It doesn’t take into account that the reader is looking for something, and judging whether or not you have it.
So let’s combine my definition with Webster’s definition, and you get:
A resume is short account of one’s career and qualifications, prepared typically by an applicant for a position that shows how the applicant matches what the reader is looking for.
That’s a workable definition!
If you know a resume is a vehicle that shows how you match what the reader is looking for, you can take proactive steps to find out what the reader is looking for, tailor your resume to show that, and thus increase the number of interviews you will receive.
And that is Resume Secret #2: The most commonly held beliefs about resumes are incomplete and do not focus on what you can do to increase your chances at receiving an interview.
Resume Secret Number 3
No one will ever read your resume.
People may scan it, read parts of it, search for keywords in it, but no one’s going to read your resume from beginning to end—they just don’t have the time.
Keep your resume as short as needed to show how you match what the reader is looking for, and no longer.
Resume Secret Number 4
You will never be hired because of your resume.
When faced with a stack of resume (printed or online), managers tend to scan each briefly and separate them into one of two categories, No and Maybe.
Then they take the resumes who weren’t rejected and say, “OK, let’s start with these three.”
For those people who received an interview, it wasn’t because someone liked their resume, it was because they weren’t rejected jet.
Resume Secret Number 5
You are writing for short attention span theater.
This takes resume secret number 3 to a whole new level. Not only will people not read your entire resume, they probably won’t even read entire paragraphs, or bullet lists with more than three items, etc.
We’re talking a short attention span, short!
A resume is just a vehicle that shows you match what the reader is looking for. Anything else you include may cause them to stop reading and move on.
Resume Secret Number 6
You can have everything a company is looking for and still not get an interview.
Why? Resume secrets 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
A company once called me once who needed a technical writer in Houston with patent writing experience. We found someone and submitted him, and the manager emailed me back about 15 minutes later saying, “He doesn’t have patent writing experience.”
The candidate did have patent writing experience, but it didn’t appear in his resume until the middle of the second page. The manager just didn’t read that far.
Resume Secret Number 7
Recruiters automatically assume you are not qualified for the job for which you are applying.
The great majority of resumes companies receive are from candidates who are not qualified for the job for which they are applying, that statistically we just assume you are unqualified until you prove otherwise.
This is another reason why the first page of your resume (preferably the first paragraph) must show that you have what the reader is looking for.
Resume Secret Number 8
Whatever companies are looking for, they want you to be doing it in your current job (or your last job if you’re not currently working).
There’s an illogical assumption that somebody who’s doing a task in their current job is better than someone who’s not currently doing it, no matter how many years of experience you may have.
One way to counter this illogical assumption is to put a summary at the top of your resume that shows that you have what exactly what they are looking for. Then, put less detail about your current job and more detail about the job in which you were doing what they are looking f
One could also do volunteer work at a local charity using the tool you can show your experience is “current.”
Resume Secret Number 9
What you do in your job is more important than your actual job title.
The easier it is for the reader to find what they’re looking for, the better your chances of getting an interview. So state what you did, not what your title was.
If a company is looking for a “technical writer” put “technical writer” on your resume, not “information engineer” or “user experience advocate” or any other title as the hiring manager might not (probably won’t) know those are different ways of naming the same position.
Resume Secret Number 10
The smallest typo or formatting error can scuttle your chances of getting an interview.
If you can’t write two pages of error-free resume, how can anyone expect you to write 200 pages of error-free documentation?
Ending on a Positive Note
Now that we’re gone over all the actions you shouldn’t do when submitting resumes for a job, let’s make each a positive action to do:
1. Keep in mind that your resume is a vehicle that shows that you match what the reader is looking for.
2. When possible, find out what the hiring manager is looking for and be sure to include that information in your resume.
3. Make your resume long enough to show how you match what the reader is looking for, and no longer.
4. Take information that would get in the way of the reader finding what they are looking for. Save all additional information, stories, duties, etc. for the interview.
5. Be brief but clear; you are writing for short attention span theater!
6. Be sure the summary of your resume shows how you match what they are looking for.
7. Be sure applicable experience appears early in your resume so you aren’t immediately rejected as “yet another unqualified applicant.”
8. Keep your skills current, even if you have to take on volunteer projects that show you are currently doing what the reader is looking for.
9. Use job titles that reflect what you did, not what you were called.
10. Make sure you have zero defects in your resume.
The end result should be more interviews.
Apply these techniques and let me know how it went!
About the Author:
Jack Molisani is an STC Fellow and the president of ProSpring Technical Staffing, an agency specializing in staff and contract technical writers: www.ProspringStaffing.com He also produces the LavaCon Conference on Online Branding and New Media: www.lavacon.org
Follow Jack on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JackMolisani