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The Rules of the Resume Game, Part Two, by William S. Frank

Simplify.
The resume is a problem of space and organization. How do you take a lifetime of experience and condense it onto one or two pages? You do what Thoreau said: You simplify. You set priorities. You go to the heart of the matter. You cut out everything that's not essential. You don't waste space. Therefore, don't say things like: "References furnished upon request." The reader will expect you to furnish references.


The Rules of the Resume Game

There are two ways to make the job easier. First, don't try to tell everything. That will result in total frustration. Prioritize and be selective. Tell only what is important. Eliminate skills and accomplishments that are self-evident, and don't repeat yourself.

For example, if you are the Chief Medical Officer in your company, the reader will assume you can read lab tests. Or, if you've been hitting triples and home runs lately, there's no need to say you used to hit singles and doubles. Save valuable space for valuable ideas.

Second, develop supplementary documents. If you've published 35 professional journal articles, don't try to list them on your resume. Develop a separate one-page marketing tool called PUBLICATIONS. Create a letterhead using the information at the top of your resume: name, address, and telephone numbers. Center the title PUBLICATIONS below it, then list the specifics. Do the same for other long lists: HONORS AND AWARDS, REFERENCES, COMMUNITY ACTIVITIES, COMPUTER SKILLS, WORLD TRAVELS, CONTINUING EDUCATION, and the like.

Wrestle with yourself
Writing a high-impact resume may be a difficult project, depending upon how much introspection and record-keeping you've done in the past. You're going to take a lifetime of experience, often 20 or 30 years, and condense it onto one or two pages. That's hard.

You have to make choices. You have to decide what you're going to do with the rest of your life. You have to figure out how to account for your failures in the past, and for your weaknesses now. That's also hard.

You have to sell yourself on yourself. That may be the most difficult assignment of all. None of this is easy. It takes time and effort. It doesn't happen overnight. You may have to wrestle with it.

That's why resume services do you a disservice. First, they don't know the impact and importance of your accomplishments. Only you know that. Second, by "doing it for you," they keep you from coming to terms with yourself.

As a career consultant, I like to see job candidates wrestle with resume writing. That's how they gain self-awareness. If I jump in and do it for them, I handicap them. I save them from getting to know themselves better. And that's a mistake.

Resume writing prepares you to talk to people in casual conversation, and both informational and formal interviews. Skip this step and you literally won't know what to say. A poor resume generally equals a poor job campaign; and a poor job campaign usually equals a poor job offer. You've got to be the best that you can be.

Beware resume experts
Free advice is worth exactly what you pay for it. Nowhere is this more true than in resume preparation. Often the first thing that happens when you complete your resume is that your friends, employment agents, recruiters, and prospective employers tear it apart. They show you "what you did wrong," and tell you how to "improve it."

Everyone is a self-appointed resume expert. No matter what you do, they'll find fault with it. "The margins are too wide, too narrow. The font is too large, too small. Education should be first. A nice parchment paper would be nice. Better yet, enclose your resume in a purple binder—that would stand out."

The way to handle these do-gooders is to thank them, as follows: "Thank you, Susan, for this valuable advice. I'll really think about it and consider adding it into the next version. In the meantime, do you have any thoughts or ideas about people I should contact or specific positions or opportunities I should pursue?"

If your resume is formatted properly, there are only two ways others can help you improve it:

  1. by reminding you of an accomplishment you had forgotten, or
  2. by helping you to reword an existing achievement to make it more powerful.
Don't be awed by recruiters
Some of my best friends are recruiters (also called headhunters and executive search consultants), and I admire them. What I'm about to say doesn't apply to them, or other professional recruiters. It applies only to those who misrepresent themselves.

Job-seekers tend to think all "recruiters" are career experts, but they aren't. They're salesmen. They may be an expert in one functional area of one industry, say Aerospace Accounting; but many of them are inexperienced. Some haven't the slightest idea what they're talking about, even thought they appear to be pros.

A physician named Richard called me one night extremely upset. He had just spent several days polishing his resume and some recruiter-a complete stranger-told him it was all wrong." Richard panicked. He felt he had wasted precious time and would have to start over. In this case the recruiter was mistaken. He didn't know as much about resumes as we did, but his aura of authority and his posture as the expert was very unsettling.

According to the Directory of Executive Recruiters, there are more than 8,250 search firms and 16,500 recruiters in the U.S. Most are mom and pop shops, and fully half of them go out of business annually. Does that sound like career expertise to you?

Most recruiters aren't career experts, and they're not resume experts, either. Take their suggestions with a grain of salt. If they're helpful, if their advice makes sense to you, then follow it. If not, ignore them and trust yourself. (By the way, the same holds true for advice from well-meaning family and friends.)

This being said, it may still a good idea to broadcast your resume to executive recruiters. Think of it as a safety net. You can go here to e-mail your resume to executive recruiters.

What is psychological comfort?
You have to like your resume. In fact, you should love it—because you're going to have to explain it, defend it, and talk about it in meetings.

Make sure you feel comfortable with your resume. If you don't, it may not work for you. If you don't like my format, then use your own. Perhaps you've had a style that's worked for you over the years. If so, use it. Don't feel you have to adopt all my ideas. (In fact, several of my friends have gotten high-paying senior level jobs with resumes I thought were terrible.)

The same is true with all your marketing tools. They must fit you "psycho- logically." You must like them. If you don't, change them.

Ready. Fire. Aim.
You probably need a resume, even if you never plan to use it. Everyone has one, and it's expected. The challenge is to make yours better than everyone else's—or at least better that your competitors'.

But remember, the resume is only one of many marketing documents. There are many other tools that are just as effective, and just as important. Some are possibly more effective and more important: like cover letters, for instance. Don't get lost in this project. If you've spent more than 7-10 days building a resume, you may be avoiding more important tasks, like getting out and meeting people.

Go for it.

Back to Part One. Return to index of articles.

 


"What is written without effort is in general
read without pleasure."—Samuel Johnson

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