Resume Rules

I had the opportunity to comment on some resumes recently, and the request for feedback warrants a post. I noticed significant differences in the style, information included, and length of the resumes of these candidates than resumes for candidates more similar to myself. I attribute these differences partly to generational differences, and partly to career tracks. Let’s a take a look, shall we?

Long resumes. Each of the resumes was 4-6 pages in length! This, to me, was pretty surprising, as the latest standard that I’ve heard is a 2-page maximum. Prior to the 2-page maximum, they told us in high school that our resumes should be a maximum of 1 page in length. In college, most professors explained that executives and hiring managers don’t have time to “waste” reading your 8 page resume, so you need to treat it like any other business proposal: short, concise, value-proposition. They wanted us to make sure our resumes were “executive summaries”, versus a “life story” of our career history.

Repetitive Information. Several candidates included repetitive information, which contributed to the extra length in the resume. Instead of only including their additional duties in a new position, they would copy and paste all the duties from their past positions. If they’d made a lateral move that included the same duties, they simply wrote down the exact same list under each position and company. To me, it makes more sense to organize a resume by skill-type if most of your positions fall under a broad set of skills. For example, my resume is broken down into Marketing and Customer Service, Project Management, and Presentation and Public Speaking. I then list each position and the specific accomplishments, versus the broad description, “created Marketing material” under 3 or 4 different companies/positions.

Full history. It was also interesting to see that these candidates included career history that did not relate or contribute to their qualifications for the position at hand, which, again, contributed to the additional pages on the resume. Many of these candidates have been in the industry for 20-30 years, but their first position in the industry isn’t really relevant to their ability to do the position we’re hiring for. The candidates also enumerated education and courses that were not applicable for the position. It seemed that many of the resumes were not tailored for the position, but just a running list of the last 30 years their career. I suggest tailoring your resume and including only the relevant experience and education, even if you have experience outside the description. For example, my theater resume includes my height, weight, hair/eye color, and sizes/measurements, as well as past shows, and vocal and dance training. The personal details are illegal to ask about in a professional interview for a corporation, and the vocal and dance training are irrelevant to my ability to do marketing. While they may show dedication to perfecting a skill, they don’t contribute to the skills in question.

Broad descriptions. Many of the resumes used broad descriptions like, “improved sales” or “handled customer complaints.” Today’s resume gurus stress using hard numbers or specific accomplishments. Instead of “improved sales”, today’s resumes require, “increased sales from $1,000 per day to $1,200 per day”. “Handled customer complaints” would become, “reduced customer complaints by 20%” or “increased monthly customer satisfaction score by 10%”. Since many people work in positions that require soft skills, there are too many ways to interpret these broad terms. A lot of people “manage” or “improve” an area, but specific examples will set you apart.

References. Each resume either included reference names, or included “references available on request”. From what I’ve heard over the past 3 years, “references on request” is out. The assumption is that if someone wants references, they know to ask, so there’s no need to tell them, “it’s ok to ask”. Further, with technology today, many companies can run a background check to verify much of the information on your resume, so they are less dependent on personal references than in the past. These days, if you want to know if someone is worth their salt, you can probably just go to LinkedIn and take a look at the “recommendations” on their profile! Also, today’s laws prevent employers from providing a lot of information, so references are not as useful as they once were. Some companies still check references, but many do not ask. I have not been asked to provide references or letters of recommendation outside of academics for any of my past positions.

Experience track. I noticed that many of these candidates have experience versus education. This is not a bad thing, it’s just different than myself and my peers. I think this is partly a generational issue, in that 20 years ago, a college degree was less important than it is today. Many of my parents’ friends don’t have college degrees, and they’ve been quite successful. This is almost unheard of among my friends, as we all attended college, and many are pursuing or considering graduate education. These candidates worked their way up from the bottom over the last 20-30 years, whereas younger candidates seem to emphasize education early in their career. From what I’ve seen, the education does appear to fast-track people, even if they’re older. For example, most executives in my company are in their 40s, and possess at least a Bachelor’s, and many, an MBA. These executives have held Senior positions at various companies with only 10-15 years of experience, instead of 20-30 years of experience like their less educated peers. They’ve moved higher in the organization and at a faster rate than those with less education.

Overall, this was a great opportunity to get a glimpse of how hiring in my industry occurs. It was also interesting to note how times have changed in resume style, and in experience/educational requirements. All of these candidates appear to be well-qualified for the position we’re offering, but it took a deeper look at their resume to figure that out. How have resume rules evolved since you’ve been out of school or interviewed for a position?

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