|A person reading resumes in a professional
environment receives many applications each
day. He or she is pressed for time, short
on sympathy, perpetually suspicious and quite
likely to ignore any response that bores,
confuses, annoys, or seeks to con him or
Your resume is your "marketing brochure"
and your marketing efforts must be focussed
on your target market, the resume reader.
Their responses to your efforts are governed
by four major principles:
- Address my needs and priorities, not your
wishes and aspirations.
- Don't tax my patience.
- Don't tax my credulity.
- Give me the information I want - and only
the information I want - in a sequence that
lets me make the most accurate snap judgement
While it's true that a potential employer
should have some concerns about what will
make you a happy employee, their primary
priority is getting their needs met. They
are paying the money and thinking in terms
of what value the new employee brings for
that money. Resumes and cover letters that
carry on ad nauseam about the your needs
and goals are a definite turnoff.
If there's nothing at the top of your "marketing
brochure" that serves as a product description
and you simply jump into "Professional
Experience", the reader naturally will
assume that you want to continue doing exactly
what you did in your last job.
When confronted with a pile of resumes, a
reader does not actually read them on the
look through. He or she scans them extremely
quickly, approximately 20 or 30 seconds per
resume. It is during this initial scan that
a pile is created that the reader will actual
go back and read. The balance are ignored
or throw away. Those that are selected for
further reading are read through very quickly
(possibly 2 minutes per resume).
Accordingly, the most blatant sin you can
commit is to submit something that's physically
hard to read. You can't make a reader's job
harder than it already is and expect to enjoy
their favour. So no single-spacing or full
declarative sentences (not, "I wrote
the plan," but "wrote plan.").
No 3 millimetre margins and nothing longer
than two pages (unless the subsequent pages
are labelled "Addendum" and contain
Give the reader lots of space. Modern desktop
publishing software and word processing programmes
offer distinct formatting cues to aid a reader's
eyes in scanning the page. Use quality, light
coloured paper and a printer that produces
a quality image. Create a resume that, upon
first glance, triggers an involuntary response
in the reader's head: "Thank you, for
understanding how tedious resume screening
Unless you're working in a creative profession
(public relations, advertising, graphic arts
or writing government budgets), avoid stunts
like brightly coloured paper, Olde Englishe
type, diagonal formatting, tri-fold mailers,
etc. They tend to suggest that you're trying
to stand out by artificial means rather than
your own merits.
A professional employment consultant has
read a lot of resumes and has seen a broader
spectrum of lies, puffery, distortions, clever
omissions, and creative historical interpretations
than you can possibly imagine. Their ability
to detect questionable information is legendary.
Any of your unsupported praise is rarely
automatically accepted as gospel. You say,
"significantly enhanced productivity".
What do you mean by significant? You say,
"major program". By whose standards?
Do not use adverbs and adjectives unless
they describe something objectively measurable.
At best, they simply don't register, they
become "invisible words." At worst,
they cause your resume to be ignored.
Use numbers because they are believed instinctively.
If you say, "significantly increased
sales, lowered costs and improved productivity,"
the response is generally sceptical, however,
if you say, "increased division sales
by 14% in seven months while decreasing costs
23%" it will be believed. After all
these figures can be objectively measured
and checked. The reader thinks, "You
wouldn't dare lie to me about something I
can easily verify."
Use past-tense verbs expressed in tight telegram-like
phrases: "Managed department. Drafted
five-year plan. Recruited all staff. Negotiated
entire transaction." They are preferred
because they describe what's already happened.
In an employer's mind, there's no better
proof of what you can do than the fact that
you've done it before. "Negotiated sale
of six multi-million Rand shopping centres
in 2 years" is a lot better than "able
to negotiate high price property transactions."
Incidentally, about 80% of a reader's time
and effort is spent on the first page of
the resume, the second page gets a fast glance,
usually to check your educational background,
find the year you graduated from university,
subtract 21 from that year and get a rough
idea of how old you are. That means if there's
really important information on page two,
you'd better find some way to highlight it.
Generally there is no particular interest
in the personal section found on many resumes,
and no interest whatever in whether you like
to read, take long walks, or play chess.
Omit any controversial activities or memberships
("enjoy crocodile wrestling and Madam
and Eve fan club meetings"). You don't
need to state that your health is excellent
or "references upon request", since
everyone had better be healthy and have references.
Resume readers don't like being told what
to think. They want information laid out
for them in a sequence that allows them to
use their own judgement to size you up. That's
why many of them report on an almost fanatical
distaste for functional resumes, in which
the writer omits or downplays his career
chronology and instead attempts to create
a menu of marketable qualities.
A good resume reader can deduce a lot from
your career path - where you started, how
long you stayed, whether you shifted roles
or settings, how fast and often you were
promoted and, perhaps most important, who
has seen fit to employ you. You can view
a resume reader's mind set as one that sees
almost everything in terms of trust, the
risk to him or her if he or she guesses wrong
about you, the stakes, the job's responsibilities
and your previous accomplishments.
Accordingly your resume must answer the following
series of questions focused on who has previously
trusted you with what:
- What's the product statement here? (What
do you claim to be in terms of level, roles/functions
and prior work settings?) This information
is found in the profile, summary statement
- Who trusted you before? (Pick 'n Pay? Well,
they're pretty demanding. If they thought
you were worth hiring maybe I can, too. Uncle
Joe's Corner Cafe? That doesn't tell me much.)
- How long have they trusted you? (If it's
more than about three years, you must have
been of some value to them or they would
have fired you, right? Twenty years without
a promotion? Not much ambition there.)
- What were the stakes? What was the biggest
thing they trusted you with? This usually
is reflected in your job title.
- What were your responsibilities? (Stop! Don't
brag yet. Just give me a nice, objective
job description to show me the nature and
scope of your responsibilities.)
- Did you do anything with those responsibilities?
("Now, give me some examples - past
tense- of all the marvellous things you've
- Who trusted you before that? How long did
they trust you? What were the stakes there?
Responsibilities? Accomplishments? If there's
a lot of jobs or you're going back more than
15 years, collapse the history into a category
called "Earlier Experience."
- Where did you go to school?
- Anything else I need to get a full and accurate
understanding of you and what you offer?
All this data should hang together, paint
a picture and not raise alarming, unaddressed
concerns (Why is the date of your university
degree missing? Why is there a four year
gap in your employment history?). Without
an answer to these concerns, File 13 awaits.
One last point. The resume doesn't have to
say everything. It's a screening tool, a
brochure to help employers decide who's worth
meeting in person. There will be time in
the interview process to flesh out details,
amplify strengths, and demonstrate your personal
attributes. A resume is a suitcase; travel
light and don't try to turn it into a steamer
trunk. If you keep it lean, objective, orderly,
and logical, it will be one of just a few
resumes will welcomed.