The resume litmus test:

Does it help me get interviews or does it prevent me from getting interviews?

 

If you’ve read just about anything I’ve written, or heard me speak, you know that the resume is good for only one thing: to get you an interview, so there is a simple metric for evaluating the effectiveness of your resume. Is it getting you interviews? In all likelihood—not. There are a couple of big reasons, and several smaller reasons for this.

Everyone looking for a new job seems to be in a frantic search for the perfect resume. I hear, “If I can just get the resume right, I know I’ll get a great job” more often than just about any other search-related statement. I go to job fairs with a big sign that says “FREE Resume Review: Right Here, Right Now!,” and I’m the most popular guy at the job fair.

There is no perfect resume.There are a few good ones and a million bad ones! And to make matters worse,everyone you know is an expert on your resume! One friend says you should have an objective, so you add an objective.Another says you should never have an objective, so you remove it. But I’ll bet those same people are in line to see me at the job fair!

Let’s back up a bit. What is it that you’re selling when you look for a job? Most people think they’reselling experience, because that’s what every job advertised on the Internetasks for, and what every position description requires. But it isn’t how people hire!

In an employment interview,there are essentially three factors: chemistry (how well do we get along),ability (do I believe you’re capable of doing the work), and experience (have you done the work). They are important in that order, because if I don’t like you, I don’t care how good you are. If I do like you, and I believe you’re capable of doing the work, I don’t care that you haven’t,because I believe you can.

This is critical, because it means that what you are selling in the job search is not your experience at all.But it’s pretty likely that that’s what you’ve been selling on your resume.What you should be selling is your ability to solve my problem. The only reason I hire is to solve a problem!

So, how do you sell ability on a resume?

By selling success. If you work in accounts receivable, have you reduced days outstanding? By how much? Have you established a system that improved efficiency? By how much?

If you’re going to get an interview, resume-reading software notwithstanding, it will be because the hiring manager liked your resume. Which resume will that manager like more: one filled with a litany of your duties and responsibilities, or one showing successes in improving systems, reducing costs, or increasing revenue?

The fact is, if I’m the hiring manager in the above example, I have a pretty good idea of what an accounts receivable person does, so filling the page with duties and responsibilities doesn’t win you a lot. What I do care about is how good you are! So show me success!

Trying to sell duties and responsibilities is probably the biggest mistake people make on their resumes.There are many other possible mistakes. One would be that, trying to cram lots of experience into two pages, you use a font so small that it gives me a headache to read it. Give me a headache and you don’t get an interview! Another would be trying to get my attention by using pink paper. (This is less a problem now, because most resumes no longer touch paper.) Pink paper shows you don’t know the rules. Out you go. Hand me a resume seven pages long. I’m not reading all that. Out. Resumes more than two pages long are acceptable if software is reading them, or, in some cases technical (IT) resumes, but as a general rule, one page is fine, two pages are fine, three pages or more are totally unacceptable.

The other major error is more strategic than tactical. It is in relying on your resume to get you an interview in the first place. In doing that you are playing a numbers game that is especially difficult to win.

When I was a corporate recruiter in the days before the internet, I would take home somewhere between 100 and 300 resumes per night to read. I was not trying to rule you in. I was trying to rule you out. Would I take a risk if you looked like you might be qualified? No. Tomorrow would bring another 100 to 300 resumes. Why should I take a chance?

Today, given the ubiquity of the internet, it’s much worse. The odds that your resume will be one of the top 10 I see are not at all good. So, sitting at the computer all day, answering ads and sending out resumes is not the best use of your time!

We’ll talk more about resumes, and what makes a resume effective, in the future.

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