More about what should be on your resume

I spend a lot of time reading resumes, mentoring associates on how to rewrite resumes, and giving talks on how to best tailor resumes. And a Fast Company article caught my eye because it gives both good and bad advice about some of the worst mistakes job candidates make on their resumes. If you want to read more about what should be on your resume, click here. And check the Fast Company article. But also keep in mind the following:

  1. Change the way your cover letter addresses your resume to target specific companies or roles, but don’t change your resume itself. If you add duties or massage your title to get noticed, you’ll also set yourself up for claims of dishonesty. Leave the body of your resume alone in your job search. If you’re targeting two or three different job types, have one carefully-crafted resume for each. But after triple checking it for accuracy, don’t make changes for each application. Fast Company disagrees, telling you to weave the job criteria into your resume. I have to tell you: if the job criteria aren’t in there already, you’re not qualified for the job. Move on to the next posting.
  2. Carefully weigh your words. Because we work in communications and other content creating fields, we are all scrutinized for the language we use. Because of this attention to language, I suggest you ignore the advice from the above article, which says, “Be creative and entice the hiring manager with language that sizzles. For example, a headline like ‘Ensuring business roars ahead while attracting/developing top leadership talent’ will show a bit more personality and creativity while articulating your achievements..” I disagree. Claiming you ensure business roars anywhere will get your resume recycled by most of my clients. Why? Businesses don’t roar. And one employee can’t ensure anything about business success. We know a corny sales pitch when we hear one, and your resume must sell on its merits, not its flashy language. Choose vibrant verbs and precise adjectives. By all means use gorgeous language. But don’t call attention to your word choice by stepping over the line from richly descriptive to ridiculously postured. For example, “Collaborated with creative team to produce award-winning advertising campaigns for healthcare clients” does not roar or ensure. But it conveys an impressive effort.
  3. Use a summary section, not an objective statement. Your objective is, I’m willing to bet, to get a job with the company to which you’re applying. Right? So don’t waste the space reiterating. Tell the hiring manager in a sentence or two what you have to offer. Your summary begins your resume with the elevator pitch pitch bio in three or fewer lines. Make every word precise, honest, and approachable. Because your objective is implicit in the application.
  4. Be careful with recommendations for a skills section. If you have highly technical skills, or are being hired specifically for skills that few people have, then by all means have a list of skills. But most applicants for the jobs clients ask me to fill don’t need a list of skills; they need to write how they’ve used their skills in previous roles. For example, I have many highly-honed s kills, but my resume doesn’t have a skills section. Rather, I incorporate my skills into the descriptions of what I’ve done in each of my professional roles. My public-speaking skills are noteworthy, but they don’t belong on a list. They belong embedded in my resume where I can explain how my presentations have made associates and clients better employees. “Offered clients end-to-end project management and ensured deliverables were on time and under budget” or “led effective effort to consolidate 14 individual banks under umbrella brand with one advertising blitz” says more than a list with keywords.
2 replies
  1. James
    James says:

    One quibble with your otherwise excellent post. You wrote:
    ” I have to tell you: if the job criteria aren’t in there already, you’re not qualified for the job. Move on to the next posting.”

    I’ve been at this for more than 25 years and I find myself in the job hunt. With my varied background, I might land at a PR agency (my ideal), but I could also contribute to an in-house communications department or do IT technical writing. If a job posting calls for SharePoint design experience, I might include mine; if they don’t mention it, though, I’ll leave it off because I have other strengths that will fit the employer’s needs, and space is at a premium.

    Any thoughts on how your advice fits with a more-experienced applicant?

    • Mary Harvey
      Mary Harvey says:

      Hi, James. Your point is correct: more experienced candidates often leave off irrelevant information to keep their C.V.s concise. My argument is that, if the basic skills they’re requesting aren’t in your longer, mental list of the skills you have, you shouldn’t apply. So read the job description, edit your longer resume to discard the skills they’re not looking for, and submit the best, honest resume for that particular job. And if the best, most honest resume for the job doesn’t meet their minimum criteria, a candidate is wasting everyone’s time. Sounds as though you’re applying to a variety of roles that all use and benefit from your skillset, which is ideal for a successful search.
      Good luck!


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