Resume Content

While seeking candidates for a position, hiring mangers make quick decisions about who will and won’t fit their company. Candidates won’t make the cut, no matter how qualified or brilliant, if their resume or cover letter are unprofessional, uninteresting, or annoying. If you’d like the hiring manager to believe you’re the best candidate for the job, you need to keep your resume out of the recycle bin.

The basics of what to include in your resume are that you need to include a compelling story in simple language of what’s relevant, accurate, and recent in your work history.

In this post, I’ll address the content of your resume: because your resume is the advertisement that will make a hiring manger call you, it’s important that you choose the ideas and words that make your resume its strongest.

  1. Avoid jargon and buzzwords. When you use language to trick your reader, they assume you’re hiding something. There’s no reason to say you’re dynamic. Every human whose vital organs operate is dynamic. You need to explain how previous employers or clients have received a benefit from your work. When you simply state how you added value through your efforts, your worth will shine through. Your resume is brochure for You, The Job Candidate, and what sells is clarity not tricks.
  2. Notify your references in advance that they might get a phone call about your work. Even if someone agreed a while ago to serve as a reference for you, chances are they don’t want to be surprised months or years after you last spoke with them. Email or call as soon as you’re looking for work to ask references if they are still willing to vouch for you. Ask, specifically, if now is a good time to use them as a reference and if they will give a good report of your time working for them.
  3. Proofread. I’ve already said that? Of course I have. I know for a fact hiring managers throw typos into the trash. They don’t care how bright or clever or talented you are if you can’t be bothered to make this one piece of paper right. The dates have to be correct, the spelling impeccable, and the grammar flawless. Quadruple check.
  4. Prioritize objectivity. Write what you can prove, not what you think. There is no arguing with “saved the company $2,000 a month by streamlining processes,” but there is plenty of wiggle room within “responsible.”
  5. Pay attention to the job’s keywords. Agency a la Carte doesn’t use software, but many HR departments do. So if the keywords from their posting fit your background, make sure those specific terms are in your resume. It’s not ideal to use computers to prescan resumes, but it’s the reality at some large companies. Does that mean a slightly different resume for each job you apply for? Of course it does. Software or no software, the resume should reflect the specific job you want.
  6. Maintain honesty. Don’t lie. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t lie. Don’t exaggerate. Don’t lie. Don’t exaggerate. Seriously.
  7. Limit the content to the most relevant, recent positions. If you’re in the middle of your career, don’t include your high school jobs. Stick within the past ten years or so, and to only the jobs that relate to the one you’re applying for so you can keep the resume to one page. (Executives are the only exception to this one-page rule because the hiring process is different for the C-suite.) Limit the words, too. Edit as though Ernest Hemingway were looking over your shoulder. Cut ruthlessly until you use the fewest words to convey exactly how valuable and experienced you are.

Next week I’ll address how your resume should be laid out. The highlights are that you need a simple and uncluttered resume on which the pertinent information is easy to read and find. Stay tuned!

—Mary Harvey

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