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Antiquated 'rules' pose serious threats

BY SAMANTHA NOLEN Modified: December 14, 2012 at 1:48 pm •  Published: December 14, 2012

Dear Sam: I’m struggling. I have 23 years of work experience with multiple employers and can’t fit it all in a nicely buttoned-up one-page résumé. My sister-in-law, who used to hire a lot of candidates, told me that hiring managers only want to see one page and anything else would be ignored. How can I communicate what I have done in that small space while still accurately conveying the breadth of my career? – Charla

Dear Charla: Oh, yes, the old “your résumé has to be one page” rule. In my more than 10 years of writing résumés, that has never been a “rule.” With more sophisticated résumé structures, we now do not limit ourselves to one page as it does not make sense. If you can place 23 years of history on one page, then either you are severely under-representing yourself on paper, or you contributed very little value to past employers. Neither picture is a good one to paint.

 Today’s résumés open with qualifications summaries which serve as an executive summary of what is to come on a résumé, regardless of the length. Do you know that the most recent survey by Global Hiring showed that only six percent of hiring managers actually agree with the “one-page rule?” Unfortunately, your sister-in-law is in that minority; but her thoughts, or the thoughts of a select few who are still operating under 20th century rules, do not make it a “rule.” I give you permission to explore the value you contributed with a two-page résumé, or even three pages if that is what it takes.

 Open your résumé with a summary to provide the easy-to-screen snapshot of your qualifications critical to the screening process. But, following the summary, explore your career with the presentation of a blend of your responsibilities and accomplishments. Follow this with additional value-added sections such as education, training, and community involvement.

 I’m glad you wrote so I could help you prevent creating a résumé that really would under-represent you on paper. Best of luck to you.

 Dear Sam: I’m really struggling to see why my résumés aren’t effective. I have spent time explaining what I did at each job, highlighting accomplishments, and still I don’t get a response. I even developed multiple versions with different objectives noted. Help! – Rachel

 Dear Rachel: I noticed that your résumés do not contain qualifications summaries, and instead use very valuable real estate at the top of page one presenting an objective statement. Defining your purpose or objective is critically important to the development of this section, but instead of simply stating your objective, this section, along with everything on your résumé, should be developed to sell yourself for the type(s) of roles you are seeking.

Develop this section based on a primary objective, presenting a brief summary of your key qualifiers related to your current career target. Engage the reader by performing due diligence to understand the keywords for the position(s) of interest, and infuse those keywords throughout this summary and the remainder of your résumé.

I know that most candidates struggle with this section; it is, after all, the most difficult part of a résumé to write. As a tip, start writing your résumé from the bottom up, beginning with the easier sections and leading to the summary. Write the summary last so that you have a clear picture of what you have to offer your target audience. Check out samples on my website for inspiration.

Dear Sam: I have proven I can step into any role and excel. With my job search lasting for 9 months now, I really need a job and am willing to do anything. How do I make my résumé reflect that I can do almost anything? – Mike

Dear Mike: While creating a general résumé may seem like an effective strategy, it is actually quite the opposite. I cringe when candidates tell me they can do anything and don’t have an idea of what type of jobs they will be applying for.

While I certainly understand the need to not limit options in today’s job market, a one-size-fits-all strategy is rarely effective. Instead, one should really try to identify a primary target, even if this means you require alternate versions of your main résumé. If you try to present yourself as a jack-of-all-trades you suddenly become a master-of-none; clearly not a good presentation of your candidacy.

Defining your purpose is the critical first step in crafting an effective résumé, a step that facilitates your understanding of what your target audience is looking for and what keywords to incorporate into your résumé. While you may have thought broadening your scope on your résumé would yield more responses, it is likely it is doing the opposite.

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