Can You Help Me Fix My Resume?

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Up until this point in my blog, I’ve written what might seem like teasers. Instead of being direct about how to make tactical changes to a resume, I’ve come at it another way, writing on topics like the 90-Second Resume Scan, how to Update your Operating System, and Hiring Tips from Each Side of the Table, to name a few.

I’m reluctant to get into resume-fixing tactics for a few reasons. First of all, I’m not an HR professional. There are many more expert resources to use if someone wants help spiffing up the look of a resume. Secondly, I think it’s a common misperception that the resume holds the weight of the job offer. What I mean is, when people come to me for help with their resume, it’s usually not the actual resume itself that’s at the root of the issue.

Disclaimer: Not only am I not an HR professional, the range of people who come to me for career coaching or mentoring are usually at about the same point in their careers – several years of experience post-secondary – and ready for the next thing that is eluding them. So just as Freud’s theories were based on a certain type of person with a certain type of problem, mine are as well. I just compared myself to Freud. I’ll try and find a way to compare myself to Einstein before we’re through.

Here are some resume fixes I’ve used:

Be Aware of Emphasis

Where a topic is placed in a resume and how much real estate is given to it creates a focus.

A resume I reviewed recently gave a full page – over the course of two pages – to volunteer work rather than the work this person was getting paid to do. I call this an unintentional emphasis. Fixing this resume was about connecting his passion and marketable skills to the kind of culture he was seeking at work. Reformatting his resume followed naturally once he understood that an employer who signs a paycheck thinks differently from a volunteer coordinator recruiting someone to work without pay. We created new headers, moved blocks of content, and combined similar achievements, which helped him highlight other valuable skills he had to offer an employer. It also helped tell the story of how his values connect to the kind of work he was seeking, which is what he wanted to emphasize from the start.

Type-Size (and Margins) Matter

White space makes for a prettier page and easier reading.

When a resume was presented to me that had 4 pages of content crammed onto 2 pages, I learned that to this person’s thinking, she was following a rule of “no more than 2 pages” in the strictest sense. Her approach gave me the impression of someone concerned with detail and maybe lacking confidence in her skillset. Using tiny font and narrow margins to fit more information on the page can reveal that a person isn’t sure how to categorize what is important in their background for themselves or for a hiring manager. By working together to learn what her experience pointed to as her next step, she gained confidence in narrowing her content rather than her margins.

# of Pages = Experience

So many pages, so little time.

When I was presented with a 5-page resume, it was clear that the person who brought it to me wanted to include all her experience. Since we’re not talking about a CV, we’re talking about a resume that is too long. When I saw this issue, I realized I was seeing a pattern in many of the resumes I was helping people with. They were often working from the resume that got them first their jobs out of college or maybe one step up after that. It can hurt to delete some of those hard-earned bullets. In this case, coaching was about finding ways to validate the highlights of her experience while clearing out the finer detail by removing some jobs altogether. I found a great example to share of how someone had summarized their other work experience at the end of a resume. This helped her feel like she was showcasing important skills and experiences while still being honest about her work history.

Customize Content

Cookie cutter content can imply that someone is mass-applying even if that’s not the case.

At a certain point in an emerging career, sometimes people have put so much stock – and even money – into creating the perfect resume, that they don’t want to mess with it. It’s a masterpiece. Coaching for someone who brought me a resume like this was gently working through how creating a resume is more like working with LEGOS than oil paint. Build and rebuild*. Each job this person was applying for needed a slightly different take on his resume. Sure it’s more work. That’s why it’s said that it can take up 40 hours per week to look for a job, depending on the circumstances. That can be hard feedback for someone who has spent weeks getting their resume “perfect.” People who review a lot of resumes can spot cookie cutter at a glance. With all the tech resources at our fingertips, it’s easy and effective to customize a resume for each specific job.

Create a Connection

Visualize your new boss.

When I coach someone on crafting a new resume, my aim is to help them see how its purpose is to create an emotional connection between themselves and the hiring manager. Once an application has made it through the computer scan – depending on the organization – a resume is being read by real people looking for a real person to hire. Some of the best advice I got when I was looking for my last position was to make the interview a conversation. I think this advice applies to the resume and cover letter as well. I coach people to picture the perfect boss for themselves, smiling as they read their resume because they’re so excited to meet them. I’m no Einstein, but that’s my theory.

Recommended resources:

Public libraries have free resources that go well beyond a Google search. Check out your local library’s website for Job and Career support:

Job Now offers live resume support, interviewing and job coaching online.

Optimal Resume is a career management platform with a variety of tools to support job search and professional development.

*Foster Loran Hoover on the process of building with LEGOS.

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