One of the most important tools in a job hunt is a resume. It is the single most important document that one uses to market oneself. Studies show that the typical resume screener looks at a resume for approximately 6 seconds. They are looking initially for key words and phrases as well as layout. That might sound very unfair, but they are buying and the onus is on you to convince them they should “buy” what you have to offer.
A good resume can either make or break the search: it can be your admission ticket to an interview; or conversely relegate your prospects to the reject pile. There is a lot of information about creating the perfect resume: from information that should be included, to format, to keywords that should be included. There is no shortage of experts purporting to teach the rules of resume writing.
But times change and there are some old, lingering rules that no longer apply. We will look at 10 of the most common mythical rules which will certainly not give you an added advantage, and in fact can often count against you.
1. Always use Resume Paper: Remember that good ivory stock that you had to buy at a stationery store? You were told to print your resume on “good resume paper” and take along a few extra copies to the interview. That rule is from an era when most resumes were mailed in and were read by a (caring) human. Now, hiring managers do not care about resume paper. I have hired department directors and a vice president or two and none of them got the edge (or lost out on a job) because of the paper their resume was written on.
Most employers prefer that you submit an electronic version of your resume. That way, they will have it for their file, it will be easily retrievable and it can be scanned by software for keywords that they consider critical for the job. It is still a good idea to print a couple paper copies of your resume and take those with you to the interview for the hiring manager or (most often these days) the hiring panel. But plain white paper is fine. Remember if the best you have to offer is good stock (paper stock and not “stock” as in pedigree) then you have a problem.
2. Use a landline for a telephone interview: That advice arose back in the dark ages when cellphone reception was unreliable. Interviewers would get miffed if an applicant kept repeating, “Huh?” or calls kept getting dropped. As mobile as we are these days, it is often much more convenient to be reached by cell phone. In most cases, a cell phone is fine for an interview.
One piece of advice I will add, is that when you have a telephone interview you come across better if you stand and even pace. Psychologically, movement gives you more energy and makes you sound more interested and engaged. In order not to be too distracted, make notes beforehand and keep handy a summary of your major achievements, and also questions to ask the interviewer. Make it sound like a natural conversation.
3. List every job chronologically: Resumes can be written chronologically (usually in reverse order, with most recent job first) or by function of duties performed. I prefer chronological, but there is no need to list every single job you have ever held. For starters, most employers do not care about your life prior to 10 years ago (unless you are a mass murderer or were in jail). Concentrate on your most recent jobs with a few exceptions exceptions. If you have had only one job in the last 10 years, or if you had some phenomenally significant achievement years ago, you might deviate somewhat from the rule of going back only 10 years.
Your resume is a sales pitch, so you want to emphasize why you are the best pick for THIS job. It should not be a biography. Jobs which are not relevant can be omitted or downplayed. Any obvious gaps can be explained simply: “time off to raise a family,” “ran a small business,” taught school’ “traveled.” Again, do not believe the old advice that you have to list every single job.
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4. Include references: Nothing makes you appear more like a novice than a list of references or even the often used, “references available on request.” If the employer is interested in you, they will ask you for references, and possibly do some form of background check. There is no need to list your favorite high school teacher and your pastor. Trust me.
5. Write your objective: A few years ago it became fashionable to include your career objectives on a resume. The problem is, an objective is all about what you want. Employers do not care about your goal in life. They want to know: what can this person offer me, can they do the job, what are his or her qualifications, does this sound like a good fit for our organization, and can I afford this person? They could not care less that you want world peace or want to become a CEO some day.
6. Use formal language: Resumes should be written in your regular, natural language. You should use correct grammar, make sure there is subject/verb agreement , use only standard abbreviations, and always do a spell check. Ask someone you trust to read it over. Neither your resume nor cover letter should have stilted language such as “Most humbly yours.” No one uses word like thus and thereby anymore.
Avoid the formal, impersonal “Dear Sir and/or Madam.” I am also not a fan of the once trendy, “Dear Decision Maker.” Do use a person’s name if you have it. You can often find the name of the hiring manager on the organization’s website or by calling the organization and asking. Or, you can direct it to the person by title such as manager, or director of human resources.
7. Your resume should not be more than 1 page in length: This might have been coined by a hiring manager who had seen one too many resume-novels. If you are a recent graduate, it is unlikely you have had so many jobs and so much experience that your resume should run more than one page. However if you are the typical baby boomer who has held several jobs, it is very possible and highly likely you have enough relevant information for more than one page. That said, I am still not a fan of resumes over 2 or 3 pages. Again, limiting your resume to relevant information from the last 10 years will automatically weed out much of the fluff that many resumes contain.
8. Have one (and only one) good resume: As suggested earlier, a resume is a sales pitch. So it follows that you require different pitches for different jobs. It is quite alright and in fact very sensible to tailor your resume for the job you are seeking. In fact it is not a good idea to use the exact same resume for every single job you might be applying for. Just to be clear, I am not suggesting changing facts; just the emphasis.
You might expand on certain skills and achievements over others depending on what you are looking for. So, if you are a boomer with years of experience as a manager and now you are applying for part-time work as a weekend therapist at a neighboring hospital, you would mention your administrative activities, of course, but you would emphasize the fact you were a working (not just administrative) manager. You might mention that you worked with patients at least 20 percent of the time, you worked across departments, and you provide a list of equipment you are familiar with.
9. Get Your Resume Professionally Done: This is not necessarily bad advice. However, I have learned the hard way that resume writers often over-specialize and are just as likely to hold on to old rules as the lay person. I once paid $200 for a resume revision and had to discard it because of the content and format: there were too many bullet points, he did not know enough about my profession to emphasize the skills I wanted to highlight and it was riddled with meaningless jargon such as “an energetic and knowledgeable decision maker experienced at building teams and getting results.” There are many resume templates available online. This is one exercise in which you should keep it simple.
Again: what are they looking for? Can they get a snapshot of what you have to offer? Does your resume let them know that you would be suitable for this job and be an asset to the organization? Is there enough white space to make it easy to read or scan? Avoid fancy fonts and decorative bullets (you don’t want a jumbled, misaligned document due to software differences when the document is received at the other end). Read it over, have a friend read it over and read it once more; cross referencing the words you use against the actual job listing. Do not copy the job listing; but some words should match or at least give a sense of synergy between you and the job.
10. Concentratrate on past duties and responsibilities: We tend to define ourselves in terms of our job titles. Given limited space to sell yourself, concentrate on what you have achieved. So you have the educational requirements for the job: MLS(ASCP) or equivalent. Do not list paragraphs of responsibilities from your job descriptions over the years. Instead tell what you achieved. Some examples are:
- Directed a respiratory staff of 100 individuals at a 350-bed trauma center, evaluating and treating 800 patients per year.
- Achieved CAP accreditation with no citations and Joint Commission accreditation with special commendation for the respiratory department.
For new grads, emphasize achievements that make you stand out and indicate you have potential for leadership, team work and the like. Examples:
- Won award for excellence in sleep testing
- Made Dean’s List for 3 years and graduated Summa Cum Laude in class of 120
- Selected as Class president and Chair of Allied health students 2013-2014
The simple truth is that employers are buying you to do a job. They need someone to fulfil a certain need or provide a service for them. Your job is to create a marketing tool called a resume to get your foot in the door for an interview. If you are not on the short list for the interview, you cannot get the job. You can get the edge up on the competition if you create a better resume by nixing some of the “old rules” which can actually work against you.
Glen McDaniel is a healthcare executive, speaker and freelance writer. His interests include decision making, leadership, change and ethics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.