Whether for essays or emails, I’ve always been the designated editor for my friends and family. But my favourite genre to edit has always been the resume. I think I enjoy editing resumes because they are such highly persuasive documents, hence the title of this blog post. But most of us have some very common misconceptions about resumes—and here I’m speaking from experience, not just as an editor.
I was turned down by six companies in a row before I was finally hired at a marketing company as part of the co-op program I enrolled in during grad school. With schoolwork mounting, I was very frustrated that six potential employers turned me down. So I booked an appointment with a co-op advisor, I attended a practice interview session, and I had my resume edited by a professional. Along the way, I asked a lot of questions and received a lot of helpful advice. I changed my resume to fit the advice of the experts and I was hired after my next interview. I realize now I wasn’t hired at those first six jobs because editorial hubris got the better of me. I couldn’t get a job because I didn’t realize the potential power of my resume.
What you’re probably doing right
Most of the resumes I edit have the header nearly perfect. Everyone understands that your name should be the central focus of your resume. Under their names, everyone understands that your contact information (street address, phone number, email address, and website) is also included in the header. (Don’t have a website? The least you can do is list your linkedin profile. Don’t have a linkedin profile? Go create a linkedin profile right now—and don’t forget to add me to your network.)
Everyone also understands the general structure of the resume. First you list your job objective, then you list your education (by the way, don’t list your high school education—it’s a given), next you list a summary of your qualifications, followed by work experience. This is the structure of a resume at its most general. But this structure on its own won’t lead to many recruitment calls.
What you’re probably doing wrong
Misunderstanding a resume’s purpose is the first major resume misconception. When composing a resume, people tend to write a historical document. Their resume tells their education history, their employment history, and perhaps a bit of their personal history. But resumes aren’t historical documents; resumes are persuasive documents. The purpose of a resume isn’t to tell your life story. The purpose of a resume is to persuade a recruiter that you deserve an interview—and remember the recruiter has a stack of other resumes to choose from.
In order to earn you a job interview, your resume needs to focus on three main things: accomplishments, skills, and attributes. Every single sentence of your resume needs to be an accomplishment, an attribute, or a skill. If information isn’t an accomplishment, attribute, or skill, then it doesn’t belong in your resume.
Erase the irrelevant
Now the question is, can you distinguish irrelevant information from accomplishments, skills, and attributes? Try this quick test:
Which of these pieces of information are irrelevant?
- Consulted with management daily to update website information
- Provided outstanding guest service to hotel guests
- Created weekly schedule for 63 employees
I guess it was a trick question: all three of these are irrelevant because they aren’t accomplishments, skills or attributes. While they each certainly provide relevant information about a job description, they’re nothing more than historical information about your past work. This information does not demonstrate what makes you special, what makes you necessary, or what makes you valuable.
Accomplishments, attributes, and skills
Your resume should at all times aim to detail unique actions and benefits that you offered your former organization. Here’s how I would reframe the above list to highlight accomplishments, skills, and attributes:
- Created daily website update system to relay current information from management to clients
- Consistently earned 5 out of 5 stars for outstanding guest services
- Generated $1500 per week in additional revenue by eliminating unnecessary shifts.
For some reason, people reflect on their past work experience in generalities. But you need to be specific. Before writing your resume, sit down and make a list of all of the special things you did at your past jobs. At first you may find this exercise difficult, but the longer you think about it, the easier it gets. Were you ever recognized for a special achievement? Was one of your suggestions ever enacted upon? Were you promoted? Did you somehow save the company money (actual statistics and figures are VERY persuasive)? What skills did you use regularly or acquire?