Dear Sam: I do not know what I want to do next in my career. I am burned out in my current field, considering returning to what I used to do in a “prior life,” and potentially interested in doing something completely different! How do I make my resume reflect I can do almost anything? – Jerry

Dear Jerry: Short answer – you can’t, at least not effectively. While this may seem like an effective strategy, it is actually quite the opposite. I cringe when candidates tell me they can do anything and do not have an idea of what type of jobs they will be applying for. While I certainly understand the need to not limit options, a one-size-fits-all strategy is rarely effective. Instead, one should really try to identify a primary target, even if this means you have a second or third target requiring modified resumes. 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 resume, a step that facilitates your understanding of what your target audience is looking for and what keywords to incorporate into your resume. Remember, thinking you can perform in a role does not necessarily mean a hiring manager will see you as a competitive candidate for that role—you have to develop a target where the two align. While you may have thought broadening your scope on your resume would yield more responses, it is likely it is doing the opposite.

Dear Sam: My resume is three pages long. How do I condense it without omitting important information? – Bryan

Dear Bryan: While I do not know the extent of your career, let’s cover some general principles to help determine the appropriate length for your resume. First, a resume is not a narrative of your entire career. Instead, it is a strategic image of what you have done that positions you for what you now want to do. Think of your resume like a brochure for a product. A brochure doesn’t tell you all of the technical details of the product being marketed; instead, it highlights key points to gain the interest of and prompt action from the target buyer. There is a “rule” in resume writing that you should “present the big and save the small,” meaning your resume should focus on the high points of your career, leaving supporting details to be discussed during a job interview. Regardless of the length of your resume (or career), the most important details of your candidacy must be highlighted at the top of page one. With recent surveys suggesting the resume screening process is as little as four seconds long, it only makes sense that the top of page one contains the sales pitch. Hence, up-to-date resumes contain qualifications summaries that market key experiences and strengths instead of including self-serving objective statements.

Review your career in relation to your current goals and make sure you are not presenting older unrelated experiences (carefully evaluating positions 15+ years back), redundant information, or too many details that will lose the reader’s interest. Be sure you are also focusing on accomplishments versus responsibilities, and prioritize what you include by following the “present the big and save the small” rule. Also, make sure you are not including sections that contain irrelevant information more related to your personal rather than your professional life. I see a lot of lengthy resumes that are only made so by the inclusion of sections containing volumes of data on personal interests, unrelated advocacy activities, dated professional training, etc. I imagine after prioritizing your information, reviewing what details really relate to your current career goal(s), and removing aged information, you should be able to produce a nice, clean, and uncluttered two-page resume. Remember though, it’s not the length of the resume you should focus on; instead, be sure, regardless of the length of your resume, that the most important information appears in the qualifications summary at the top of page one. I wish you well, and thanks for the great question.