Dear Sam: I need to write my first resume at age 42. Fortunately, I have always been recruited to new positions by friends or networking contacts, but now, as a mid-career professional, I am at a loss as to where to begin. The only resume training I received was from my college career services office, and I am sure it is outdated now! Can you tell me a few of the mistakes candidates make in today’s market when crafting a resume? – Eric
Dear Eric: How fortunate a position to be in, even if it does present you with the challenge of crafting your first resume after a 20-year career. Here are a few of the top mistakes I see in resumes today.
No attention to the aesthetic
One major downfall I notice in reviewing resumes is that most lack visual appeal and are typically created using common templates. While content is obviously of paramount importance, the aesthetics of that document can compel or repel interest. I am a big believer that your format can be just as important as your content to generate interest and take readership beyond the average 4-to-7 seconds.
TMI in the header
While most may feel that this section is self-explanatory, you can potentially disqualify yourself based on the information at the top of your resume. Best practices include not listing addresses on your resume, only listing your cellular phone number, and including an email address from a more “current” provider. Some believe certain email addresses “age” a candidate—AOL, Hotmail, Yahoo—but I’ll leave that decision up to you. Also, pertaining to your email address, be sure it does not have personally identifying numbers in it, as this will surely catch the reader’s attention and potentially waste part of the screening process while the reader attempts to decode the numbers. For instance, if your email address is email@example.com, the reader will initially think you are in your late 50s before they read one word on your resume. Just be careful as to what identifiers you present in the heading.
No targeting and trying to keep too many doors open
Resumes must open with qualifications summaries, not objective statements, which tend to present vague statements that serve little-to-no purpose. Defining your job search target, and building a qualifications summary around those skills and abilities, is critically important to the success of your search. Engage the reader or screener by performing due diligence to understand the keywords for the position(s) of interest. Infuse those keywords throughout this summary and the remainder of your resume. Many struggle with this section of a resume, which is not surprising as it does tend to be the most challenging section to write as it is the executive summary of your candidacy. As a tip, start writing your resume from the bottom up, beginning with the more manageable 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. After I write a resume, I typically have several key points from a client’s background that I remember as being most important or impressive, and this guides the development of the summary.
No focus on how you added value beyond your ‘job’
Next to the qualifications summary, a robust professional experience section, with achievements highlighted, is critical in driving a successful job search. Many candidates struggle to determine how many years of experience to present on their resume. Unfortunately, while there are guidelines, there are no steadfast rules on this topic. Generally, you should include about 10-15 years of experience, depending on how much of that experience enhances and supports your candidacy. Of course, if you are at a senior level, hiring managers will expect to see a fuller picture of your background, with executive resumes often presenting many more years of experience. Quantify experiences to add personality—numbers jump off a page—being sure to focus more on accomplishments than daily responsibilities. And, when presenting achievements, highlight them as such, do not intermingle them with daily responsibilities or the hiring manager will not be able to ascertain your “value.” Lastly, present the big and save the small, meaning do not tell your life story, but present a succinct image of what you have done that positions you for your current career interests. Leave the more minor points for an interview as additional value-added information to support your candidacy.
I hope these tips point you in the right direction and make creating your first resume less daunting. My best for a quick search.