Dear Sam: My resume is all over the place! After reading your columns, I have tried to delete some unnecessary items that dated me. However, some of the jobs that I deleted showcased special skills I still want to highlight. With that said, my experience also includes several years of working in a combination of two police departments; I don’t know how to mesh both the clerical and that technical side of my experience into one cohesive resume. I’m not sure where my next opportunity will arise, but it will either be in a clerical capacity or another law enforcement post. — Jane

Dear Jane: I was shocked when I opened your resume and it was less than one page, including devoting at least one-third of that space to information that will not differentiate your candidacy—education, volunteerism, and references. Allow me to paint a picture of your resume to the readers:

Jane’s resume is in a two-column format with a smaller left column containing her name and contact information. On the right, she placed her “Employment History.” Beneath this heading are four sections of work experience spanning 2009 to the present. Within each employment section, there are three to four one-line bullet points presenting responsibilities. The resume then proceeds to “Education” and two bullet points that relay her high school diploma and time at college. Next, a “Volunteerism” section appears, presenting Jane’s time working for a local animal shelter as a dog walker. Lastly, a “References” section appears with three references listed. The resume ends with this section and about three inches of white space. The resume is written in Arial with a total of 351 words, 189 of which are used to describe the 12 years of experience presented.

Okay, let’s analyze each section—based on the questions I ask when critiquing and writing a resume—and see what is not working well for Jane.

Has Jane defined her purpose?
No! Jane has to select a targeted direction to follow. If law enforcement and administrative support are the objectives, then likely that will take two very different resumes. Despite Jane having performed a lot of administrative functions during her time with two police departments, to market herself to another police department, she is going to have to sell her in-depth knowledge of law enforcement processes, her compliance work, her ability to cultivate relationships with officers and investigators, and the skills particular to becoming a strong administrative/technical support person in that environment. If she were to present this type of resume for a general administrative support role in a business environment, very little of that content would make sense to the audience. Having two resumes, one far more technical and filled with law enforcement jargon than the other, will get her job search on the right track.

Has Jane positioned her candidacy?
No! I feel as Jane was trying to appeal to two very different audiences, she has diluted the strength of her resume. For instance, Jane’s resume does not open with a qualifications summary. Without this section, the reader is forced to “figure out” where her skills lay and, within just a few seconds, the reader will likely move on as he/she won’t have time to determine whether or not Jane’s background works well for the environment. Jane should develop a full qualifications summary presenting her notable employers, the highlights of her experience, and the skills she has mastered throughout. To include earlier experiences that would potentially date Jane’s candidacy, she could include some of those in the summary without detail about the positions in the professional experience section. This is a great way to highlight past experiences that possibly do not appear in more recent roles. However, based on Jane’s stated objectives, I believe she can more than demonstrate she is qualified for the opportunities she is interested in by focusing on the past 12 years.

Does Jane’s resume have the “punch” to get noticed?
No! Not a reflection on whether Jane’s career has the “punch” to get noticed; her resume focuses only on responsibilities, therefore, is unlikely to engage the reader. Each bullet point presented describes a core function of her job, functions you would find on a standard job description. When competing against other administrative assistants, it is likely they too have performed similar functions, so without focusing on where Jane contributed over and above her job description, there is little to differentiate her candidacy.

Is Jane highlighting potential disqualifiers?
Yes! Jane’s education section jumps out at you as it is the first section that is not filled with content, so your eyes are immediately drawn to that section. In this section, she included her high school diploma and the university she attended with the words “no degree obtained” afterward. If Jane completed a considerable amount of college (i.e., two-plus years), then I would present this as “Completed Two Years Toward a Bachelor’s Degree”; if she did not then, I would omit this section entirely.

Is Jane’s resume optimally formatted?
No! With the entry-level format, Arial font, and lackluster aesthetic, nothing about Jane’s resume compels people to read it. Instead, Jane should create an engaging visual aesthetic that draws the reader in. Avoiding overused templates is a wise decision in this economy when a hiring manager receives hundreds of resumes; when many use templates, the resumes all start looking the same. Lastly, by including references on the resume, she has reinforced there is little content to present, even to make a full one-page resume. References should be presented when requested.

With so much room for improvement, Jane has no idea how successful her job search could be, given she has not been marketing her candidacy with an effective tool. Revamping her resume, I feel, will turn around her job search results!