Having spent many years honing my own resume during multiple rounds of job searching over many years, I recently had the fun experience of being on the other side: I hired an intern and was pretty excited to review a pile of resumes.
Some made humorous mistakes, like a man who listed “outsourcing” under his skills, when this was an internship in which he’d be the outsourced labor! Or the woman who, though she was applying to reach out to businesses asking them to save energy, led with this winning sentence: “As a recent graduate, I have been trying to go after my passion, which is eventually becoming an On-Air Radio Personality.”
Yet most resume blunders were less blatant. Reviewing my stack of applicant resumes, I saw clearly that the most common mistakes were subtle and psychological.
We all know that a resume should sum up our relevant experience on a page, but it’s easy to let the standard format of a resume, with clear headers for work, education, and skills, numb the emotional burden that this summary truly presents. After all, we are really condensing ourselves, who we are as people and potential employees, into bullet points squashed on one short page. And then, we send our resumes out into the world to be judged by total strangers. So it’s natural to get hung up on how we are presenting ourselves.
That said, I noticed three specific sticking points that need to be overcome in order to create a clear resume. Here’s how to recognize—and conquer—them.
1. You Don’t Have to Include Your Entire History
According to TheLadders, hiring managers spend an average of six seconds reviewing each resume. I have to admit to doing the same for my intern applicants. It was pretty easy to glance at a resume and see if a candidate had any relevant experience.
When someone is reviewing a resume, he or she is looking for the basics—where have you worked? What is your chronology? What are your specific skills? And all of this is through the lens of the job you are applying for—do you have the skills that the job description asks for?
This is why it’s so important to tailor your resume for the position, cherry-picking your experience to highlight the parts that are most relevant. I know it can be hard to give up the many bullet points expounding on your awesome experience working on a farm or editing a magazine—this is part of who you are! But if they aren’t relevant to the tasks that the job asks for, these parts should be very brief (or removed altogether).
Conversely, if you have experience directly related to the position you’re applying for, but it was a small part of what you did, play it up. Lead with that in your description of that position. Remember, a resume is a highlight reel of who you are and what you’ve done, it’s not everything. It is more important to seem relevant to the position at first glance than to be comprehensive about your experience.
2. You’re Not a Liar if You Fudge a Little
Okay, of course you should be honest in your resume! That said, while you should absolutely not fabricate experience you don’t have, you do not need to be exactly 100% accurate.
Reviewing resumes, I saw several that broke up their experience at one company into multiple listings because they held different positions or were promoted during their time there. Though entirely accurate, this actually made it harder to interpret their work history. I would have preferred one listing that showed how long they were at the company, listing their most recent title. Additional titles could be included in the description of the position. Again, not everything you did in this position needs to be included, just your main tasks and the work that is most relevant to the job you’re applying for. Similarly, when you are listing the dates that you held each position, it can be fine to just list the year.
In sum, don’t lie, but for the sake of brevity, you don’t have to be 100% accurate to the letter. Some shortcuts are just fine, like putting the last title you had or just listing the year rather than the month. This doesn’t make your resume false, it just makes it simpler. Shortcuts can and should be used to make the resume easier to read and can actually result in a more forthright resume, especially for someone skimming it quickly.
3. It’s Just Business, Not Your Identity
Of course you are more than just an employee; we are all human beings with varied interests. But your resume doesn’t need to reflect all of your identity, just who you are at work. Really, no one is going to give you an interview just because you listed whitewater rafting as a hobby (unless, say, you’re seeking a position as a river guide).
If you have relevant volunteer experience—maybe you tutor kids in math, and are applying for a position working with kids—by all means include it. But leave out the details that you might be clutching to because you think they are neat. Don’t worry about representing the totality of who you are in your resume; it’s just a summary and should stick to what is most relevant. Once you get to an interview, you can wow them with your charm.
When representing ourselves, especially to a stranger, we have the urge to be thorough and try to impress them with our range of experiences. Yet, when reviewing a resume quickly, hiring managers will skim, caring much more about your relevance to the position and organization, rather than who you are. Make their job easy by paring down and simplifying. You’re not giving up your identity, just polishing the most relevant parts to shine.
Photo of brain courtesy of Shutterstock.
Steph Stern is a career strategist and coach who helps professionals tackle a variety of problems: finding a new job, coping with challenging co-workers, working toward a promotion, work-life balance and, of course, the big question of what to do with your life. Book one-on-one coaching sessions with Steph on The Muse's Coach Connect.More from this Author