An edited version of this article was originally published in Ad Age on June 29, 2009. There isn't a week that goes by that I don't send it to someone. I thought it would be worth reposting on my blog:
What I am writing is résumé heresy. It flies in the face of those same old tips you have always heard from résumé writers and advisors. But if you understand how your résumé will be used when it is received, you will be able to create a résumé which works well for you. Instead of just focusing on the format, but concentrating on its use instead, you will not only save hours of needless rewriting, it just may help you land a job.
1) Your résumé won’t be read until you go on the interview. If then.
It is a fact of life. Corporate recruiters and headhunters alike are busy. They glance at résumés to see what you are about and decide to see you – or not. Most won’t look at them again until they are sitting there with you. So make your résumé eyeball friendly. Remember, a résumé is an ad for yourself.
2) Interviewers and potential interviewers actually want to know very little about you.
In advertising, all anyone wants to know is, where you worked, how long you were there, what you worked on, and, importantly, whether you were promoted.
These facts can be highlighted and shown easily. It is what executives, human resource professionals and recruiters look at to determine if they want to see you. Until they see you they are not interested in your accomplishments. They simply want to know whether it is worth their while to interview you in the first place. These simple facts give clues as to the kinds of cultures you have been at and the experience you have had. For instance, if an agency is looking for a fast food person, they look to see if you have relevant experience. A highly creative agency might want to know that you have worked on award winning account
3) Skip the details.
If you are staying within the same profession/discipline, the small details matter little. People spend hours on their résumés, often changing the wording numerous times – I have received as many as six versions of the same résumé, sometimes all on the same day, each with only a word or two changed. Because of points two above and four below, the phrasing matters little, especially since few people will actually read them.
4) Résumés are used as an interview guide.
Understanding this is the secret of an effective résumé. Don’t describe your job – everyone knows what an account supervisor or a copy group head does. Do highlight the things you have accomplished that you want to be asked about. Make sure you include anything that makes your experience unique. While you are being interviewed they will see and ask you about the things you emphasized and highlighted.
5) Your résumé may be unintelligible
Terms and unfamiliar brands can work against you. Typos can kill your candidacy, but so can unfamiliar words, phrases and terms. Beware of client speak. I once had a résumé which talked about the “module” which the candidate had created. It turned out to be his client’s term for a marketing plan. Beware of client speak – few people outside of your current agency or even your current account may understand what you are talking about. And, if you have been working abroad, don’t assume that most people in the U.S. know that in Europe Tide detergent is Ariel.
6) If you have a date gap, it will be noticed.
If you have been on maternity leave or raising children, those are valid jobs and should not be left out or people will not understand the skip in dates. This time should be listed just like a regular job, especially if during it you worked freelance or part time. Professionals can spot a gap immediately. If you have been out of work don’t cover it up with vague dates which are a dead giveaway.
7) References available upon request is a useless phrase.
I have no idea where this came from, but it is useless and no one pays attention. When a company wants your references, they will ask for them.
Forget about letters of recommendation. They are nice to have. But honestly, on a first interview or in a cover letter, no one cares.
8) Many recruiters don’t like pdf formats.
PDF’s will keep your résumé looking as you intended. But their down side is that they cannot be easily annotated, date stamped or corrected. People are used to receiving emails where the format gets jumbled. Don’t worry about it. (You should always have a résumé with you, just in case.)
9) Skip the fancy paper.
Everything is computerized. No need to spend money on expensive paper which will only get filed or thrown away.
10) No one reads long cover letters.
Your résumé needs to speak for itself. You can’t talk people into seeing you. A short, powerful note says volumes about your candidacy.
The above advice is basically for people who are looking for similar jobs to what they currently have. Changing careers is what most résumé advice you will read is really all about. It is a whole different challenge. If you plan on changing careers, I recommend you read John Lucht’s wonderful book, “Changing Jobs at $100,000 Plus”.
Finally, forget about résumé writing services. If you are in advertising, what I wrote above is all you need. Some of the worst résumés I have seen have cost tons of money and are impossible for an advertising person to follow.
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