by Andrea Gerson, founder of ResumeScripter.com
Most job-seekers think they aren’t getting as many responses to their applications as they expect because there is something inherently wrong with them as applicants: they are too old, their work history is spotty, they did not graduate from an Ivy League school, or perhaps, they are not multilingual. While there are many reasons candidates get weeded out early on in the process, more common reasons are related to superficial issues with their resume rather than with their actual work history.
I would estimate that 95% of resumes I see have at least one formatting issue: multiple fonts are used, bullets aren’t identical, spacing is erratic, or the page and paragraph borders don’t line up. Inconsistencies draw the viewer’s (read: Hiring Manager’s) attention away from the meaty content, leaving them with a negative impression of your work ethic and capabilities. For C-Suite Assistants, it can also show a lack of proficiency in Word, a skill essential to any level administrator.
Too Much Irrelevant Information
A potential employer does not need to know that you completed a Shoemaking training program, that you’ve been to 17 countries and that you love fishing,kayaking and jet-skiing – unless all of these things directly pertain to the position you’re applying for. Every line of the resume is valuable real estate and should be used to play up the most relevant and impressive aspects of your experience. Include skills that you excel at, certifications, training courses you’ve completed, and even an interesting factoid, as these items are talking points for an interview and show you are a well-rounded individual. Use your best judgment but try not to dedicate too much resume content to superfluous information or extracurricular activities.
Some things are better left off of your resume, such as references, hobbies, professional headshots, etc. Your LinkedIn profile has space for these extras, and you can include your LinkedIn URL on your resume, which I recommend. Some of my clients mistakenly believe that including a photo will set them apart in the job search; however, it can actually draw negative attention to your application. Unless you are seeking a professional modeling, acting or wait staff position, I don’t recommend including photographs on your resume.
Old, Irrelevant Experience
A general rule of thumb is to not go back more than 15 years on a resume. Besides the unfortunate existence of ageism, a skill that you used in 1996 is unlikely to be fresh in your memory or relevant today. With changing technology, having utilized Microsoft Office Suite 2001, for example, doesn’t say very much about your current skill set. Think about it; could you jump into a new position and perform a task that you did 15 years ago? Highly unlikely, although possible with a brush-up session. If you have some older experience that you feel is necessary to include on your resume, you may want to include one or two bullets highlighting major accomplishments, but I suggest saving more real estate for the more recent positions. You can also mention these “older” skills and accomplishments in a cover letter.
Often, I receive resumes from clients that more closely resemble a laundry list of mundane tasks and responsibilities. They neglect to highlight professional accomplishments and their ability to solve problems and produce results. Your resume is your opportunity to sell yourself and showcase your skills in the best possible light; don’t be humble! Play up your strengths and aim to impress Hiring Managers. Make sure your accomplishments are specific, don’t dull up your resume with generalities. If you’re unsure of how to do this, don’t worry; an expert with outside perspective can help identify and showcase your skills and accomplishments.
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Andrea Gerson is a Career Counselor based in New York City. Originally from Montreal, she worked in the non-profit sector for several years as a grant writer and counselor for adults with mental illnesses. She, herself, has explored several different career paths: she drove an ice cream truck, opened her own restaurant and earned a vocational degree in cabinetmaking. Andrea returned to school in 2008 and earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Columbia University. While attending Columbia, Andrea began working as a Career Counselor for a non-profit organization, creating resumes for students enrolled in GED and ESL classes. Uncovering her successes as a career counselor, she founded Resume Scripter in 2011, a career counseling and resume and cover letter crafting service designed for every professional level. Since then, she has created and edited resumes and cover letters for hundreds of clients across a broad range of sectors, including recent graduates, senior executives, small business owners, investment bankers, educators and foreign diplomats. In addition to running her own company, Andrea is also attending New York University and working toward her Master’s degree in Social Work.