Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Does Your Résumé Make You Look Old?

Have you been applying for work and have little to show for it? Don't assume the lousy job market is solely to blame. Your résumé could be working against you as well.

Best practices for résumé writing have changed a lot over the past few years. If it has been a long time since you had to go through the process of creating and submitting your résumé to prospective employers, it may surprise you to learn that your document may be signalling that you are past your prime.

The most popular ways by which your document could make you look old are as follows:

1. Overdoing the contacts. Multiple phone numbers make a résumé look dated. You will look like a dinosaur if you list a fax number.

The solution: Instead, simply state your cell number and e-mail without labelling them as such. When people see 10 digits, they know it is a phone number. When those same people see an “@” followed by the domain name, they know it’s an e-mail address. On the same note, only list ONE phone number and use an e-mail address that is professional; those with e-mail addresses akin to shortmsassy@gmail.com need to rethink how they are choosing to present themselves to prospective employers. Further, use the same name on your résumé as you do on your e-mail address and if you want to get fancy and show off exactly how techno savvy you are, include a hyperlink to your e-mail address.

2. Salting your résumé and/or cover letter with clichés. Certain language has become so common in résumés that it is now virtually meaningless.

The solution: Skip these words and phrases, which LinkedIn found to be the most overused in online résumés: innovative, motivated, extensive experience, results-oriented, dynamic, proven track record, team player, fast-paced, problem solver, and entrepreneurial. Instead, use keywords from the job ad, which will help you get past the résumé-scanning programs many firms use nowadays.

3. Not describing past employers. A younger hiring manager may not have the same scope of industry knowledge as you and therefore will not be able to put your experience into context.

The solution: Include a sentence or two that describes what the company does in the career history section of your document.

4. Using outdated formatting. Although you may have been taught to put dates on the left, that is not how it is done anymore.

The solution: On the left side of the document, list your title and the company. On the right, list only the years and do not include the months. If, however, you are a recent grad, then go ahead and list the months.

5. Underselling self-employment. Job seekers are often too vague about periods of self-employment, which makes these look like periods of unemployment.

The solution: Be specific about the projects you tackled and name some of your clients, if you have permission.

6. Leading with an objective. Companies don’t care about you as much as they care about what you can do for them. There is no “I” in résumé.

The solution: Start with a summary or career profile focusing on what you can contribute. This person might say: 15-plus years of experience spearheading global business development campaigns. (Why not 28 years? "Fifteen-plus communicates well-qualified, but not over the hill.) You might also break out a bulleted list of expertise, and always remember to use numbers. The trend now is that companies will judge your future behaviour on what you have done in the past. Everyone understands numbers, so use quantifiable results whenever and wherever you can.

7. Revealing when you got your degrees. Scary as it is, the hiring manager may not have been born yet.

The solution: Take the graduations dates off your résumé. Clearly, you are not going to fool anyone by omitting the dates, but, at least, you are not slapping anyone in the face by listing them.

8. Delving too deeply into the past. Given that your earliest job experiences are probably well removed from the level and type of work you do today, it is best not to go too far back into your work history.

The solution: In general, go back only as far as the beginning of this millennium.

9. Highlighting your run-of-the-mill skills.
Stating your familiarity with MS Word, PowerPoint, or Excel is not enough.

The solution: List specialized software such as Quick-Books or newer technologies programming platform Ruby on Rails, for example.

10. Noting passive activities.
While hobbies can create common ground, you don't want to highlight those that are unrelated to your career. No one really cares about your golf score!

The solution: Athletic pursuits like cycling or running demonstrate vivacity, as do activities that show how you are giving back. Organizing a fundraiser and volunteering activities are good examples of what could be included in your résumé.

11. Giving short shift to recent experience. Many older job seekers are hamstrung by outmoded rules requiring résumés to fit on one page or two pages.

The solution: Expanding your résumé to the length required to highlight your skills and achievements properly.

12. Using gimmicks to get your document read. While submitting your résumé on brightly coloured paper or attaching the document to a box of cookies may have worked in the past, it is no longer the vogue.

The solution: These days, your documents are submitted electronically. While it is still possible to customize your résumé so that it is has a colourful background, it is important to understand that your résumé will be printed off on a printer that only contains black ink so your fancy background is likely to cause an unnecessary visual distraction to the person or people reading the document. Your document will look drab and grey and that is a result you don’t want.

Once you have decided on the résumé that works best for you, it is best that you do not stay fixed upon your masterpiece. The technology used today by hiring managers and recruiters are very prescriptive with regard to how information is used and stored. The software used by companies today will extract information, force candidates to fill in the blanks of the company’s on-line application form before the document is processed and often not allow you to submit your entire document.

The solution: Try to submit your information without going through the company websites that requires you to fill in the blanks. Have more than one version of your document, i.e. a short abridged version that you can submit to hiring managers and recruiters and a longer and more detailed version for people who do not routinely receive résumés.

Copyright © 2011, Career Matters. All Rights Reserved.Permission to Reprint: This article may be reprinted, provided it appears in its entirety with the following attribution: Copyright © 2011, Career Matters. Reprinted by permission of the author, Mary Salvino.“Career Matters” is a blog hosted by Mary Salvino, Senior Consultant for SMART Career Planning.com. This blog is dedicated to those who are seeking advice on managing their career and future job opportunities. We welcome readers to share their experiences, post their comments or ask questions about career related matters. For any questions or comments that are better addressed privately, please feel free to e-mail Mary directly at Mary.Salvino@shaw.ca