How to tell your professional story most effectively

When it comes to resume writing, there are as many formats and styles as there are job applicants. Everyone wants a resume that impresses and spurs a conversation with a potential employer. However, job seekers often believe the myriad myths about what a good resume should include to their own detriment, according to one workplace authority.

“People hear resume myths so often, they believe they must be true. But many of these myths are out-of-date ideas or were never really useful in the first place. Consequently, there are a lot of ineffective resumes floating around,” said Andrew Challenger, Senior Vice President of global outplacement and executive and business coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Obviously and without debate, all information on a resume must be accurate. Applicants should double-check exact titles and dates, and not make it look like a degree was earned if some credit hours are still needed.

The beginning of a resume should include a profile that offers a synopsis of who the candidate is and what strengths the candidate brings to any position. A reader of the resume could piece this together after reading the applicant’s background, but don’t make them work that hard.

Some of the myths to avoid include:

  • “Resumes should be one page.” Recent college graduates or others who have little professional experience should follow this rule. They should not pad their resumes with irrelevant information that will waste the time of someone reading the resume. But professionals who have been working for more than five years, and certainly those who have scores of accomplishments, talents, and expertise, need room to list all their qualifications, and one page will not be enough. Also, most resumes are shared online, so the idea of pages is antiquated. Resumes may still be formatted by pages, but as people scroll through them, they probably will not pay attention to the page breaks.

“There is no real ideal for the number of pages in a resume. The document needs to reflect a job seeker’s accomplishments accurately,” said Challenger.

“Two is great, three is fine for the most experienced professional. Occasionally, four may be needed if someone has many impressive professional positions as well as Board of Directors positions or leadership roles in professional organizations. But never, ever should a resume go beyond four pages,” he added.

“There are a few industries where it is common to have much longer resumes, such as academia and the medical profession. In those cases, it is standard for an individual to list all research and publications, which take up a lot of space. These folks may want to consider compiling these lengthy lists in an appendix attached to a shorter resume instead of providing a resume of five pages or more,” he said.

  • “List all responsibilities for every position.” Once it has been noted that an applicant is experienced at a given responsibility, it should not be repeated again and again in multiple positions. Often, similar responsibilities were required of the same person at different companies. These should be listed in the most recent role only. Positions held longer ago should have fewer details.
  • “Resumes should be as creative as possible to draw the most attention.” Resumes should look professional and be easy to read. These two things should be the top priority when choosing a font and a style.

“Clean, clear, and concise should be the goal, so gimmicks are out,” said Challenger.

  • “Resumes should include company logos, just as LinkedIn does.” Company logos are fine and are expected on LinkedIn. But not on a resume. They tend to take up a lot of space and are often distracting. Busy is not best.

“Job seekers should remember the resume is about them, not about the companies where they worked. Logos are all about the companies and provide no additional information about the applicant. They are a waste of space and detract from important information about the person,” said Challenger.

  • “Emphasize the companies where you worked, especially if they are large corporations.” Again, the resume is about the applicant, not about the company. Resumes should offer descriptions of companies to show size and also to describe those that are not well-known. But these descriptions should be brief. The company’s accomplishments are not of interest; what the applicant did and accomplished at the company should be highlighted.
  • “Do not fill up the resume with a lot of numbers.” Quantitative information is almost required these days to thoroughly describe the job candidate’s achievements.
  • “It is fine to have gaps in the resume’s chronology.” All years should be accounted for in a resume. It shows that an applicant was always working and, hopefully, progressing. Not every position needs to have a lot of information provided for it, especially ones that were long ago (longer than 10 or 15 years ago). The relevancy of responsibilities or accomplishments from that far back may not be of much interest, so don’t bother including a lot of details. But do list the roles and dates.

“If you have a true gap – a year or two when you were not working – include information about what you were doing. If you took time off, explain it. Were you in grad school? Were you taking care of a child or an ailing relative? Were you volunteering your time and talents to an organization? This may catch the eye of a potential employer who will want to learn more about these aspects of your life that show you are a well-rounded individual. They can be great conversation-starters or ice-breakers,” said Challenger.

  • “It is OK to use language that is familiar to those in my industry since that is who will be reading my resume.” Typically, the first gatekeepers for any job are not the people with whom you will be working directly. They are usually internal recruiters or those who serve in human resources. Be careful with esoteric language and with acronyms. Not everyone who reads the resume will understand some of the “inside baseball” details of an industry. Also, the resume should not look like “alphabet soup.” Spell out phrases instead of using too many acronyms, at least on first reference, so the resume is clear and does not confuse anyone.
  • “I should list all of my accomplishments just in case something will seem important to a potential employer.” People should list major responsibilities and the accomplishments of which they are proudest.

“You should not overwhelm the reader of your resume with too many points, as the hiring authority may read right over the most important items. Be picky about what you include. You can add more details once you get the opportunity to have a conversation,” said Challenger.

  • “I should include a photograph on my resume.” Do not include photos on your resume. There are discrimination concerns at play, and hiring managers may reject the application with a photo during the initial screening process and go with faceless names in order to avoid them. Photos are appropriate on biographies and a good idea on LinkedIn, but to get past an initial screening with a resume, avoid a photo.
  • “I should have multiple versions of my resume.” It can get pretty confusing who has which version if there are many floating around out there. An applicant has one LinkedIn profile; it should closely reflect what is on their resume. An applicant is one person and brings the same accomplishments, skills, and talents to every situation. If the resume reflects the best of these, it should work well for the person no matter what opportunities arise.
  • “I should include personal information on my resume.” Beyond professional experience and education information, it is interesting and relevant to include volunteer experience, certifications, honors and awards, professional development courses, and professional affiliations. These can show the applicant is multifaceted and gives back to the community. The resume is not the place for information about hobbies, interests, or family, even if the applicant runs marathons, raises show dogs, or coaches youth sports. That said, a Challenger survey found that 80% of recruiters check social media when vetting candidates and those interests and attributes work perfectly for that setting.
  • “I need to include all my contact information.” Resumes should include, at the top, full names, cell numbers, email addresses, and LinkedIn URLs. Street addresses look old-fashioned and may make an applicant look as though relocation is out of the question.
  • “A few grammar or punctuation errors will not matter.” They might. Have someone proofread the resume before it is sent out. It reflects the kind of work the applicant does; no one wants to give a first impression of being sloppy or careless.
  • “My LinkedIn Profile should be completely different than my resume.” Once a resume has been written, the person should update LinkedIn so the same information appears in both and there are no discrepancies between the two. A person looking up an applicant on LinkedIn is interested in the same information as in a resume.
  • “I must include a list of core competencies.” This is a great thing to have in the resume if these skills are not included in the responsibilities and accomplishments listed throughout the resume. But if they are already clear, a list is redundant and not necessary, especially for seasoned professionals.
  • “I am proud of where I went to school, so I will put that high on the resume.” Education should be at the bottom, even for those who are new to the job market. It is good information to provide, but it is not what an employer is most interested in. Also, GPAs are no longer relevant, nor is high school information of any kind.