Bad Resume Guy

Believe it or not, sometimes these blog entries actually take a decent amount of thought.  Trying to figure out the right topic, hunting down the right graphics that fit the theme, trying to make it witty and funny while still getting the point across.  Write…pass it around…make a few tweaks here and there.  It gets to be kind of a pain sometimes.

This, however, is not one of those entries.  No, this one pretty much wrote itself.  And by “wrote itself”, I mean “When I shot a note out to the recruiters that attend our events saying that I was going to write something on this topic, I got absolutely flooded with material from them”.  So, pay attention folks – this isn’t just me sitting down and pontificating again…a lot of the information here is coming straight from the people that read your resume when deciding whether or not you’re the right person for a job, or if you’re even going to get a phone call.  Yes, a lot of this is based on my own experiences with my own resume…but I got some excellent feedback along the way as well.

So let’s start with some basics.

What program to Use.  Word.  Microsoft Word.  I don’t care if you use Open Office, Star Office, Wordperfect, or anything else – they all have ways of saving in a Microsoft Word format, and that’s what you want to use.  Be safe, and use the Word ’95 – Word 2003 settings when you save – some offices may not have updated their systems to use a more recent version of MS Office…and, well, if you’re trying to do something so ridiculously outside the box that it can’t be supported in that earlier format, you’re already overthinking it.  Don’t PDF it, either – a lot of the candidate tracking systems that recruiting companies are using these days don’t support imports from PDF, and so you’ve already become a pain by making someone re-type your resume.

Functional versus Chronological.  A functional resume details your skillsets in clumps, while a chronological resume details your accomplishments and work history in…well, in chronological (time based) order.  For some reason, “functional” resumes have been coming on strong as of late…and let me be perfectly clear here: what came through loud and clear is that functional resumes suck.  Employers and recruiters don’t want to only know what you’ve done and what you’re capable of doing (functional)…they also want and need to know how recently you’ve done things so as to know how current you are with those abilities.  Start with the most recent job and work your way back in time.  The most detail should be contained within the most recent job/position, narrowing down to fewer and fewer details going back in time.

The Brain Dump. Please realize that this is going to take some time.  You are not going to sit down, open up your word processing program of choice (but remembering to set it for MS Word formatting, right?  Right.  Good.) and in 20 minutes have a finely polished resume that’s going to land you that killer job you’ve been hunting for.  It doesn’t work that way.  The first thing you’re going to do is creating what I call the “raw” version of your resume – a document that contains anything and everything you’ve ever done, performed, accomplished, worked on, etc.  Put down the most recent company you worked for (or where you’re working currently), where they’re located, the start and (if needed) end dates of employment (just listing month and year is the expectation), and then just start a bulleted list.  Write down anything and everything that you did during your employment there.

If you had different job titles, whether from lateral moves, promotions, or any other reason – break them out separately, still underneath the same company but with the applicable dates, and repeat that bulleted brain dump again.  Don’t break it out with the company listed again – that looks like an employment jump – just keep it simple and concise.  Once you’re done, move on to the next company and start again. Just do it stream-of-consciousness style – don’t worry about editing it, or typos, or being complete or incomplete at this point – just put down anything and everything you can think of that you did.  You don’t have to list that grocery clerk job you had when you were sixteen, or that stint you did in a fast food joint – keep in mind that you’re applying for a job in a specific industry, and so keep it focused there.

Once you think you’re done, walk away from it.  Come back in a couple of hours or even a day or more, and read it through again – you’ll be surprised what will come back to you like details of job duties you had or projects that you were on.  Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and former (or if you trust them, current) co-workers to ask for details that might be fuzzy.  Now, I’m not saying that you should be putting things down that you didn’t actually do – never, ever lie on a resume.  The community’s too small, and you will eventually get caught and called out on it.

Once you think you’ve got it all down, save this “raw” version for later use, and now we’re ready to start editing.  Start breaking it down into readable, organized sections that contain clear and concise details of your work and accomplishments.

The Dreaded Gap.  So now you’re going to start working on a chronological resume…which means that you might encounter the dreaded gap – that awful time period where you just simply weren’t working.  Whether you’re a woman who took some time off to have and raise a child or two, or someone who just simply couldn’t find a job for a while…it’s there.  So how do you address it?  You fill it up with what you did during that time – freelance work, tinkering on reconfiguring your home network, working on your own personal website, doing volunteer work…whatever it was, it’s better than just having an unexplained six month hole in your timing that for all an employer knows means you went on an extended bender followed by a stint in rehab that may or may not have been successful.

Now that you have the “raw” version of your resume in a little more organized format, it’s time to start polishing and creating a “real” version of it.  Some things to keep in mind:

  • Always be working on multiple versions of your resume.  Your “raw” format will always be your starting point, but, especially if you have a varied background, you’ll want to tailor your resume for any given position that you’re applying for.  This may sound a bit nuts to some people, but at the moment I have about eight different versions of my resume – “Executive”, “Manager”, “Technical Manager”, “Technical Project Manager”, “Automotive Experience”, “Non Automotive Experience”, and a few others.
  • Always keep your resume current.  Just like you have to change that manual clock that’s not hooked into a network or cable anywhere every time Daylight Savings rolls around, you should also be looking at your resume on a regular basis as well.  Make sure you especially keep your “raw” version current and updated at all times, since that’s your starting point for any other version of your resume that you may create along the way.  You never know when you’re going to need (or want) to be sending your resume out, and so why have to start from square one?  Think of your resume as the spare tire of your professional life – you wouldn’t want to be stranded with a flat tire and no spare, so don’t get stranded without an updated resume either.
  • Tailoring isn’t just for suits or outfits.  While that raw, generic version of your resume is a good starting point, it’s not the finished product by a long shot.  If you see a job posting for a Project Manager position that would fit you…don’t go sending in a technical resume that says you’re a developer.

Making Contact.  Have your contact information easily available on the resume – at the top, and in the footer of each page just to be safe.  A “safe” email address – I once had someone call to ask why their resume submission got bounced when they were trying to submit it to me for a position that I had open, and it boiled down to her email address was “crazyassb..tch” at her service provider, and the filters on the corporate mail server rejected it.  Seriously?  Nobody needs to have your personal “” email account – go get yourself a new Gmail or Yahoo account for your job search purposes.  Put your LinkedIn profile on it as well – and make sure you keep that as up to date as you do your resume.

The Objective.  This is a pet peeve of mine…and apparently of a number of recruiters as well.  I know from chatting with folks on this topic that for whatever reason, Michigan Works requires that you have an objective section of your resume to file it with them in order to collect unemployment.  To me, the objective of every single resume, if you’re forced to have one, should read “To get a job”.  Let’s be honest – that’s what it’s all about anyway.  If you’re forced (or feel the need) to put an objective up there, then here’s the catch – you had better absolutely tailor it for each and every position that you’re applying for, which means you’re creating more work for yourself.

The Summary.  In many cases, this is replacing the objective.  A simple, short description of who you are, what your career goals have been and how you’ve reached them, along with any major accomplishments that you want to bring to someone’s attention immediately.  Have a lengthy track record of getting projects delivered on time?  Might want to mention that.  Experience with international teams and initiatives, and that’s where you want to keep playing?  Call that out right up front.

The Skills That Pay the Bills.  Whether you’re a Project Manager or a Systems Architect with a varied technical background, a quick and easily referenced section of your high-level skills and abilities is crucial.  Companies looking for an Architect will want to know if you’re focused on infrastructure or application development…Microsoft technologies, java, open source, etc., …right up front.  You’re a PM with experience working with Project Server or other technologies that a client might be looking for?  Put it there and make it easy for them.

Tone and Tense.  I have heard (loud and clear) that third-person resumes are just as creepy as hearing someone talk about themselves in the third person directly.  It’s you.  The recruiter knows it’s you.  You know it’s you.  So go ahead and use “I”.  As a general writing note, make sure your tenses stay current – most usually in the past tense.  “Worked” instead of “working”, “solved” instead of “solving”, “developed” instead of “developing”, “led” instead of “leading”, etc.  Oh, and for the love of all that’s good and holy in the world…please, Please, PLEASE run spell-check over it.  And then, just to be safe, have someone else that you know and trust read it to make sure that nothing got missed – a randomly used wrong word won’t get caught by spell-check, but a second set of eyes can be invaluable.

Cover Letters.  When dealing with a recruiting company or a large firm, this is probably wasted effort on your part.  And, again – it’s one more thing that you have to customize with each and every resume submission.  If it’s a smaller company, or if a recruiter touches base with you and tells you it’s a good idea, then by all means do so.  But, again, keep it focused.  Keep it targeted on the position that you’re specifically applying for, and keep it short and simple.

It’s Not a Children’s Book.  Pictures…graphs…charts…of the Dark Side are these things, and need them you will not.  Seriously, this fits in with what I mentioned earlier about formatting – if you’re trying to get too fancy with your resume, then odds are good you’re overthinking it…or, alternatively, the first impression that you give may well be that you’re trying to add “filler” into your resume to make it look bigger and better than it really is…and now you’re That Guy already.

Don’t Sell Yourself Short.  On the subject of filler…I’ve had a number of discussions on the topic of “the one page resume” or “the two page resume”.  Let me be perfectly clear about this – unless you are 22 years old with absolutely zero relevant job experience and applying for your first or second job, there is no way that you should be trying to cram and condense all of your professional life’s work into a single page.  My “raw” resume is about 11 pages long.  When I’m done editing and paring down a version of that for a particular job, it typically winds up being anywhere from three to four…maybe bleeding into the top of five if it’s necessary…pages long.

Education.  Yes, list it…and, again, don’t lie or misrepresent here either.  Stick to the facts of your college education experience.  I was asked at Lawrence Tech if you should list your high school years – and, generally, the answer is “no”.

Getting Personal.  This is a tricky one.  You don’t want to list anything in here that could be perceived as negative…and remember, it’s not you that’s going to be reading it, it’s a prospective employer.  So even something as innocuous as listing out being very involved in a church could backfire if the person reading it happens to be against that particular religion.  On mine, I certainly call out my involvement here with, because I think it’s important that a prospective employer knows that I’m dedicated and very involved with networking in the area…and, well, if they happen to get offended by what they find here, odds are good they’re not someone I want to be working for anyway…but that’s a calculated risk on my part.  Unless the job you’re applying for is as the IT help desk for a fraternity, I’d leave “Beer Pong Champion” off of your resume, too.  If you have one, make sure that your Facebook and/or MySpace accounts are locked down to “friends only” and please make sure the photos of that drunken weekend in Chicago are hidden away and can’t be found by an inquisitive HR department.

Be Original.  Do not save and send off a file named “resume.doc”.  Save your resume off with a file name that includes your name, and maybe even a job function – something like “John_Smith_java_architect.doc” is what you’re aiming for on this front.  It keeps it clear and easy for the person receiving it, and it makes sure that nothing silly or stupid happens like your resume getting over-written by someone else’s resume that comes in with the same name.

So, let’s recap:

  • Keep it updated
  • Keep it simple
  • Keep it professional
  • Keep it honest
  • Keep it complete
  • Keep it in MS Word
  • Keep it originally named

I know that this really just scratches the surface.  There are a ton of other directions this could go in, and a number of other topics that could be covered…but those can be covered another day.  Hopefully this helps you get started getting that resume together so that the follow up from our events and your job search in general can be more successful.

That’s all for this time, folks.