Resume Surgery

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Last updated on February 11th, 2024 at 01:09 am

In a bad economy, knowing how to write a good resume is a valuable skill. The balance between including all of your skills and keeping the resume concise enough for employers to care is hard to attain, but ever-important in order to make that step from candidate to colleague.

One of the things I find myself doing more and more often on the side is helping people sharpen their resumes enough to get them noticed. I pretty much do for them what I’d do for myself—I put their resumes at the standard I’d expect for mine; this means I watch for spelling, grammar, flow, formatting and consistency. Every little detail matters.

But there are a good deal of things in resumes that I see too often and are simple enough to solve in order to make your resume look more modern:

1. Objectives

The objectives section of a resume is one I find to be next to useless. Generally speaking, the reason why you apply to a job is to GET THE JOB. Everything else is pretty much meaningless to you trying to get that job—whether it’s trying to excel in a certain field, trying to get experience for a Master’s degree, or whatever words you want to string together.

Solution: GET RID OF IT!

2. References

“References will be made available upon request”—one would hope so! It’s an expectation these days that you’ll have reliable references when applying for a job; if an employer needs them right away, they’ll often include a form where you can jot your references’ contact details down. Informing a potential employer that you can give them references if they ASK for them is a little like sating that you’ll only give them the information they NEED to hire you if they ASK YOU for it. Pretty ridiculous, right?

Solution: GET RID OF IT!

3. Using Too Many Words

This is what I often see from younger people trying to get into the workforce—especially those who recently graduated from post-secondary studies: YOU USE TOO MANY WORDS IN YOUR RESUME. Your language is way too flowery, using sentences that no one would use in the real world, and remember that most employers have NO time to read a wordy resume, poring over it for each and every fine detail. Why use “was able to establish” when you can just say “established”? Or “in order to enhance” instead of “enhanced”? Or even “i was responsible for organizing” instead of “organized”? These are but a few examples of not just GETTING TO THE POINT.

Suggestion: Review your resume for points that seem far too wordy and figure out a way to trim them down. Most resumes are expected to be 1-2 pages long, so you better learn how to use that space as best as you can!

4. Vague Descriptions

Too many resumes suffer from buzzwords and vague descriptions that mean absolutely nothing! Here’s a few that I see more often than I care to admit:

  • “A go-getter can-do personality”
  • “A team player who also works well individually”
  • “Tech savvy”
  • “Active listener”

The problem is that phrases like these do nothing to tell potential employers what you can actually DO. They’re self-professments of who you think you are, but I’d bet you money that an employer’s trying to find someone because they know they can do the work more than because they know that they’re a nice person.

Suggestion: Have a resume that focuses more on firm accomplishments, like “increasing sales revenue by 15%” or “ensured that 10 staff members all earned promotions in the company”. These speak more to your character than vague statements that could be interpreted in a multitude of ways.

5. Inconsistent Formatting

Your format lacks finesse! Not making sure that your resume looks like one solid document can reek of unprofessionalism and lack of attention to detail. It could be anything from making sure the date formats are the same across all your entries to something like making sure your name shows up on every page. Page numbers. The same fonts used across similar sections.

If things look wonky, not only will it make you look like an amateur, it opens a dangerous door that can get anyone looking at your resume to search for MORE mistakes.

Solution: Keep an eye out for anything that stands out in your resume when it shouldn’t! If you can see it after looking at the same page 100 times, someone looking at it with a fresh set of eyes will probably see it the FIRST time.

6. Wrong Words (that spell check doesn’t catch)

Even those who’re tech-savvy might not have the best grammar. Or always type with the greatest accuracy. And even worse, spellcheck won’t always be there to save you. “Too” instead of “to”. “were” for “where” and “tine” for “time”. Sometimes a grammar check will catch it, but often not.

Solution: Get someone else to give your resume a look. A REAL good look. The more eyes on the page, the more likely you are to stamp out all those problems a computer just can’t catch.

7. Seriously—just run spell check!

This one just eludes my logic altogether. Computers have made it easy enough to catch mistakes at the click of a key—NEWER software even UNDERLINES errors for you AS YOU TYPE—and yet there are still resumes with spelling mistakes. SERIOUSLY???

Solution: Click button. Correct errors. Make employers happy!

These 7 tips will only help to get your foot in the door. You’ll still need solid references, a sparkling cover letter and an AMAZING interview to get that job you want!

But without the right foundations, you won’t even get a chance.

So if you INSIST on treating a resume like a paper from your school days, then just do this: check your resume—check it again and again until you’re sure it right. Then maybe get a friend (preferably one with a reputation for being a particularly harsh editor) to look it over and tear it to shreds. (Or if you’re lacking in friends, there are plenty of organizations who do resume critiquing for a fee, such as my friend Florence over at Retail Medix.) It’ll probably be EXACTLY what you need in order to get that paper in tip-top shape!

So consider this a lesson from someone who’s seen his share of resumes — these are but a few tips to keep in mind so that you can pull ahead from the rest of the pack. So go back, take a look at the piece of paper standing between you and that job you want, and forge it into the key you need to get you where you want to be.

The second logo for Casey Palmer, Canadian Dad



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