The last resume-tip you will ever read

This is the last resume.tip you will ever read. Tell your story the way you think it should be told and be your own unique self. Let me explain why.

You can find all sorts of tips, usually presented as lists and advice from experts. I call it tip-culture. Commonsensical nonsense advice that today has grown to extend itself to a myriad of disciplines. You almost cannot look at your social media feed without seeing a link to some tip-list selling itself as golden knowledge. However, most tips are just simple statements, random opinions, or just plainly wrong.

People looking to improve their resumes encounter “useful” tips like “don’t add ‘phone’ next to your phone number”, “put your name in bold face”, “don’t write ‘References available by request’”, and (this my favourite tip-nonsense) “don’t hide something or don’t make lies”. Consider how many resources we collectively spend on reading useless commonsensical tips like that. If recruiters really discard resumes because someone has “phone” next to a phone number, they have forgotten the true purpose of their jobs. Period.

I would like to think that people are as different as waves on the Atlantic Ocean, and I would imagine that recruiters are too. Hell, I have recruited more than 50 people myself, and do not have the impression that other recruiters are just like me. The idea that recruiters across the world use the same 25 tips to evaluate candidates is not only wrong; it is completely naïve. People make subjective decisions based on a long list of conscious and unconscious biases – its human nature. That is why resume tips present recruiters as non-humans. Beyond the obvious disservice to the whole recruiting practice, resume-tips are often paradoxical and silly.

Most commonly, resume tips call out the use of clichés and vague claims – words and sentences that you should burn forever from your active vocabulary. However, even the most overused and repulsive clichés can hold great wisdom, and used in the right context, they can have particular rhetorical prowess. Of course, I can say that I am innovative! If I can explain why I think so, then it makes perfectly sense to add such a trait in my resume.

See, it is not about the words; it is how they are used. Vague claims can be made with any word or sentence – it is actually quite easy, just exclude a definition. Tip-culture reduces reality to a two-sided world, where there are only “right” and “wrong” ways to write a resume. This leads me to my most hated tip: “Use the right keywords”. But what if the keywords are clichés themselves? Tip-culture paradoxa in a nutshell.

Going through several articles, I encountered list after list of words and sentences that I was advised to ban from using in a resume. Here is the full list I registered:
– Workacholic / hardworking
– Results-driven
– Best of
– Responsible for
– Highly qualified
– Seasoned (because apparently you sound “old” and “discarded”)
– Team player
– Ambitious
– Hard worker
– Honest
– Punctual
– People person
– Hit the ground running
– “I”
– My objective …
– Successfully
– Innovative
– Creative
– Organizational
– Effective
– Motivated
– Extensive experience
– Track record
– Analytical
– Problem solving
– Transformational leader
– Expert
– Outstanding
– Exceptional
– Highly skilled
– Excellent
– Good communicator
– Top-notch
– Extensive experience
– Participated in
– Leveraged
– Experienced
– Loyal
– Dependable

So when an article suggest that you need to “keep your verbs simple and streamlined” and not use words such as “interfaced”, because it makes you sound like an automation, I am left with wondering about which “simple” words I should use at all, since many of them are already banned. In a narrative context, every word on that list can make great sense, and recruiters should not focus on the words alone. Actually, I do not think most do.

Beyond banned words, you also encounter a wide variety of other tips. Like “get the photos off your résumé”, because “you are looking for a job, not a date”. In the words of George Takei: Oh my! It is not as if you cannot search my name on Google and find my Facebook or LinkedIn photo in a brink of a second. Photos make people appear human for crying out loud! Perhaps recruiters are so afraid of racial prejudice that they would rather have all individual information left out? No photo, no background, no name, no personality, no nothing. An empty frame consisting of experience, skills, and proficiencies. But seriously, if that’s what a company wants, then they should hire a program instead!

I shouldn’t write that I am married with three kids? Apparently, this may keep you from being interviewed when a “hiring authority is looking for someone to travel”. Oh really? I guess that if someone is looking to work in a company that does not give a dime about their employees’ work-life balance, then by all means, they should leave such information out. It is utterly absurd and bad business advice. Professional companies care about their employees – because (surprise!) it raises productivity.

The same goes for extracurricular activities and hobbies. They are banned because “unless these activities are in some way related to the job you’re applying for, no one really cares what you do in your spare time when they’re skimming your résumé.” Are you kidding me?!

Summaries and objectives are “silly stuff” and just “fluff”? Well, I beg to differ and would say the exact opposite. It might actually be the most interesting parts of a resume. The summary shows in a narrative style what a candidate thinks are the most prominent parts of his or hers life – if a recruiter does not think this is important, then they are truly reading resumes wrong.

Career objectives apparently sends the message that you are “more concerned about yourself”. Apparently recruiters have somehow forgotten, that goals are important because they are a sign of determination and ambition. If career objectives are seen as egocentrical “fluff”, it means that candidates are not allowed to have any aspirations. Do companies really want mindless workers with no visions for their own futures? I certainly hope not. And if this, in all honesty, is a common expectation in the recruitment industry, then there are huge ideological issues at stake. Adding to the confusion, some tips of course say the opposite, or say that it is optional.

The total misunderstanding of how language works continues with a ban on personal pronouns like I, me, my, we, or our. Seriously, this is not an essay contest! The candidate is well aware that the reader knows he or she is writing about themselves, but using pronouns is a way of expression, and can tell something very valuable about how candidates present themselves within a literary form, e.g. formal/informal, with personal confidence, or with professional distance. A much better tip would be to analyse the whole narrative and use it as a point of reference in a later interview. Eradicating personal pronouns altogether is just… pure nonsense.

In essence, most (if not almost all) resume-tips should be subjected to their own form of twisted critique. The problem is that commonsensical nonsense is being sold as revered industry wisdom. Not all advice is useless, of course. A few I found actually do make some sense:
– Don’t use abbreviations or acronyms, or at least write the full word first
– Don’t add Microsoft word (Microsoft office) as a proficiency
– Avoid casual texting language like @
– Avoid personal address
– Only add GPA if it’s recent or stellar
– Stories sell
– Swagger counts – have guts
– Leave out tiny, unimportant jobs from 15+ years ago

An even better tip is to discuss your resume and the specific job opening you are interest in with others. Share your thoughts and ideas, build your resume on particular ideas and experiences, not from generalized common sense.

Here is my conclusion though. Stop reading tip-crap. Tell your story the way you think it should be told in your resume and be your own unique self. That’s my #1 resume-tip tip!

Some of the resume-tip resources I used for this article: