Get rid of the clutter on your résumé

I hate clutter. If I could get rid of half the stuff in my house, it would take two dumpsters and five days of work. As I clean my house—the kids and my wife at the Fine Arts Museum in Boston—I’m throwing away every useless item I see on the floor.

All this clutter makes me think of the clutter some jobseekers have on their résumé. And I imagine the employers feel the way I’m feeling right now.

I met with a customer the other day to critique his résumé. It was four pages long; but that’s not what made critiquing it difficult—it was wading through the clutter on it. Here are some examples of duty statements, plus one accomplishment.

  • Managed a group of 25 sales people and 10 office staff. (And?)
  • Responsible for hiring and firing employees. (So what.)
  • Led meetings on a weekly basis. (And?)
  • Wrote articles for the company’s monthly newsletter. (So what.)
  • Spearheaded the company’s first pay-for-service program which increased sales 30% and earned the sales department an Award of Excellence. (Okay, now we’re talking.)

The first four duty statements were clutter; they added nothing to his résumé. The last statement, a quantified accomplishment, said something worth reading. It talked about his ability to lead, which effectively covered the first two bullet points.

I asked him about the newsletter to which he contributed articles. He told me it was initially sent via e-mail to 60 partners and customers, and in six months time the readership had grown to 12,000. As well, he wrote two, sometimes three articles a month for it; in which he talked about product releases, offered tips on data storage, and announced tradeshows. He often received favorable reviews from customers, OEMs and VARs.

I suggested that he keep the first duty and elaborated on his group’s productivity, stability, and endearing affection for him. He admitted that 10 of the 25 sales people and half of the office staff had to be let go because of downsizing. However, productivity wasn’t affected; rather the reduced team maintained and even surpassed projections set by upper management by 25%.

The bullet points on leading meetings and hiring and firing employees were clutter, much like the coffee cups sitting beside me on my office desk. Trash these, I told him. A bazillion managers lead meetings, and many are responsible for hiring and firing employees. So what.

He was fine with getting rid of the meetings’ duty statement but was reluctant to let go of hiring and firing employees. I asked him how many employees he had to fire, aside from the ones that were let go because of downsizing. He told me, a lot. “Well, doesn’t that mean you made poor hiring decisions,” I asked him? He didn’t respond.

What we had remaining of the original four duty statements and one accomplishment statement was:

  • Reduced sales force by 40% due to budget restraints, while surpassing productivity expectations by 25%.
  • Spearheaded the company’s first pay-for-service program which increased sales 30% and earned the sales department an Award of Excellence.
  • Authored articles for the company’s monthly newsletter, announcing product releases, providing tips on color management, and promoting tradeshows; increasing readership from 60 to 12,000 in just six months.

He was still a little bummed because he wanted to demonstrate that he had hired and terminated employees. Isn’t that what managers do, he asked me? Yeah, I wanted to say, but they don’t fire people because they made bad hiring decisions. So unlike the clutter that occupies my house, the clutter on my customer’s résumé was drastically reduced.

5 thoughts on “Get rid of the clutter on your résumé

  1. Katherine Messner

    Well said, once again. But remember, one woman’s clutter is another woman’s memorabilia just as one man’s trash is another man’s treasure (and one man’s pleasure is another man’s pain. That said, you are absolutely right and there is a time and place for everything — whether or not we have the discipline to make the place & the time to put the stuff in it! But Bob, I did not give you permission to take that picture of my home ; )


  2. femmespeak

    Why didn’t you mention that his newsletter went from 60 readers to 12,000 in just 6 months? I would put that in a summary at the top of the page! That is INCREDIBLE!!!


  3. Marlene Gillen

    Good example – Thanks! I agree that decluttering is difficult for resume owners who insist that every task (I like your term “duty”) is importrant. I use the “so what?” method too after each bullet to illustrate that a laundry list of tasks without the value or quantitative accomplishment is not very compelling. There is only so much real estate on a resume – it must be developed wisely to spotlight the most important skills and accomplishments relative to the position sought.



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