This article is inspired by a post I wrote that resonated with many LinkedIn users.* The topic of the post touched a nerve with older job seekers who feel that everything they’ve accomplished in their long career should be included on their resume. This is one mistake I save to the last to address.
While this advice can apply to job seekers of any age, it is particularly pertinent to those above the age of 50. And if they haven’t had to look for work in 20 years, they should pay close attention to some of the mistakes they might be making.
Let go of your words
Your resume reflects what you’ve done in your career, so it’s personal and you’re proud of the document you’ve written, or had someone write it with your input. I totally get this. But this is perhaps the first mistake you’re making; you’re holding on to sentences, paragraphs, and bulleted items that suck.
Harsh to say but the truth. While you can’t see this, others can. You must listen to trusted sources. I’m not a trusted source to every job seeker, but I am a trusted source to people in occupations like sales, marketing, teaching, and some others. Find the trusted source and listen to what they have to say. Then…make changes.
Don’t make your resume a job description
I wrote above that your resume reflects what you’ve done. This is only a part of the role your resume plays. The most important role your resume plays is showing employers what you can do for them. Through relevant accomplishment statements, your resume will accomplish this.
Many resumes I see look like a job description. In fact, some job seekers I’ve coached have copied and pasted job descriptions to their resume, thinking that it will hit all marks. Think about this. A job description is written for a reason, which is to express the needs of individual employers, not all employers.
They won’t believe it if they don’t see it
You say in your Summary that you’re dynamic, results-oriented, customer-centric, and a bunch of other platitudes; but why should employers believe you without proof? Instead of using tired cliches to describe you, give evidence right up front.
For example, “Achieves more than 95% ‘Excellent’ rating on customer surveys.” This is proof of your diligence, communications, adherence to customers’ needs, and other traits employers seek. “Identifies and reports more bugs in software than 90% of technicians” is another example of proof, not simply saying it.
You’re not the only cat on the block
One and done, you think. You have had a stellar career as VP of operations. You’ve worked at notable blue-chip companies. Your latest salary was $250,000. Yes, you have been at the top of your occupation for 20-plus years.
This is a cold fact: so have other VPs of operations been at the top of their occupation. Your tunnel vision prevents you from writing a document that will get you to the first round of interviews because you fail to put in the work of writing a tailored resume that includes relevant accomplishments.
Don’t write a tome
You might like reading your resume, but hiring authorities who read many resumes don’t enjoy reading pages and pages of verbiage. In fact, they don’t enjoy reading resumes at all. It’s part of their job. So if you think your words will impress everyone, you’re mistaken.
Also, keep your word bites small. No more than three lines, maybe four, I tell my clients. Anything beyond four lines gets cumbersome to read. Hiring authorities will give your resume anywhere from six to 20 seconds to review before reading it in its entirety. Make their job easier by keeping it shorter than three pages.
Keyword stuffing is a no-no
You’ve probably been warned about the notorious applicant tracking system (there are more than 200 of these bad boys) which automatically scans your resume to see if it has the keywords required for the job.
This is hogwash. There are hardworking recruiters and HR staff who manipulate their applicant tracking system. Some of these folks claim to read every resume that’s stored in the system (god bless them), but there are many who read a select few. Therefore, it’s important that you write your resume for human consumption.
Don’t assume they know what you’ve accomplished
I get this a lot, “people in my industry know what I’ve accomplished.” This might be true but chances are they don’t. You say you wrote a standard operating procedure that improved productivity. Awesome. What was it for? Who is “everyone”? What was the ultimate result?
- Improved productivity 55% by authoring a standard operating procedure (SOP) that clearly explained in five steps how to manage a 33-person human resources department stationed across the nation.
This is sure to entice interviewers to ask what the five steps were, in which case you have a story to tell.
How your resume looks does matter
Today resumes are written with the intention of being easily read on the screen and on smartphones. This means that the font style matters. You were probably told back in the day that serif fonts like Times New Roman are best read on paper. Those days are gone.
When I see a resume written with sanserif fonts like Arial or Calibri, it tells me that the person is up with the times. First impressions matter. Your resume will most likely be the first impression you make, so don’t start off shouting, “I’m old.” Others might disagree, but the resumes written today use sanserif font.
*Don’t tell your life’s story
This brings me back to the post I shared titled: “Your resume says you’re old.” Let me share the post here:
Sitting with a client the other day, we were going over his #resume, which was not half bad, but it showed 30 years of experience. I pointed this out to him and said, your resume shouts “old.”
But, he responded, I want to show progression.
Here’s the thing, I told him, you didn’t get to be director of marketing without starting at MarCom or some entry-level position; it’s assumed.
But, he continued, I want to show I worked at (company name).
Again, I told him, you’ve worked at large, well-known companies your whole career.
I’m going to keep the 30 years on my resume, he concluded. I’m proud of what I did.
Battle lost, but I tried.
I read an article from Sarah Johnston that talks about how your resume should brand you. She draws an apt analogy of how on a recent shopping visit she noticed that The Gap did a poor job of branding itself.
And then she goes on to talk about how job seekers need to think about how they’re branding themselves with their resume. The incident with my client points out that he branded himself as old.
Whether we want to admit this or not, companies are looking at younger workers, and they’re hesitant to entertain older workers. Which, when we think about it, makes no sense.
In parting, I asked my client what he was going to do over the weekend.
I’m going to run a 5K and then I’m going to start building a deck on our summer home, he told me.
He sounded young to me.