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When Bad Resumes Happen to Good People

If your 401K has dwindled to a 201K and your real estate has gone soft, it’s possible that
the most important thing you own right now is your resume. But if the flow of e-mails into
my office is any indication, the number of people with bad resumes has reached epidemic
proportions. Worse, they don’t understand why I’m not doing back flips to schedule a
meeting. To stop the spread of this viral vitae, I offer these remedies:

Less is more.

The sole purpose of a resume is to get you an interview, period. It’s not an autobiography.
If you blurt it all out now, why should anyone want to meet you? Rather, think of it as
wrapping paper that will make its recipient eager to tear open the package and see what’s
inside. Once you’ve accomplished that, take a bow and start working on your interview

Report, don’t editorialize.

Resist the urge to tell me that you’re a “highly motivated, results-driven, visionary, worldclass
entrepreneur.” May I decide that for myself, after we’ve met and I’ve had time to
consider your multitude of accomplishments? Save the adjectives for a topic other than
you. This might be hard, I know, but it will be far more meaningful if I conclude that
you’re a “seasoned, savvy professional with a distinguished career” than if you announce it
beforehand and I have to hunt for evidence to support your claim. Give people credit for
having a clue and they may just return the compliment.

Control your audience’s eye movements and you control the audience.

This ancient wisdom comes from Alfred Hitchcock and I urge you to learn from the master.
Get your reader on a short leash with a choke-chain. Oh, did someone tell you those horrid
little bullets will make it easier to scan your resume? That’s exactly why you don’t want to
use them. Shameless self-promotions, garish buzzwords and inventive graphics are as
image-positive as polyester leisure suits…and about as likely to get you a date. Avoid
gimmicks aimed at luring the window shopper inside. If you want to provide a quick and
dirty overview for that ADD reader in your life, write a brief, dignified paragraph and call
it “Expertise” or “Summary.” Put it at the top of the page and get out of there.

Just the facts, ma’am.

Write the way Jack Webb spoke on Dragnet. Simple, direct statements in governmentstyle,
gray flannel prose. No lying, no embellishing. Say what you were genuinely
responsible for and don’t merely feature “highlights” or “achievements.” Again, no bullets
– they resemble advertising copy. (Think how your filter kicks in when you see media
hype. Same goes for hiring managers and recruiters.) So let it look and sound like…well,
information. Leave out the poetry (together with any other unnecessary words, including
articles and pronouns) and write in clear, journalist declarations that begin with verbs
(“Woke up. Got out of bed. Dragged a comb…”). The number of pages doesn’t matter;
substance does. Tell your story and be done with it.

Be realistic.

If you’re a dermatologist in Buffalo who wants a job pitching for the Yankees, you’ll need
a wicked slider because even the best resume won’t help. And no, you can’t break down
10 years of accounting experience into core competencies and demonstrate how qualified
you are to become the next CFO at Google, either. By all means say what you’ve done, but
if the dots between that and what you’d like to do can’t be connected, the resume isn’t to
blame. Putting your fantasy on paper won’t make it come true. Ask yourself honestly,
“Can I get there from here?”

Keep your cash in your pocket…you’ll need it for gas.

Don’t hire a resume writer. Not for $100 and certainly not for $10,000. It’s a waste of
money, honey. Hire a seventh-grade English teacher to help with your composition, if you
need it, but not a pro. Although often well-intentioned and fiercely proud of their so-called
credentials, very few professional resume writers have significant, direct experience
actually placing executives in corporate functions. While you may be impressed by their
aesthetic standards, they simply do not have skin in the game.

Follow the leader.

Charles Montgomery Burns (The Simpsons), arguably the most successful executive of
both this century and last, has generously made his opus available to the world. See how
it’s done, and done to perfection, at:

What are my qualifications for making all these sweeping generalizations and decrees?
Judge for yourself….I’ll send you my resume when it’s done.

Mark Jaffe
Wyatt & Jaffe
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