Who made up these silly rules about resumes?

I talk to tons of people about their resumes. And something I often hear goes like this:

"I didn’t know I could put that on my resume!"


"I thought you weren’t supposed to put that on your resume."


"I heard that you should address only skills on your resume."


"Really? I can include that information about myself?"

In other words, it’s envisioned that there is some unknown, unnamed authority out there who dictates -- or is imagined to dictate -- "rules" about resumes. The result is resumes that are too "safe": they read like everyone else’s, use legalese or similar hard-to-digest language, ignore other parts of your life, and don’t present the real person. They are not alive with YOU.

It needs to be YOU on paper (or on the screen).

When I read someone’s resume, here’s what I look for, because this is what hiring managers look for:

1. Can I tell what they do and what their impact is? If I have to read down to the bottom of page 1 before I can answer this, the resume needs fixing.

2. Do I see evidence of success? Accomplishments, achievements? Or is it just a list of "Responsible fors"? Each story of success tells your story. Don’t hide these. It’s not bragging to talk/write about these because it helps the hiring manager learn about you and thus helps them do their job

3. Can I see some pattern of growth: taking on new levels of challenges and succeeding with them?

4. Does it read well? Or does it have typos, repeat the same phrasing, or use legalese like "including but not limited to", all of which bog down the energy of the resume and cause the reader to tune out? Does the language show knowledge of the field in the form of keywords and vocabulary?

So I believe that if you do skydiving, pop that into your Summary of Competencies after you’ve filled it with more serious stuff. (You won’t believe the response you’ll get to that one! I had a young engineer who put that avocation on his resume and that word alone generated phone calls to him.)

If you love to fix process problems, say so. If selling to a customer who refused to buy from your company before, and you relish that kind of win, say so. You don’t have to hide your enthusiasm: you are a real human being! And as a professional, you DO love aspects of your work. Talk about that.

If you are told you are firm yet fair, or are approachable by new team members, or if you are an avid reader, or have listened to 30 business podcasts a month for 2 years straight, or have taken up marathon runs at age 50, say so. These are skills, too. Yes, those are all phrases my clients have used, once we talked about how to avoid silly rules of sterility for colorless resumes.

It makes a difference. And if the company doesn’t like it, they won’t contact you -- which is a good thing because you’ll avoid going with a mismatch that way.

In short, throw off silly rules and show how good you are. All of you.


What silly rules have you heard about? Comment below to add to the discussion -- thanks!


Leave a Comment
But who has room for this stuff without a 20 page resume?JKJun 12th, 2019 2:37 pm
Thanks for your comment. It would seem you need 20 pages! But it’s easily done in 2 if you give very brief synopses (~1 line each) of several your successes and accomplishments, not a multi-line whole story. A resume is meant to entice, not give every detail. And it’s easier to do it right than fill it with fluff the employer doesn’t care about. Joanne Meehl Jun 23rd, 2019 3:52 pm

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