Bad resumes. We’ve designed entire online courses dedicated to this topic. We write Quora answers every day related to this topic. It’s time for a summary of all the things we talk about so often.
99% of resumes are awful. Really, really bad resumes. It’s almost as if people are actively trying not to get the job, as everything they do lacks consideration for what an employer is looking for. So we are going to do two things in this article..
1 – We are going to tell you all the mistakes people make in bad resumes and why it’s negatively affecting your chances
2 – We are going to tell you what you should be doing instead
At the end of the article, understand that we have plenty of other resources to help you do it really well. A resume is too important to hurry though. So let’s get into detail about what a bad resume looks like (99% of them) and what a great resume looks like (probably less than 1%)…
Bad Resumes: The Mistakes Nearly Everyone Makes
If you’re doing any of the things below, you’re one of the many with bad resumes…
1 – Plain formatting.
When’s the last time you went to a website with a plain white background and nothing but text? Never right? When’s the last time you did a business presentation with just bullet points and nothing else? I hope never. So why do people write plain resumes with nothing but bullet points? It’s painfully boring to read and highlights none of the important points. Formatting matters. At a minimum, you’re missing a big opportunity to stand out. Your resume is your personal statement. If you think bullet points on a plain sheet of paper is representative of you, by all means do it but don’t be surprised when you don’t get considered.
2 – Past responsibilities.
Nobody cares what you did day to day in your past job. One sentence should describe your responsibilities accurately. Yet most people write 90% of their resume with every single responsibility they’ve ever had. Employers care about only one thing: whether you’re going to make them money if they hire you. Are you going to cut costs or bring in revenue? If it’s not focused on that, the employer doesn’t care. So it’s completely worthless to list your past day to day stuff. It’s about as valuable as the people that do social media updates on what they ate for breakfast or that they’re going on a run. You need to understand your audience and give them the value that they seek.
3 – No impact.
This goes hand in hand with the last one. What impact did you have in your past jobs? Did you make the company more money than you were compensated? Did you add any special value? If you can’t articulate why you were great in prior roles, the assumption is you were average or below average. That’s a sure fire way not to get hired.
4 – Irrelevant sections.
Nobody cares what your objective is. Nobody cares about your hobbies or what organizations you have joined. Leave such things for your autobiography. If you aren’t making the case for why you will add value to your future employer, the section or statement in question belongs in the garbage.
5 – A skills list.
Anyone can write a list of a bunch of skills. You could even copy/paste it from the job description. How is the employer expected to have confidence in that skill? A list is a waste of time. You need to demonstrate the skills.
6 – 100% past looking.
It’s amazing that people are so focused on their past and give no thought to their future. They’re trying to sell that they’ll be great in a future role but don’t have a forward looking thought in their entire job application. As an employer, we now have to somehow decipher that your past actions are somehow indicative of the future. That’s a very difficult ask. It’d be much easier to tell them what you’ll do in the future instead.
7 – Resume only.
This is thinking from 30 years ago. Nowadays, we have so many other ways to demonstrate our skills. So why are you relying on text only? Don’t you have past work samples or a portfolio of your skills? Don’t you have something that can prove the things you’re saying in your resume? I believe most people either have it or are capable of assembling more but simply don’t do it (much to their detriment).
8 – Not custom for each employer.
It’s very obvious when you’re sending the same resume you sent to 30 other employers. It’s silly though. You are making the case why you can do a job and use the same language and skills as a totally different job. By not customizing it to the employer and specific job, it shows you are lazy, not taking this seriously, desperate, or simply not skilled enough to understand how to do THIS job effectively. All these things work against you.
What You Should Do Instead!!!
As we said, 99% of people are doing all or most of the things listed above. The result: bad resumes. With a little effort, you’ll stand so far above everyone else. With a lot of effort, your job search will be simple and you’ll give yourself so much compensation negotiating power that it’ll be well worth the time you put in. So here’s the way your resume should be done:
1 – Format it to Stand Out.
This means colors. It means there’s some style put into it. It means shapes, tables, graphs, images, and anything else creative you can think of. Think of it like a website. You want it to really highlight the important things and to quickly get the attention of whoever’s reading it. Be creative – after all, most employers say they want creativity, innovation, and out of the box thinking in the job description.
2 – Every statement should demonstrate value.
Past responsibilities, skills, accomplishments, certifications… everything needs to be phrased in terms of how it helps you do the targeted job better. Don’t make the employer do the work for you… explain exactly how each qualification is a qualification for this job specifically.
3 – At least 50% forward looking.
The resume is more than just about what you’ve done in the past. You should be actively proposing how you’re going to make the employer money. Explain your approach to the job, how they can make use of your skills, what perspectives you’ll bring, and anything else that paints a nice picture of you being part of their organization. I’d advocate for greater than 50% if possible. Sell your future value, not your past.
4 – Portfolio!!!
Your resume should be a summary. Almost like a table of contents. The portfolio is where you can demonstrate all the experience/skills you have. Attach skill demos, past work samples, job proposals, work reviews, and papers/analysis geared toward this specific employer. Be creative. You want to give the employer 100% confident in your ability to do this job well. Saying you can is not too convincing. Proving you can is very convincing.
5 – Own the Process.
You actually do need one of those boring resumes if you’re submitting it online to their Applicant Tracking System software. The software can’t read anything beyond plain text. However, you should send your good resume and portfolio separately. Locate the hiring manager. Talk with them on a more personal level. Then when you interview, bring in a new set of research, questions, or specific ideas you have for the role. Every communication should add new value and strengthen your case. The key is understanding the process and preparing for each like it’s an executive presentation.
Ok. Obviously this is a lot more work than creating the typical bad resumes and sending it around to 50 employers on a job board. However, the effort is nothing when you consider how much more likely you’ll be to get the dream job and vastly enhance your ability to negotiate higher compensation. If you’re no different than 20 other applicants, they’ll lowball you on the offer (if you ever get to that point, as the math is stacked against you).
Do these things. You’re really going to stand out and really increasing your odds of accomplishing your career goals.
Just because you listen to all these ideas doesn’t mean your resume will suddenly be great. You still have to have exceptional qualifications, still need to format it well, and still need to connect with each specific employer. Your application package needs to be high quality.
For a full guide on building a top resume (using all the dos and don’ts above), we have a comprehensive guide – Building A Top Resume. We’re confident this is the best resume guide on the internet and that it pays for itself many times over.
We also want to help you specifically. We offer three personalized services aimed at accomplishing your career goals…
- Resume Review – turning bad resumes into good ones!
- Resume & Portfolio Review – adding portfolios to the mix!
- Full Career Consultation – includes resume/portfolio review and so much more
Taking time to have your resume professionally reviewed and adding our feedback should be a great investment for you. It’s the type of things that pays for itself many times over once you get that next job and negotiate a top salary.