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Defeat the Five Most Common Resume Myths

By John J. Marcus

Jana Deveney planned and organized promotional events for a music-television station in New York City. About to launch a job-search campaign, she wanted expert feedback on her revised resume, so she showed the final draft to a friend who worked in the human resources department of another company in the industry. Her confidant advised, “Dump the second page. Two-page resumes are the kiss of death.”

Dan Jamison, an electrical engineer in Sarasota, FL, also wanted professional feedback on his resume. He showed his vitae to a recruiter he’d known for years, and the major advice he received was, “Change the beginning. Resumes don’t contain a job objective any longer.”

That you must make your resume one page and omit a job objective are two potentially harmful resume-writing myths, and there are many others that can work against your best interests if you believe that certain resume-writing “laws” are inviolable.

The fact is that you have enormous freedom and flexibility in how you present your background, so long as your resume is professional, well organized, inviting to read and convincingly conveys your qualifications. These should be your goals when communicating your credentials to prospective employers, not conforming to conjecture.

Five myths heard most often about what constitutes a winning resume, plus the reality in each case, follow.

Myth #1:
A resume should be only one page long.

Job hunters probably hear this nonsense more than any other misinformation, from both recent college grads and managers with decades of experience.

Your resume’s primary purpose is to produce interviews for the kind of job you’re seeking. If you’re in your 20s and have held only one or two positions during your career, then you’ll likely be able to describe your
qualifications on a single page. If, however, you have several decades of experience, have worked for numerous organizations and have a host of achievements and promotions, you’ll need two pages to do justice to your
background and capability. In fact, a two-page resume befits someone who has both depth and breadth of experience.

Larry Anderson was a plastics manufacturing executive in Atlanta. He’d worked in the field for more than 25 years for six different companies, and had a string of successes in production processes, production control,
staff training and supervision, tooling, quality control, cost control and plant safety.

When he decided to fit his background onto one page, he had to omit many achievements, plus reduce the size of his font and the amount of white space, ending up with a resume that looked like a “wall of words,” lacking eye appeal. He drew no responses from his targeted companies. Mr. Anderson then expanded his resume to two pages and included all of his successes. The final document was inviting to read, conveyed his true capability, and he quickly lined up six interviews, which led to two offers.


Myth #2: A resume shouldn’t include a job objective.

Career advisors hotly debate whether resumes should contain a job objective. Decades ago, the objective was as much a part of a resume as the job hunter’s contact information. Today, many career counselors believe that this statement limits the types of positions for which candidates can be considered. Instead, they suggest beginning a resume with a brief summary of your strengths and capability, which allows companies and recruiters to consider you for several positions, thus increasing your chances of earning interviews.

However, proponents of using a job objective say that by leaving out this statement, you’ll appear to be without direction, desperate to grab the first position that comes along. They warn that interviewers seek
goal-directed, motivated candidates and advise that there’s no better way to demonstrate these qualities than by beginning your resume with a specific objective.

Obviously the best approach depends on your situation. If you’re interested in performing a specific kind of work, state it as your job target. If you’re open to a variety of positions, you have three choices.

(1) You can write a resume for each different position, stating the employment goal.

(2) If the positions you’re interested in are closely related, you can use one resume and phrase the job objective so that it includes all possible responsibilities.

(3) Begin your resume with a “Summary” and eliminate the job objective.

Helen Lundquist, a candidate with an outstanding background in marketing and promoting children’s games and toys for several Chicago-based companies, chose option three. Her expertise includes television, radio and print advertising; direct mail; point-of-sale displays; and in-store videos. She could see herself working in any of these specialties and was willing to join a manufacturer, advertising agency or promotions house. She also was open to being a senior staff member or department manager. With so many possibilities open to her, Ms. Lundquist began her resume with this profile:

Extensive experience promoting children’s games and toys, with a history of success at creating multimedia ads, developing and executing direct-mail campaigns, designing point-of-sale displays, and creating
and producing in-store videos. Received numerous awards for creativity, record-setting promotions and product-line sales increases. Proven ability to contribute outstanding artistic talents and build and manage an advertising / promotional department.

After reading this profile, no prospective employer could possibly believe that Ms. Lundquist lacks direction and goals.

Myth #3: Only chronological resumes earn interviews.

While it’s true that almost all employers prefer to read chronological resumes (where experience is presented in reverse-chronological order, organized by employers), a functional format (in which your experience is arranged according to job function) is sometimes a much better vehicle for some job hunters.

Chronological resumes immediately reveal certain shortcomings, such as periods of unemployment, job-hopping, a history of unrelated positions or a recent demotion, and can prompt an immediate rejection. In contrast, functional resumes present experience according to strengths and successes, regardless of when they occurred, and without calling attention to deficiencies.

Claude Mosie, who wanted to re-enter the field of restaurant management in the Miami area, had no luck with his chronological resume because the document contained two red flags. His current and previous jobs were in outside sales, and he hadn’t managed a restaurant in more than five years. The quick read that prospective employers gave his resume focused on his latest experience and didn’t zero in on his food-and-beverage expertise, which appeared toward the bottom.

So Mr. Mosie revised his resume using a functional approach, showcasing his 10 years in restaurant management. He generated numerous interviews and accepted a position that offered him an ownership stake.

Myth #4: Experience should always be presented in short sentences preceded by bullets.

If you have numerous accomplishments to present, it’s true that the most powerful way to describe them is in concise statements preceded by bullets. Jeff Ritz, a division general manager of a Dalton, Ga.,-based textile mill, included the following in his resume:

· Revamped operations and produced the first profit in five years.

· Instituted new marketing programs as well as state-of-the-art production procedures.

· Boosted sales 50% in two years.

· Decreased expenses 35% in one year.

· Increased production rate 25% in six months.

But the use of bullets for emphasis isn’t appropriate for every position. Your accomplishments may not be quantifiable or the position may consist of responsibilities that don’t lend themselves to visible achievements. Here’s how Laura Roos, a horticultural technician in Homestead, Fla., successfully expressed her background:

Assist department heads in vegetable production, including field operations and the packing house. Estimate crop yield prior to harvest, calibrate farm equipment, scout for pests and disease, and aid in supervising the harvest. Assist in inventory and quality control.

Myth #5: A Resume Shouldn’t Contain any Personal Information.

Most resumes these days omit the personal data candidates used to include in earlier decades. Yet adding personal information can substantially enhance your perceived qualifications if you hope to make a career change. In this case, include details in your resume about the personality traits you possess that show how you would succeed in your desired job. This section should appear directly beneath your job objective.

Boston-based graphic artist Jim Bartholomew had no background in outside sales, but he wanted to sell art supplies. He included the following section in his resume.


· An outgoing and convincing personality.

· Relate well with a wide variety of people.

· An excellent negotiator.

· Possess a high energy level, stamina and strong follow-through.

· Goal-directed and money-motivated.

Recruiters and prospective employers alike told Mr. Bartholomew that his own confidence in his sales abilities played as much a part in their decision to interview him as did his knowledge of art supplies.

When working on your resume, make sure you don’t get locked into myths about the “correct” or “only” way to describe your experience. You always have flexibility in how you present your qualifications, as long as your resume convincingly conveys your capabilities and will prompt employers to schedule an interview with you.

Copyright © 1996 Dow Jones and Company

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