Four Common Resume Blunders
—And How You Can Avoid Them
by George Slaughter, Senior Technical Writer, The Integrity Group
In today's economy, people are looking for that winning edge when it comes to landing a job. Yet, many fail to recognize how they can get this edge by mastering how they present themselves to prospective employers. In this article, we'll look at some common blunders that job seekers make when preparing their resumes, and we'll suggest how they could avoid them.
Lack of Summary or Objective
It's been said that the typical resume gets only a few seconds worth of attention. Often, employers focus those few seconds of attention on the summary or objective statement.
“In many situations, a summary is like a newspaper headline,” writes Richard Fein in his book, 100 Quick Tips for a Dynamite Resume. “Your summary provides a chance to achieve two goals quickly: to say some job related things about yourself that are important to the prospective employer, [and] to indicate a professional goal that is consistent with a staffing need of the employer.”
A summary is a one- or two-sentence statement that summarizes your credentials. For instance, “Technical writer with 10 years of experience, including the last 6 in the energy industry.”
An objective, meanwhile, is more focused on where one hopes to land. It's important to remember that when writing an objective statement, one must tailor that statement to the situation. For example, if one applies for a technical writer opening, the objective statement probably should not be talking about finishing needlepoint. One would want the statement to be specific—“Seek a senior-level technical communication position in the energy industry”—and not generic.
When employers sort through resumes, they're often looking for reasons to eliminate candidates from consideration.
For technical writers, one important element to include in a resume is the tools used. Some would argue that tools aren't the most important thing—after all, we writers can learn to use tools, right?—but the reality is that many folks will be eliminated from consideration because they don't include information that the prospective employer needs to know. Think about what information the employer must know, and incorporate it accordingly.
Of course, one can easily go the other way and provide too much information. A former professor of mine has a 36-page curriculum vitae. It lists every article published, every presentation given, as well as the standard items (contact information, education, and references) that one would expect to see on a resume.
In fairness, this professor isn't applying for a technical writing position. If so, she'd have much to cut from her c.v.
Poorly Presented Information
Several years ago, in my journalism days, I was visiting with my managing editor. He was sharing with me resumes of folks who wanted to work for our magazine. He was incredulous over the poor writing, typos, and, in a couple of cases, how the resumes were handwritten, not typed. He shook his head and looked at me.
“There are a lot of unqualified people out there,” he said.
Ask around, and you'll learn that senior-level STC members have plenty of horror stories about bad resumes. Don't let your resume fall into that category.
If you must revamp your resume, this article lists some sources that can help you get started. Another good place to visit is the library, which has numerous resources for people interested in revitalizing their careers.
Finally, STC Houston has held Employment Share-the-Knowledge sessions for the past three years, and they have provided good advice for job seekers.
For the professional writer, a resume is also your first writing sample that a potential employer will review. Your resume, therefore, sells not only your experience and credentials, but also your writing ability. Use your spell-checker to check for typos, but be careful—a spell-checker might get the correct spelling but not the correct meaning of what you wish to say.
Learning how to write effective resumes is a vital part of one's career—and there's much more on the topic than can be summarized here. Yet, by avoiding these blunders, you can sharpen your edge when you apply for your next job.