Never Staple Your Resume, and Other Sins of the Job Hunt

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I recently attended a job fair. Not because I was looking for work; I am, as of 4:19 p.m. on March 20, 2007, still, to my knowledge, employed. I went on assignment to talk to a particular set of jobseekers. I can’t tell you who just yet–not until my story meets its usual fate, bludgeoned to a mangy pulp and left for dead in the morgue we keep here at TIME for stories that never see the light of print.

But I thought to mention the job fair because one jobseeker I interviewed proudly handed me her résumé, the first she’d written perhaps ever.

As you might guess, there was a lot I could fault in that résumé. The thing that jumped out at me, though, was the staple.

That’s right. This eager, talented and experienced jobseeker had committed the cardinal sin of the job hunt: she’d submitted a two-page résumé.

If I could figure out how to do audio on this blog, this is where I’d enter a horror-movie shriek. I’ll substitute text: AIIEEEEEE!

Hm. Not quite the same effect.

Anyway, imagine my surprise when I opened my e-mail this morning to read this release from staffing company Accountemps: “Survey Shows Longer Resumes Becoming More Acceptable.”

While more than half (52%) of executives polled believe a single page is the ideal length for a staff-level resume, 44% said they prefer two pages.

What? They prefer two pages?!

I just don’t buy it. Not that I don’t buy the study; it was a national poll of 150 senior execs at some of the country’s largest companies, and I’m sure the results are above board and all that. What I don’t buy is that the two-page CV is preferable to the single pager. Now, I’m not a recruiter or even in a position to hire. But I do know from lots and lots of experience that it’s much harder to write short than long–and, invariably, writing shorter produces better results.

Uh oh. I think I’m having a deep thought. Allow me to try it out: what is a résumé, anyway, but a list of accomplishments and skills? And whose career–if you really, really try–can not be condensed to a single sheet of A8 paper? I bet even the president of the United States could state his experience on a single page if pressed. (It might even work to his benefit; he could leave out the stuff that didn’t go so well.)

Furthermore, it would take a poet of divine ability to express all of his career–all his skills, all his responsibilities, all his knowledge–on even two sheets of paper. It makes no sense to try. Why not simply present a bulleted list of jobs held, degrees acquired and skills possessed in the accepted résumé jargon? Does any recruiter want much more on that initial how-do-you-do?

Okay, so it wasn’t that deep a thought. Whatever.

All that said, Accountemps does include a rather helpful list of do’s and don’ts in resume writing:

• Describe key contributions you made at prior roles and how they impacted the bottom line.

• Summarize software expertise and other specialized skills.

• Devote extra space to describing work experience that is most relevant to the job description.

• Use terms referenced in the job description if they apply. Firms often scan resumes for key words included in the job description.

• Reference your activities with professional civic associations, community involvement and knowledge of a second language–if they relate to the job opportunity.

• Use exact dates of employment. Months and years are sufficient.

• Include irrelevant details about your personal life or list your hobbies.

• Misrepresent your education or career experience.

• Use professional jargon and abbreviations.

• List references or include a lengthy objective.

• Use complete sentences; short bulleted statements are better.

Allow me to reemphasize the third DON’T, based on some news today: DON’T lie on your frigging résumé. Sheesh. We can’t say this enough, it seems. Thelma Wills Foote, slated to become the chair of African-American studies at Ohio University, was abruptly yanked from the roster when it was discovered she had claimed co-authorship of a book to which she had only marginally contributed.

And that, to me, is a far greater jobseeking sin than stapling your two-page résumé.