This section covers matters that I have frequently had to specify or explain to my clients in the course of a resumé project.
SENDING INFORMATION TO ME
If you’re writing things down to send me, don’t waste time formatting them to look like a resumé, or even to look nice. All I need is the information, in Word or plain text. I’ll be formatting everything in your resumé from scratch.
If you send PDFs, keep in mind that, if the PDF was made by scanning, I won’t be able to extract text from it. There are two kinds of PDFs, and the difference can cause serious problems in any business correspondence.
“Native PDFs” are what you get when you create a document in, say, Microsoft Word, and then save it as a PDF. (For more about PDFs, including how to create them, see the PDF article in the Resumé Glossary.) When you send a native PDF to someone else, they can select text in the PDF, and then copy it to another application.
“Scanned PDFs” are what you get when you take a piece of paper with print on it, and then put it through a scanner to be made into a PDF. The resulting file contains no text—just a picture of text. You can’t select the text and copy it. There is no useful way to extract the text from it. There are ways to optically scan the text (OCR scanning), but the results are so inaccurate that it is easier and faster to retype the text from scratch than it is to clean up an OCR scan.
IF YOU DON’T HAVE A RESUMÉ TO SEND ME
I can do a lot more for you if I have your basic chronological history, and general skills information, before I prepare the questions for the in-depth interview. I usually start from a client’s existing Word or plain-text resumé.
If you don’t have a resumé at all, or your latest resumé doesn’t cover recent positions, you can put down the information yourself, or I can send you a questionnaire (a Microsoft Word document set up with fields that are easy to fill in).
Here’s the information you’ll need to provide:
• Your contact information.
• Information on all your past jobs (dates, job titles, firm name, city & state of location, summary of primary responsibilities. IMPORTANT: Give separate information for each position you held at each firm—merging positions at this stage can create a lot of confusion. I’ll work out how to handle cases of “same position different title,” and similar issues, in discussion with you during the in-depth interview.
• Basic information on your training (dates, institutions, course or degree titles).
• Technical skills (software or specialized technologies).
• Other professional information such as: certifications, licenses, affiliations, etc., with dates, and, where applicable, license numbers and state in which the license is valid.
Make sure the information is accurate. I’ll work with whatever you send me, but incomplete information, or information that doesn’t check out, will make it a lot harder for you to find a job. Also, don’t hold back information because you think it doesn’t belong on your resumé. You’ll be much better off if you give me the whole story and let me decide (in consultation with you) how to present it, and what to leave out.
Yes, it’s a bit of work if you’ve never put it all down before. But no-one else can do it for you, because no-one else has the information. And no stranger will ever hire you without enough information to build a clear and verifiable picture of your professional history.
BEFORE THE IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW
For the interview, it will help a lot if you have your existing resumé handy, and any other records you may have of your past employment (especially job titles, start and end months/years for each position, and responsibilities and key accomplishments—with numbers, if available, to quantify your achievements).
I suggest a cup of coffee before we talk. Also, have a glass of water handy during the interview—I always do. It helps.
Please note: the interview is nothing like a job interview. I’m not trying to weed you out—I’m working for you, looking for material that will help me present you. As I dig for possible presentation points, we can, and probably should, discuss things that you’d never mention to an interviewer. So you can talk to me on that basis rather than the way you would talk to someone interviewing you for a job. The more information I have, the better I will be able to decide how best to present your background. Not everything you tell me will go in the resumé, of course. I’m accustomed to dealing with business confidentiality issues—we can address those during the interview.
AT THE APPROVAL STAGE
Here are the instructions I send to clients with the approval version of their resumé:
• Read the resumé through, carefully, before you even think about making changes or suggestions about anything but simple facts or terminology. You need to do that to know what’s there, and to get a feel for how everything works together, and for the style and the way the style fits the function of the resumé.
• Please double-check your contact information and all the names and dates, and review everything for accuracy of the information.
• Make sure I’ve got all your skills and experience under the right job headings, and that items in lists are grouped correctly.
• When you’re done checking the basics, read it over again to make sure you’re comfortable answering questions based on the wording in the resumé.
DON'T HESITATE TO BE MINUTELY PICKY ABOUT DETAILS OF WHAT YOU DID AND ABOUT PROFESSIONAL/TECHNICAL TERMINOLOGY. When someone asks you a question based on the wording in the resumé, I don’t want you to have to stop and wonder what Ken meant by that. Let me know if you’re not comfortable with any of the language, or if I’ve overstated anything or misinterpreted something in the process of putting together your information. Don’t let me oversell you, and don’t let me undersell you.
I hope you will look at the resumé and think that I’ve done an excellent job of presenting you—but if, in addition, you think that a number of points still need refinement, that’s fine. That includes factual nuances such as what you did or didn’t do in a particular job, as well as emphasis, prioritization, and shades of meaning of terminology. These details are very important, and I’m happy to work with you to get them right. If a phone conversation is the best way to do this, we can arrange that—my schedule is fairly flexible for that sort of thing.
The goal is to get the resumé nailed down in detail now, so you can go about the next stages of your job search without further thought to the resumé.
HERE ARE SOME ISSUES THAT I FREQUENTLY HAVE TO EXPLAIN AT THE APPROVAL STAGE. PLEASE, PLEASE READ THESE. IT WILL HELP ME GIVE YOU A MORE EFFECTIVE RESUME, AND PROBABLY SAVE US TIME AND MISUNDERSTANDINGS:
• About the Profile section: Keep in mind that the purpose of the Profile is to make major points that SET YOU APART FROM OTHERS WHO APPLY FOR THE SAME JOB. (This is especially important for more experienced people.) It shouldn’t be a complete inventory of what you did. There’s a limit to how long the Profile can be. That means that common buzzwords, or common skills (even important ones), often don’t cut it—they appear in EVERYONE’S resume, and they turn hiring managers and HR people numb. This is especially true of the “soft skills” that EVERYONE puts at the head of their resumé, whether or not they actually have those skills. If the first lines that someone reads on your resumé turn the reader numb, they’ll have a negative impression right up front, and they may not even read farther—especially when there are a number of other resumés in the pile (as is often the case at the first screening).
That’s why I’ve taken take special care with the Profile section, to write points that really do set you apart, and are backed up by your history, while still reflecting key skills. Skills and experience that everyone in your field has can often be left for the employment history, even if they’re fairly important. Keywords that don’t make the cut for the profile can be taken care of in the employment history. The sole purpose of the profile is to impress humans quickly—and when properly done, it impresses humans like nothing else can, especially at later stages of the hiring process when you’re up against other people on the short list.
• “Keep it on one page” does not apply to people with significant experience in demanding fields. For experienced people in most fields, 2 or 3 pages is common and perfectly acceptable—or even 4 or 5 in some specialties (like I.T.). I have given careful consideration to the length of your resumé. (See the discussion of the one-page resumé myth, in the Killer Myths section of the Tips & F.A.Q. page.)
• Keep in mind that if you add material, adjustments will probably have to be made elsewhere to accommodate it. This is not only because there are limits to how long a resumé should be. Another very important factor, which people often forget, is that you can’t have page breaks just anywhere. For instance, you can’t have the last bullet point of a position description sitting alone at the top of a page, above the heading for the next position description. You can’t have a heading sitting alone at the bottom of a page. And so forth. So I usually can’t just add information in one place and let everything else move down.)
At this stage, I’ve already cut everything that doesn’t contribute significantly to presenting you to your potential market. I’ve probably also cut lower-priority items as needed to keep your resumé to the appropriate length for your field and level of experience. I’ve also usually made the layout as tight as it can get without looking bad. If information needs to be added anywhere, I’d appreciate your feedback on priorities for what else can be removed ON THE SAME PAGE to make room.
The running heads in the resumé really aren’t optional: They keep your name in front of the reader, and are a courtesy to the reader who is handling loose sheets of paper. The “continued” lines are essential too.
• If you give me questions or suggestions about resumé strategy, I will respond with explanations (up to a point), because anything else would make me look arbitrary. I have strong reasons for doing things just the way I do. Those reasons are validated by many years of professional editorial experience, by the practices of knowledgeable resumé professionals, and above all by the feedback I’ve had from my clients. Each resumé involves hundreds of decisions, and it’s not feasible to explain every detail of why I do what I do. The more time I have to spend explaining, the less time I can spend on making the best resumé possible for you. At the approval stage, it’s up to you how much time I spend on quality.
There’s an awful lot of popular misinformation about resumés (and about writing style), and there’s a lot more to the subject than many who pass for experts are aware of. (This, unfortunately, includes many full-time career counselors.) For examples of common misinformation, see the Tips & F.A.Q. page of this site, especially the section on Resumé Myths.
• Please leave questions of English, editorial decisions (such as capitalization), formatting, layout, and above all matters of “style” and “consistency,” strictly to me. What most people think they know about these matters is just guesswork, out-of-context or misremembered school lessons, or popular myths. I have extensive editorial, typographic, and graphic design experience working for leading corporations, consultancies, and ad agencies. (See my old freelance website for details.)
Some commonly asked questions about minor editorial and typographic matters:
1) The bullet points in the Profile do not need to be capitalized or end with a period, because they’re not sentences—and if they don’t have to be, they shouldn’t be, because in this particular visual context they’re more readable without the initial capitals.
3) Occasionally, clients point out that I used the word “I” at some point, and and are concerned that this is “inconsistent.” Of course, “I” is normally omitted in resumés. But in some cases, the word “I” is necessary to make it clear that the subject of the verb is you, and not some other person, group, or organization just referred to. Rewriting is sometimes a solution, but often it would require far more wordage than the point warrants, which would look strange and waste valuable space.
This is not a question of “consistency.” Experts in any field know that perfect consistency is not possible in complicated constructions, because rules sometimes conflict with each other, and requirements sometimes conflict too. The experts know the meta-rules for dealing with the conflicts—usually a question of which consideration takes priority in a given situation.
Sending revisions to me
The best way to send minor revisions to me is as written instructions in an e-mail message. I can also take revisions over the phone, and the phone is best where discussion is needed.
You are also welcome to send a revised Word document as long as ALL changes are marked in the document itself—not with change-tracking. (Cross-version performance of Word’s Review change-tracking feature is unpredictable, and I cannot be responsible for changes sent in this way.) So please make sure you mark the changes by highlighting the affected text or making it a different color. If you just delete something without adding new wording, highlight or color the surrounding text. Unmarked changes may be missed.
Don’t worry about messing up the layout or changing the page breaks when you add comments in the document. I never work on revised documents sent to me. All changes are transferred to my own working documents. (If I didn’t do it this way, the final documents I send you might have serious technical flaws.) The sole function of the document you send back to me is to convey your changes and comments, and it helps to have the changes and comments in the simplest and most flexible form possible.
Revisions marked in PDFs are also strongly discouraged, and may entail extra charges.
DON’T FORGET TO TELL ME WHEN IT’S OKAY!
Once you have no more changes, be sure to let me know, so I can prepare and send the final package. It contains valuable instructions and tips, and you really do need to have the other resumé formats to meet every possibility for your job search and for future technical contingencies.
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The greatest passion of mankind is not love or hate, but the need to
change alter someone else’s copy.
—seen in an old typeface specimen book
(H.G. Wells and Arthur Evans made similar comments.)