Questions about resumé basics are answered on the Resumé Encyclopedia page—especially questions about terminology, types of resumés, document formats, and resumé technology.
OUR #1 RESUMÉ TIP:
• Our #1 resumé tip is: Beware of resumé tips. (And beware of supposed conventional wisdom.) Don’t ignore them—some of the tips and conventional wisdom are pure gold. But a very large proportion of what you read or hear—on the Web, on TV, in books, from “experts” (including “certified resumé writers”) and your friends and family, has nothing to do with reality. Sadly, school and government counselors don’t seem to do any better. So you have to think critically, all the time, and make your own judgment about what sounds real and what sounds like sales hype.
Here’s why there’s so much garbage out there:
Much of what’s written about resumés (and about job hunting) is just “recycled” from other sources—which were themselves recycled from older sources, and so on.
Some of it has become badly outdated since it was first written. That doesn’t stop it from being recycled. And a lot of it also gets taken badly out of context when it is picked up from an old source and dropped into the latest hype. For instance, some of the conventional resumé advice (like “keep it on one page,”) was originally aimed at junior job-seekers, and never did apply to more experienced people.
A lot of resumé tips were originally do-it-yourself advice, meant to show an untrained person how to produce a mediocre but safe resumé. Professionals can cut things a lot finer, and get better results. It’s not a question of breaking the rules. It’s a question of knowing all the rules—editorial, typographic, and technical—, knowing when they apply and when they don’t, and knowing the best tradeoffs when the rules conflict, as they sometimes do.
Many of those who recycle erroneous, outdated, or out-of-context resumé information are just writing filler articles for Web media, newspapers, or magazines that want to fill the “news hole”—the space between the ads—as cheaply, quickly and uncontroversially as possible. The cheapest, quickest, and (in many people’s eyes) the safest way to fill space with words is to copy what other people are saying. The Web makes this easier than ever. You just change the words around a bit so no-one can say you’re copying. When people who don’t understand the subject matter change wording and combine information from different sources, the information degrades further. The result is sometimes a travesty even of the outdated information they were copying.
Books are no better. A lot of people will buy anything that promises to help them find work, so there’s a huge and safe market for half-baked resumé advice.
And since bad information is so widespread, people you know are likely to recycle it to you when they give you advice. That includes friends, relatives, and, unfortunately, also many recruiters, counselors and teachers who’ve never explored the subject beyond the surface, and so have no idea how unreliable most of the easily available information is.
I’ve built our resumé services, procedures, and technology standards on independent research, and on years of experience in writing, research, typography, and technical production. You’ll see a lot of that research and expertise summarized on this site.
Advice can get you into
more trouble than a gun can.
There’s a world of misinformation out there about anything that pertains to finding a job. This includes some “Killer Myths”—misinformation that can totally wreck your job search even if you do everything else right. Many related topics are covered on the Resumé Encyclopedia page.
KILLER MYTH #1: “KEEP IT ON ONE PAGE” (and how long your resumé should be)
The one-page resumé is the most pervasive and misleading myth about resumés. “Keep it on one page” is good advice for someone who’s just entering the job market, or for people who have only a few years of experience in jobs with fairly straightforward responsibilities, or many years of experience in some less-skilled jobs. In some fields, a significant number of the people who read entry-level or junior resumés will literally throw out any resumé that runs longer than one page. For those job seekers, I write one-page resumés.
But for other job seekers, few things will sink your job search faster than a one-page resumé.
When you get much beyond the entry-level or semi-skilled stage, your resumé will eventually go onto a second page. Depending on your field, once you’ve had five or ten years of experience, you’ll usually need two or three pages, and in some specialties sometimes more. In most fields, once you’ve acquired some experience, you just can’t fit enough on one page to get across everything that qualifies you for a responsible job, that makes you stand out from other applicants, and that covers all the likely possibilities for what a given employer will be looking for in a resumé. You also can’t fit in enough keywords to get you past an automated screening. If it does get past the screening, a smart, experienced hiring manager or HR person, who is looking for someone to take on important responsibilities in a difficult job, is probably going to toss a one-page resumé in the trash.
For job-seekers with substantial experience in responsible positions, an effective resumé is one that starts out with key points and a professional appearance, to give an employer incentives to keep reading, and then backs up those points and that appearance by setting forth all the concrete background an employer might want to see, fully and clearly but without wasting words or space. An effective resumé should also facilitate both scanning for main points and reading in detail—each of these is critical at different stages of the hiring process. “Too long” isn’t a function of how many pages, but of how much needs to be included and how efficiently it is expressed.
Unfortunately, since everyone has heard the “keep it on one page” line when they were starting out, and since it’s applicable to so many people even later in their careers, that advice is all over the place. It’s usually taken out of context, by people who don’t realize that it only applies to less qualified job-seekers. Many of the people who repeat it without knowing what it really means are just writing filler articles for newspapers, magazines, or Web media. In any case, they’re just copying what they saw somewhere else. Low-end resumé services also sometimes talk as if a one-page resumé is all anyone needs—because a page of obvious bullet points is all they’re capable of doing (especially at bargain-basement prices). Because it’s everywhere in print and on the Web, “keep it on one page” is also repeated out of context by career counselors trying to help adults who are farther on in their careers.
For this reason, “keep it on one page” has become an extremely widespread myth. This means that occasionally you may run into a hiring manager or HR person who believes it too, even when they’re hiring for highly skilled positions in fields where resumés normally run two or three pages, or even more. They may persist in that belief for a while, because few people will dare to correct them. We’ve seen this happen even with managers in specialties like I.T., where resumés normally run from two pages for junior people to five pages for managers. That shouldn’t be surprising. If you’ve been around for a while, you undoubtedly know that by no means all hiring managers are competent in their fields, and that the connection between HR and reality is not always tight. And in any case, even competent managers may have some blind spots when it comes to functionalities outside their professional skill set—functionalities such as communications, which is a professional specialty all to itself.
There are limits to resumé length, of course. Three pages is the practical maximum for most resumés. I.T. resumés may run to four or even five. (In fact, I don’t often go beyond three even for senior I.T. resumés. But I like to think I write more concisely than most, and I can certainly get more on a page than most without having it look crowded.) Professional or academic CVs, which list publications, seminars, etc., can go to six or eight pages if there’s enough material.
Your resumé doesn’t have to keep growing in length with the years. As you add recent experience relevant to your evolving goals, you’ll just condense or weed out the older information that either isn’t relevant to your current objectives, or gives more space than is needed to experience that is duplicated in your more recent job history. (You still, of course, have to show that your experience in key areas goes back a ways.)
The important thing to remember is that no competent manager or HR person ever bounced a resumé for a mid-level or senior position just because it ran to more than one page. And on the other hand, it’s the smartest and most knowledgeable managers who are impressed by full detail (with no wasted words, of course). In your job search, you’ll be running into incompetent people and smart people. Which group do you want to please?
KILLER MYTH #2: THE “FUNCTIONAL” (OR “SKILLS-CENTERED”) RESUMÉ
When people call us and say that they’ve sent out lots of resumés and gotten no response whatever, the usual reason is that they’re using a “functional resumé.”
“Functional resumés” (also called “skills-centered” resumés) don’t show skills and experience in connection with your job history—what you did for each employer. Instead, they give only a list of employers, job titles, and dates, and put everything else—skills, experience, projects, etc.—in a separate skills section, with no chronological framework or links to when or where the skills were exercised.
HR people and hiring managers HATE these resumés, since they don’t back up your claims with a concrete, verifiable history, don’t allow readers to form a picture of what you did at each job, and give no idea of how recent is your experience in any particular skill or subspecialty. There’s not even any assurance that the skills listed were ever exercised in a professional context at all. Functional resumés go straight into the trash—there are always many more resumés in the pile.
Talk about “functional” versus “chronological” resumés is an example of the terminology hype that is very common in the resumé business. Functional/chronological is a mildly interesting theoretical distinction, and can help you learn about how to approach the treatment of certain elements within a resumé. But in practice, virtually all good resumés will use a combination of the two approaches—with chronology very much dominant. (Professionals in healthcare and other fields may use purely chronological resumés. Hands-on IT and tech people often benefit from a longer functional section, but that’s in addition to a full chronological section, not instead of it. Their resumés may run longer than other people’s.) The art is finding the right balance for each job-seeker, and using each in the right place in the resumé. However, some nationally known and highly certified resumé consultants have taken to touting resumés that are almost purely “functional”—that is, they list most or all major skills and achievements separately from your job history.
The so-called resumé “experts” who tout functional resumés didn’t anticipate this rather obvious problem, and don’t seem to have gotten the word that their resumés are being tossed into the trash. That’s probably because these are people who, though they may have started out writing resumés professionally, now make their real money from lecturing and selling books. (That’s one of the economic realities of the resumé business.) They clearly have no serious professional writing or editing background, and don’t do research to see if their practices actually work. In fact, “functional resumé” is an old, old buzzword, a concept that keeps getting repeated in books and articles by people who just copy from older sources and don’t check their facts.
Don’t take our word for it:
Check the LinkedIn discussion thread on this topic, for recruiter feedback about functional resumés. You can also Google the following words: functional resumes don’t work. You’ll see many discussions of that topic, and if you read the comment threads you find, you’ll see many comments from HR people to the effect that functional resumés get thrown immediately in the trash.
KILLER MYTH #3: “VISUALLY DISTINCTIVE” RESUMÉS
Even seemingly simple “visual enhancements” put a surprising number of resumés in the electronic trash bin before anyone sees them—or as soon as somebody sees them.
There are inescapable technical reasons why resumés have to be pretty much plain vanilla. Resumés are subject to all sorts of electronic handling by programs other than Word. The many Word features that don’t work with such programs can make a resumé unreadable and unprocessable. Other technical and visual problems are caused by Word features that people use to tart up resumés. Even Word’s automatic bulleted lists are a minor problem. Virtually everyone uses them, but there are safer ways to do this job, that also look a lot better. (For more about this, see the section on problem Word features in the article on Word in our Resumé Encyclopedia.)
And Word is a pretty clunky tool for visual refinement—especially if you have only a superficial knowledge of the program, and no knowledge at all of real-world typography. Quality typographic work is done with programs much more powerful and better-designed than Word. (Adobe InDesign is the only player in this field today.)
Fonts are another issue. Only a very small number of fonts—three or four, at the most—are both typographically suitable for resumés and present on all computers. Fonts don’t get transmitted along with Word documents (or most other documents that use them). If the person receiving your resumé doesn’t have the fonts you used to compose it, another font will be substituted. Lines will rerun, page breaks will change, and the appearance and readability of your resumé will be seriously degraded. (For more about this, see the section on fonts for resumés in the article on Word in our Resumé Encyclopedia.)
However, there are some expert formatting features in Word that allow you to use almost all the visual formatting techniques you could want (except tables and columns), give you finer control than the clunky features usually used, and actually don’t have technical compatibility issues in resumé processing.
And if you have a production professional’s knowledge of typography, fonts, and font technology, you’ll know the best fonts to use, and how to use them most effectively.
With resumé formatting, the art is to make plain vanilla look good. We can apply professional knowledge of typography, production technology (including Word), and editing to make plain-vanilla stand out for appearance and functionality.
KILLER MYTH #4: OUTLOOK.COM, HOTMAIL, MSN.COM, LIVE.COM (why you shouldn’t use them)
Do you tell prospective employers to contact you at an Outlook.com, Hotmail, MSN.com, or Live.com e-mail address? If you do, there’s a small but real chance that Microsoft will block the employer’s e-mail if they respond. You’ll never know it was sent. The employer may never know that you didn’t receive it, and even if they do, they’re not likely to make any further effort to contact you.
This is a problem only with Outlook.com, Hotmail, MSN.com, and Live.com—all of which are owned by Microsoft. This can affect all e-mails sent to Outlook, Hotmail, MSN, and Live e-mail addresses—not just responses to job applications. No other e-mail services arbitrarily block e-mails from other reputable e-mail services or ISPs like this. This has been going on with Microsoft e-mail services since at least 2003. It seems to have gotten worse since about 2012. Microsoft’s changeover to Outlook.com (in 2013/2014) didn’t have any effect on this problem.
The e-mails that are blocked are legitimate e-mails. They’re not spam, they don’t come from suspicious sources, and they aren’t being transmitted through suspicious e-mail services or ISPs (Internet Service Providers). The sources and ISPs are not on any of the blacklists used by IT security firms to identify spam sources. Only Microsoft is blocking these e-mails.
A large number of reputable, long-established ISPs and their customers are affected. These include major ISPs such as Comcast and GoDaddy.
All of a sudden, an entire company (in one case, an entire university) finds that e-mails sent to people with Outlook, Hotmail, MSN.com, or Live.com addresses aren’t getting through. Sometimes the sender gets a bounceback message. Sometimes they don’t even get that, so they don’t know the e-mail was lost.
What this means for you is that if you contact a prospective employer using your Outlook.com, Hotmail, MSN.com, or Live.com address, it’s possible that the mail they send back to you will be blocked. This is an especially serious problem for job inquiries. That’s because if an employer who sees that e-mails sent to you are bouncing, they will probably make no effort to re-contact you. Sometimes the employer may not even be notified that the e-mail bounced. Even if they do re-contact you, the same problem will recur at every stage of the hiring process, with every person from that company who e-mails you.
This isn’t happening to everyone with an Outlook.com, Hotmail, MSN.com, or Live.com address. But it’s happened to a lot of people, it’s been going on for a long time, and there’s no reason to expect it to change soon. With all the trouble you take over a job inquiry, with all you’ve got riding on it, why take a chance with something like this?
The problem is definitely at Microsoft’s end. There is nothing you can do about it, except to use another address for e-mails, an address that isn’t managed by Microsoft. There is nothing that the employer can do about it, and if there were, there’s no chance that they’d take the trouble. There is nothing that the ISPs and non-Microsoft e-mail services can do about it. ISPs are constantly contacting Microsoft about this. Each occurrence of the problem is eventually fixed, but Microsoft is very uncooperative, they can take a very long time to fix it (weeks, often months), and the problem constantly recurs. Microsoft claims that there is a simple technical solution that ISPs can use. But it obviously isn’t working very well in practice.
Microsoft says that the blocking is caused by false alarms from their spam-detection systems, which automatically block certain servers used by various ISPs. Microsoft acknowledges that they’re false alarms. Nobody else’s spam-detection systems have this problem. Since the same problem has persisted for fifteen years, it obviously reflects either a deliberate policy of Microsoft, or an astonishing degree of technical and organizational incompetence over a long period of time.
SOLUTION: I strongly recommend that, if you use a Hotmail, MSN.com, or Live.com e-mail address, you switch to using a Google gmail address, at least for your job search, and for other critical e-mails to total strangers who won’t take any trouble to deal with communications problems.
Gmail addresses are also good to use for signups and communications with Web services and merchants, who may sell every bit of customer information they get their hands on, and spam any e-mail address registered with them. Gmail addresses are easy to change to escape this mail. By the time you need to do this, any potential employers won’t need to use that address to reach you. They will either no longer be total strangers, or they will have forgotten you. HR rarely bothers to look at old files. It is extremely unlikely that an employer will contact you several years from now on the basis of an e-mail you send them today.
It’s also handy to have a backup address in case there are problems with your main e-mail address.
I have my reservations about Google, but at least gmail doesn’t arbitrarily block emails the way Microsoft does, so anything the employer sends to you at a gmail address will get through. (Also, anything you send from a gmail address won’t be blocked even if the recipient has a Microsoft address. To the best of our knowledge, Microsoft has never blocked mail sent from gmail addresses. Others who have looked into this problem say the same thing. Apparently even Microsoft doesn’t dare mess with that large a user base.)
I don’t recommend Yahoo because they have occasional problems of their own. But if you’re already using a Yahoo address, there may be no urgent reason to change. If you have an AOL address, keep in mind that this dates you—AOL e-mail hasn’t been a popular thing for a long, long time.
For your main e-mail address (which you’ll use with your friends, and give to an employer after they’ve hired you), the ideal solution is a paid, private e-mail service, which makes its money by serving you, rather than by spamming you, pushing ads at you, selling the information you provide, and wasting your time with efforts to hook you onto signing up for features that cost money. Paid private e-mail services are available alone, or in combination with Web hosting services that can host your Web site. They can be quite affordable. Just one thing: when choosing your domain name, pick something that is appropriate for use in e-mails to potential employers.
Crystal Resumés uses MDD Hosting for web hosting and e-mail, and we recommend them highly. They seem to be one of the best-known and best-regarded independent hosting services. In the hosting market, the better-known names are not always the best. A surprisingly large number of hosting firms—big and medium-sized, including the smaller end of medium-sized, and many well-known names—are owned by a company called Endurance International Group (EIG). EIG does not seem to have a good reputation, and the quality of service at the firms they acquire is said to fall off badly post-acquisition. (For a list of their holdings, look up their entry on Wikipedia.)
If you want to shop around, and you’re willing to do some digging to find a private hosting service, and have some tolerance for under-the-hood technicalities, I’ve seen some interesting discussions on the forums on https://www.webhostingtalk.com.
Don’t take our word for it:
Do a Web search for the following phrase (include the quotation marks): “Reasons for rejection may be related to content with spam-like characteristics”. (This wording is from Microsoft’s standard bounceback message.) You’ll see many postings by IT people discussing this problem. It’s still going on as of 2018.
There’s a 2014 thread on this at webhostingtalk.com.
In 2007, Dan Goodin, an internationally-recognized IT security expert, wrote an article about this in The Register: “Hotmail’s antispam measures snuff out legit emails, too.” It’s exactly the same thing that is occurring now.
And back in 2003, CNET reported on exactly the same problem: “MSN blocks e-mail from rival ISPs.”
ON-LINE JOB SITES—INCLUDING LINKEDIN (what they’re good for and what they’re not)
The Web can offer some nice tools, but there’s an awful lot of hype and snake oil out there. Two of the biggest fields for con games in today’s world are 1) anything to do with the Web, and 2) anything to do with finding a job. Combine the two, and you've got a perfect storm of sucker bait. Beware of anything that poses as in any degree a substitute for a good reputation and diligent personal digging. (And a good resumé.) A lot of the time people spend on Web job-search tools might often be better spent taking care of other things—or just taking a break, to keep you relaxed, alert to opportunities, and ready to respond effectively to an opportunity when it comes.
The proportion of jobs filled through online job sites other than LinkedIn is on the order of one or two percent. The percentage that are filled by employers who find resumés posted on these sites by job seekers, rather than through job-seekers’ responses to postings, is probably a lot smaller. LinkedIn may well do better, but the percentage is still quite small, judging by what I’ve read and by what I hear from my clients about how they get jobs and about how they recruit. There are knowledgeable people in employment-related businesses who regard LinkedIn as basically just another job board. There are people who have applied for hundreds of jobs on LinkedIn or other sites and gotten nothing but runarounds.
The employers who do search for candidates on LinkedIn are not always the most desirable employers. In most companies, the usual attitude in HR is to make the job seeker do all the work.
Like every other means of job hunting, job sites work best for people with scarce, sought-after skills. Most or all of the people I know who have actually gotten jobs through these sites are experienced IT people or engineers. But on the whole, job boards are like many other things that are popularly seen as cure-alls: they only work well for people who don’t need them.
You’re better off sticking with the free sites and free services, and staying away from any paid on-line job search tools (including LinkedIn’s).
LinkedIn has other uses than as a job site, but as a job site, it’s just another job site. Remember that on LinkedIn you’re in a very large crowd. As of June 2018, LinkedIn's worldwide membership was 562 million. As of March 2018, there were 146 million members in the U.S. That’s 44% of the entire U.S. population. Membership is growing rapidly. Presumably, nearly all members are working.
You’ve doubtless thought about the level of competition you face in the job market. Pretty much everyone has a LinkedIn profile these days. How many of those millions of members (including those outside the U.S.) are looking for the same jobs you are? Anyone searching for talent on LinkedIn is going to find all of them. So you’re back where you were—in a stack of hundreds or even thousands of resumes. The only advantage of LinkedIn—and it’s a real one—is that it can be easier for people to find you who wouldn’t find you otherwise. But it’s easier for them to find your competition, too.
Indeed.com can pick up a few postings from the career pages on corporate websites that the other big job sites miss. (But again, it seems to work mainly for experienced IT people and engineers.) CareerBuilder.com is worth checking, but they aren’t as good as they were when they established their reputation—there are a lot more “spam” listings for bogus opportunities like work-at-home schemes. Simplyhired.com looks interesting, and is well spoken of, though I haven’t explored them in detail. Monster is still around. After you’ve been to two or three big job sites, you’ll see that (except for a few on Indeed.com), they all have pretty much the same postings. LinkedIn may perhaps do better, because it’s more fashionable.
As for The Ladders, we have a separate article on them.
There are also lots of industry-specific job sites. Some of these are major resources, but many others may have so few job postings they’re not worth bothering with. The same is true of government-sponsored sites.
Be very skeptical of any online job-hunting tools, paid or free. Even if you don’t spend a lot of money on them, you could find yourself blowing a lot of time for which you have a better use. Even if a service isn’t worthless, it may well not be worth the time it takes to use. Many such sites are designed to keep you on-line and involved for as long as possible to increase the chance of your signing up for something that costs money—or just to increase the ad exposures or page views on the site, which may be a major source of revenue for the site’s owners.
This is especially true for LinkedIn. LinkedIn is not in business to serve job-hunters. LinkedIn looks to make its real money from advertisements and services to companies. The individuals who sign up as members are just bait for the advertisers and corporate clients. (It works the same way with other media, including newspapers and magazines: it’s the advertisers who pay the bills, not the subscribers. Media takes the subscribers for granted until enough of them leave to hurt the advertising rates.)
One thing you should never do, except as an absolute last resort, is to apply for a job through a third-party job site. The people who run these sites have their own agenda for any data you send through them, which adds a lot of complications to the way they process your application. This increases the chances that some glitch will leave you in doubt as to whether or not your application even went through—and wondering whether to risk making yourself look silly or desperate by re-submitting. This can happen fairly often on third-party job sites. If you see a job you want to apply for, you’re much better off going to the employer’s company site and applying there—or, better yet, doing some digging to get a direct line to a hiring manager. (Employer job sites aren’t always fully functional either. Neither is HR.) If you don’t see any information in the posting that enables you to find the employer, try Googling some distinctive key phrases from the posting, along with the job title. There’s a good chance you’ll find the same posting elsewhere, either on the employer’s site or on a third-party site with information about the employer. If you don’t, wait a few days and try again.
Employers and recruiters with real job openings won’t necessarily go looking on the Web for resumés. Very often employers don’t even look for resumés in their own files. HR’s normal procedure for most job openings is to just post a half-baked ad and wait for job seekers to do the rest. (They may take several rounds of trial and error to hopefully make the ads less half-baked.) HR won’t get “proactive” unless people with the desired skills are painfully hard to find—and, increasingly often, not even then. When this approach doesn’t work, they blame the “talent shortage.”
When employers and recruiters actively search for people whom they are then going to have to pay well and treat well, it’s for highly-experienced people with very specialized skills, the kind who may be accustomed to getting unsolicited job offers and calls from serious headhunters. (Not the kind of headhunters who, like HR, wait for people to send them resumés.) Even in these fields (in fact, especially in these fields), hiring and job-searching are normally through personal acquaintance or word of mouth, or direct applications that result from research by the job-seeker. It may not be the best employers or recruiters who search out candidates on the Web.
A LinkedIn profile is a good thing for anyone whom an employer, or potential business connections, might be particularly interested in. But, unless you’re in one of the sought-after specialties, think twice before posting your resumé on other job boards (except an employer’s own site, and perhaps on thoroughly respectable industry-specialized sites). If you do post your resumé, don’t put your address or phone number on it. Any resumé posted on the Web will generate a lot of spam. Anything at all posted on the Web will be in the databanks of criminals and sleazebags within days or even hours.
So third-party online job sites—including LinkedIn—are probably not going to produce a job for most people.
But there are some things third-party job sites ARE good for:
One thing job boards are very good for is general market research—getting an idea of what sort of jobs are out there, finding out what skills and qualifications employers are looking for at the moment—and also about the latest industry-specific buzzwords. (But not the generic fluff buzzwords—they won’t get you anywhere.) All of this can be very handy, especially if you’ve been out of the job market for a few years.
Even though little hiring is done through third-party sites, HR people like to post jobs there. It makes them look like they’re covering all the bases, and doing something cutting-edge. It helps with affirmative-action compliance, since it shows that they publicized the opening. In any case, their bosses probably wouldn’t understand if they stopped using these sites.
It can, in fact, be worth posting a resumé on an employer’s career site. (The resumé can often be conveniently attached to applications made through the site.) But even there, don’t expect too much. HR people may not look through posted resumés on the company site even when there’s an opening to fill. Again, the usual attitude in HR is to make the job seeker do all the work. Also, the employer’s career site may be less than functional. And features on company career sites that alert job-seekers to relevant openings may not work very well—especially if the position you’re looking for is not directly involved in producing the employer’s characteristic products. (In other words, job-seekers with non–industry-specific skills, such as finance, marketing, or IT, may not be well served.) So if you’re really interested in a particular employer, keep an eye on their career sites even if your resumé is on file there.
If you don’t do so already, schedule twice-weekly searches of third-party sites and of the career sites of employers you’re particularly interested in. Learn to use the search keywords that give the best matches for you, and write them down in a computer file to help you make the search a quick and routine chore.
Some cautionary information on TheLadders.com: their claims that their listings are 1) exclusive and 2) limited to $100K+ jobs are, shall we say, widely disputed. Some job hunters recognize this but still think them a worthwhile job search tool. Others who have tried them emphatically condemn them. So if you’re thinking of using The Ladders, do your homework first. And if you do use them, be very skeptical. Above all, I don’t think you should ever sign up for any paid services with them—or with any other sites, for that matter (including LinkedIn).
One thing there is total agreement about is their resumé writing service. If you’re working with us, hopefully you will agree that you’re already well taken care of as far as resumé services go. But if you’re considering having them do your resumé—and especially if you’re thinking of sending our resumé to them for a “free critique” as a means of checking our work—then you really should check out the links below, to find out why I won’t pay any attention to what they say. (Free resumé critiques themselves are a notable myth, which is discussed below.)
Don’t take our word for it:
Google “theladders.com complaints” and “ladders resume writing reviews.” To get the full story, read the comments in the discussion threads you’ll find, as well as the articles.
And here’s a link to a LinkedIn discussion of The Ladders resumé writing service:
SEO, KEYWORDS, SEARCH-ENGINE OPTIMIZATION: HYPE & MISCONCEPTIONS
Comments from Crystal Resumés proprietor Ken Dezhnev were featured in an article on resumés in today’s electronic job market, which appeared on page one of the Business section of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Sunday, August 22, 2010. The text of the article is available online.
Keywords are common terms for job titles, skills, key technology, sub-specialties, types of experience, key industry players, and other factors that indicate the experience and ability needed for a particular job.
The latest buzzword for this is “SEO” (search-engine optimization), because so many people have LinkedIn profiles online, which search engines can access. The buzzword “keywords” is still going strong, because an increasing number of employers and recruiters use applicant-tracking systems (ATS) that search resumés for keywords that are supposed to indicate an applicant’s suitability. Decisions about who gets interviewed are then made on the basis of keyword scores. This is still probably a much more important factor for most job hunters than searching LinkedIn profiles, but LinkedIn is a hot buzzword itself right now.*
There are a few technical differences between LinkedIn searches and employer resumé-processing systems. To a technologically knowledgeable person, these differences are very minor. But some people make a big deal of them. Because of hype and technological ignorance, there are some serious and widespread misconceptions about this aspect of resumés.
Many resumé services, and counselors, coaches, and writers on job-hunting, seem to think that “keywords” refers to some magical, unchanging list of words that will get you considered for a particular job. The idea is that the experts know those lists and you don’t. As with many common misconceptions, if it were that simple, everybody would be doing it and it would no longer be effective. If all these experts had the magical lists, the words on those lists would eventually appear on most resumés, and employers could no longer use them to distinguish between candidates.
In fact, the keywords used for a given job by a given employer are whatever words the HR people (or their consultants) put on the lists for that job. IT people will recognize a GIGO situation here. There’s no telling what’s on that list, or how well it will correspond to the actual key qualifications as recognized by people qualified to fill the job.
However, as Damon Runyon once wrote, “The race is not always to the swift, or the battle to the strong, but that’s how you bet.” Your best bet is to include as many common terms as possible for real-world key qualifications (that you actually possess). This increases the odds of scoring well. Given the largely irrational nature of the process, it’s about the only thing you can do to increase those odds.
Even worse, a lot of resumé “experts” believe that the many fluff words associated with job descriptions and job postings, and which are so commonly employed by resumé writers, can function as keywords. Part of the problem is that a lot of people don’t know the difference between “keywords” and “buzzwords.” The fluff, the buzzwords, are, almost by definition, terms that are being used by everyone, or everyone in a given field. That means they are useless for sorting out job candidates. It also means that when the resumé is read by a human being, that human being’s eyes will roll every time he or she sees the buzzword.
In fact, many employers deliberately write job postings without the keywords they are looking for. This is to prevent people from copying keywords from the postings. This is one reason why job postings often look so fluffy and unreal. Resumé writers and job-seekers who use this fluff in resumés, in the belief that these are keywords, are barking up the wrong tree.
Real keywords are also important for human reading, especially when, as is often the case, the person is making a quick scan of the resumé to decide if it’s worth a closer look.
A strong list of real-world keywords also increases the odds that something will ring a bell in a hiring manager’s mind, for some very specific reason that you couldn’t have anticipated. (For example, at the early stage of a company’s plans to expand into a certain market or explore a certain technology.) Because keywords aren’t there just to get you past the initial screening. Like everything else about your resumé, keywords can and should work at every stage of the hiring process.
Real keywords should be a part of every resumé in every format, not a special feature of certain formats or a special additional service. Here’s my hype: Providing the best selection of real keywords requires an in-depth, fact-based approach to information-gathering and writing, individualized for each job-seeker. I write your resumé (and cover letters, if you order them) to include the richest possible range of keywords, based on the information you give me in interviews, on my experience with clients in similar fields, and on some individualized research on possibilities suggested by your information.
* Even earlier, in the days of paper resumés, the buzzword for the same thing was “scannable resumé,” because paper resumés had to be optically scanned before the text could be searched. There was a lot of hype and misconception about it then too.
CHEAP RESUMÉS: PRICE/VALUE REALITIES IN THE RESUMÉ BUSINESS
With resumés, you don’t always get what you pay for, but you’ll never get anything you don’t pay for.
That’s why you have to shop for much more than price—but price can give you some important clues.
Resumé-service prices are all over the place.
At the low end, some resumé services will charge you $50—whether you’ve had zero years of experience or thirty. You should expect a resumé service’s prices to vary depending on your level of experience. The longer you’ve been working, the more information has to be presented in your resumé. Also, as you climb higher in the ranks, there’s a bigger payoff for carefully tailoring your presentation to your market and your specialty. (Not coincidentally, many one-price resumé services also tout the “one-page resumé” myth. That’s discussed in the Killer Myths section, above.)
At the high end, fees range from several hundred dollars, for entry-level people, to well over a thousand. Top-quality work isn’t sustainable at low prices. Those who deliver top quality have learned that the hard way. In a business crowded with low-ballers, quality can’t compete on price.
$50 or $100 is likely to get you just the information that you yourself provide, with minimal modification, slapped into a one-size-fits-all resumé template, with no quality control.
However, there’s a nationally-known service that charges $800 for the same thing. Often, though, at higher price points, a generic scripted interview may be added.
On the other hand, the highest prices may represent the costs of scaling up, which are a much larger percentage of the gross than they are for small shops. Salaries and administrative costs add up quickly—even the low salaries (or more likely, piecework payments) that are given to most resumé writers employed by the resumé mills. To support the additional costs, you need volume. And volume means advertising budgets in the high 5-digit or 6-digit range. There are no bargains when you start advertising outside your local area. Google doesn’t make its best profits from small businesses.
Those extra costs have to be reflected in the prices you pay, but they don’t reflect any extra value for you. In fact, they’re likely to mean less value for you, because no company can fill a large stable with competent writers, let alone top-end interviewers/writers/formatters, for the money that the resumé mills pay. The better people (and even a lot of mediocre people) can do better on their own, if they have any head for business. That’s why so many resumé services are one- or two-person shops.
Even if the service menu is the same, the best resumé specialists will put a lot more time and knowledge into the job than others. That investment has to be reflected in the price, and people with exceptional skills command a high price for their time.
HALF-UP-FRONT DEALS AND “GUARANTEED” RESUMÉS
All resumé services require payment in advance, with no refunds. If you see what looks like an exception, look closer, and you’ll see the catch.
No experienced professional, and no sound business, does first-rate work unless they’re certain they’re going to be paid for it.
How do the services who offer “guarantees” work it?
Occasionally, you’ll see something like this: “$300 in advance, and $300 on delivery.” From what I’ve seen, this means you’re getting a $300 resumé (at best), and if they collect the other $300, it’s gravy.
Perhaps there are some that offer a real guarantee—but add a large premium to all fees to cover the risk of non-payment.
But almost always, the “guarantee” takes this form: “Guaranteed interviews in 30 days or we re-write your resumé for free!”
If you call them on the free rewrite guarantee, you’ll have to submit a lot of documentation in support of your claim. And then you’ll have to put up with a bureaucratic runaround designed to make you give up.
And the free rewrite doesn’t mean much in any case, if you think about it. If their quality was poor in the first place, it’s not likely that the same people are going to make much improvement on the second go-round. They might just quickly rephrase things, differently but not better, so they can say they’ve rewritten. That’s just part of the runaround.
If your resumé was written by a resumé mill with a revolving door stable of cheap writers, and one of their writers really did botch it, it will give them a chance to give it to another writer—who may or may not do much better.
Meanwhile, you’re wasting job-search time and blowing opportunities.
Resumés are just not a product for which meaningful guarantees of results are possible.
Job searches are too variable, and there are many factors other than the resumé. A lot depends on the particular field, the overall job market at the time, the market for someone’s particular specialty at that time and in their location, and sometimes on the time of year. In many fields, it could easily be more than 30 days before you get an interview, or even before you find someone with a job opening. And in the end, your own experience is a big factor, too. And the hiring process itself is too uncertain and often quite irrational.
If you send in your resumé and don’t get a response, it’s quite possible that the reasons had nothing to do with your resumé. The employer may have been looking for someone with different experience, or more experience—or less. Many employers won’t consider applications from people who aren’t currently employed. (That’s stupid, but that’s the way it is.) Or they may already have someone in mind for the job but had to post it to check off a procedural or regulatory check box.
INTERVIEWING: IN-DEPTH VERSUS GENERIC
Nothing in the resumé business varies more than the level of service. One of the clearest and most important indications of service level is how much time they spend digging for individualized information.
The real key to an effective resumé is concrete information—with enough detail to make you stand out from similarly qualified people. Generic questions don’t provide that. Further, the types of information needed, and the emphasis given to each, will vary from one specialty to another.
For mid- to upper-level job seekers, a resumé service that can make a big difference in your job search will spend two or three hours just on interviewing. Even for people just entering the job market, a good writer will usually find about forty-five minutes worth of questions—the less experience you have, the harder they have to dig for things that will make employers take you seriously. They’ll also need some lead time before the interview to sit down and examine your basic information and work on interviewing strategy and specific questions.
A resumé service’s website should tell you where they stand on this essential issue.
Many resumé services really just do Word formatting for people who can’t do it themselves. They re-work whatever basic information you think to give them, in your existing resumé, or in a brief phone conversation or a standardized online form. In other words, they’re just secretarial services.
Especially if they want to charge more, they’ll try to add some glamor to the reworking. They’ll talk as if there are some magic phrases and formatting techniques, known only to resumé writers, that they can add to your basic information to make a killer resumé. Many of them may actually believe this. There’s been a lot of hype about that sort of thing in circulation for a long time.
A smaller number will make a stab at active information-gathering. Often, though, that amounts to no more than the “free initial consultation”—whatever questions they ask during your brief initial phone conversation.
Scripted interviews don’t add much either. They’re typically done from a list of generic questions, and the same list is used for everyone, with no consideration for conditions in different industries, or for the client’s unique background, objectives, and situation. Often, they may just be aimed at getting a little more detail on what you did in each job.
SIZE (AND BIG-NAME “PARTNERS”)
Size is no guarantee of quality. The biggest can be remarkably shoddy, while some of the best are successful small shops—often one-person operations.
In fact, small is often better, for a simple economic reason. On the one hand, it doesn’t take much money to get into the resumé business. On the other hand, given quality work and competitive prices, the profit margin isn’t high enough to make a profit while paying competitive salaries to skilled employees. So volume isn’t an option, because the really good writers, if they have any sort of head for business, can do better working for themselves and keeping the whole fee. In addition, there just aren’t that many skilled people. That’s why your best bet may be a small firm—often a one-person operation. (Of course, that’s what Crystal Resumés is.)
There are plenty of small and shoddy operations too. A lot of people think that preparing resumés professionally, for others, is something that anyone can easily learn to do. Quite a few people go into the resumé business in that belief.
“Partnerships”— affiliations with nationally-known job sites, media, or employment firms—are no guarantee of quality either. When these firms look for resumé services to “partner” with, size is an essential criterion—they’re getting a cut of the fees, so they want a “partner” who does a large volume of business.
GENERIC COVER LETTERS (often—but not always—thrown in for free)
A good professionally written cover letter has to be carefully individualized, and capable of being tailored for each job application. Generic cover letters don’t cut it—the say nothing at all about the fit between a particular applicant and a particular job, and employers see thousands of them, all essentially alike. It’s quite difficult to write a cover letter for someone else that will actually be useful—especially since it has to be done in advance. It takes time and skill, and should cost extra.
But many resumé services produce generic cover letters. Many even throw them in for free. That says a lot about how they approach their work.
FREE RESUMÉ CRITIQUES
If you bring your car in for an oil change, and they tell you that you need hundreds of dollars worth of additional work, you’d be suspicious, wouldn’t you? They might be right, of course. Cars, like resumés, often do need a lot of work, especially when they haven’t had professional attention for a while. But if you’ve owned a car for a long time, you know that this sort of thing is a common scam. And knowing that, you’d be particularly suspicious of a mechanic who offered free oil changes to all comers.
It’s the same with “free resume critiques.” These are usually just a sales tool—the people who offer them give you an awful review of whatever you send—spouting lots of buzzwords and bogus “rules”—hoping you will then hire them to fix it up. (TheLadders.com is notorious for this.)
If you let someone sell you resumé writing on the basis of a free critique, try an experiment. Wait a few months and send them the resumé they did for you and ask for a free critique. They will tell you it’s terrible (and it probably will be) and offer to fix it up for a fee.
There are some resumé services that offer free resumé critiques in good faith. But those critiques are apt to be superficial—anything more would take more time than a serious business can afford to give away. At best, they’re just small free samples of what the resumé service can do for you. In fact, the practice of offering free resumé critiques is not well regarded among better resumé writers. Most resumé services don’t offer critiques even as a paid service, because providing a really useful, thorough, professional critique is more work than just re-doing the resumé, and they’d have to charge more for it. Even so, it wouldn’t cover all the points on a given resumé: nothing less than a book-length critique could possibly cover the hundreds of little details that go into creating an effective resumé.
Propaganda: “That branch of the
art of lying which consists in very
nearly deceiving your friends without
quite deceiving your enemies.”
— F.M. Cornford, classical scholar and
historian of philosophy
preface to the 1922 ed.)
Facts are ventriloquist’s dummies.
Sitting on a wise man’s knee they may
be made to utter words of wisdom;
elsewhere, they say nothing,
or talk nonsense.
— Aldous Huxley,
(Time Must Have a Stop, 1945)
The man who sees two or three
generations is like someone who
sits in a conjurer’s booth at a fair and
sees the tricks two or three times.
They are meant to be seen only once.
— Arthur Schopenhauer
(Studies in Pessimism)
The buyer has need of a hundred eyes,
the seller of but one.
— old proverb, quoted by, among others, Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac (1745), and Jorrocks in Surtees’ Handley Cross (ch. 18, with commentary by Jorrocks; 1854)