Career Poll: Biggest Mistake on Resumes?

This was an interesting one.  Given the vast range of opinions floating around the employment world about resumes, and the fact that most job hunters seem endlessly insecure about them, I wanted to survey the masses and see what the most common gripe was about resumes today — perhaps offering some insight as to what my readers should emphasize (or avoid) in their OWN materials.

Here’s the question I threw out there:

“Aside from typos, what is the biggest mistake most people make on their resumes?”

The five response choices were:

1) Too long; too much information provided
2) Too short; not enough details provided
3) Unfocused; unclear what they want to do
4) Unattractive; hard to read format
5) Too much fluff; light on actual results

A total of 252 people cast their vote on this particular topic, and while you’ll see a small graphic of the results below, you can click here to access the full set of results.


The Analysis?
  Let’s start with the obvious.  Length.  Trailing dead last, by a long shot, was the notion that resumes on average tend to be TOO SHORT and don’t offer enough detail.  Only 14 out of 252 respondents chose this option, in fact.  On the flip side, 59 folks said the exact opposite — that most resumes were NOT SHORT ENOUGH and droned on with way more information than was necessary.  So if you’re wondering whether you need to add an extra page or two to your resume, and pack in a lot more detail, I’d suggest you play the odds — and go the other direction, instead, whittling your document down to an even shorter, more focused presentation.

Length issue aside, however, there are even more people out there who are apparently fed up with the “fluff” on resumes and believe people pack their pieces with too many vague generalities, instead of measurable substance to back up their candidacy.  I’d definitely agree with this.  In fact, adding scads of “quantifiable results” is one of my five cardinal rules for effective resume-writing.  But here’s the part nobody (especially professional resume writers) acknowledges: not everybody actually has “WOW” accomplishments to report!

With all due respect to the citizens of Lake Wobegone, in other words, many working adults are average or below-average in terms of the results they’ve produced.  Or perhaps more kindly, we could acknowledge that everybody is CAPABLE of great things, but haven’t necessarily been in an environment that allowed them to shine, blossom, and produce meaningful results.  For example, a sales rep who gets laid off after six months isn’t going to have much of a shot at building an impressive pipeline of results.  Or the CEO whose board is hopelessly deadlocked.  Or the administrative assistant whose boss doesn’t let him or her take any initiative and do anything other than answer phones and get coffee.  These people aren’t going to knock anybody’s socks off with accomplishments on their resume.  They just haven’t been given the chance to accumulate any, at least recently.

So while one should, of course, do their best to unearth ANY impressive contributions they’ve made at organizations, and include these stories on their resume, if relevant, it’s just not always possible in the real world.  And in my opinion, listing “lukewarm” achievements (e.g. saved $200 a year on copy paper, sold $23,000 in advertising, made damn good coffee…) is worse than putting NO achievements at all.  Again, maybe the “purists” don’t agree with me on this, but after 20 years of helping people write these documents, I’ll stand by a statement I blogged about a while back: there are no great resumes anymore; only great candidates.

Lastly, in terms of response choice #4 about resume format, a tiny fraction of people (15%) selected that one as the most egregious mistake one could make with their presentation — which makes perfect sense to me.  In my opinion, it’s a sign of progress.  In the wild west days of the nineties, people were having all sorts of quirky fun with resume formats (“Cool! I printed my resume on pink paper, using Jester font!”), whereas these days, serious job hunters have pretty much gotten the “format” issue out of their system.  Companies are largely stripping resumes down to plain text, without caring much about cosmetic considerations, and candidates, by and large, have figured out that they really don’t have to get creative when there are thousands of perfectly decent resume samples on the Internet to choose from — or they can simply pick one of the several ubiquitous resume templates built into Microsoft Word.

So there you have it.  That’s my analysis of this latest poll, which pretty boils down to “Don’t worry too much about format (unless you’re doing something crazy) and worry, instead, about whether you’re packing your resume with TOO much information — or puffing it up with hollow cliches and empty adjectives, instead of meaty accomplishments.”

Interested in some additional analysis of this poll?  Make sure you don’t miss the string of over 25 specific comments that readers submitted about the survey, while completing it.  Again, just click here to access the poll results, then scroll down to the bottom of the page to dive into the sea of opinions people expressed on the subject.

As for the coming month?  You’ll find my latest LinkedIn poll question here, asking: “What do you think the best method is for combating age discrimination, if you’re an older worker?”

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  1. quirky resumes | Job Resume Guide - October 26, 2011

    […] Career Poll: Biggest Mistake on Resumes? « Career Horizons: The … In the wild west days of the nineties, people were having all sorts of quirky fun with resume formats (“Cool! I printed my resume on pink paper, using Jester font!”), whereas these days, serious job hunters have pretty much …http://careerhorizons.wordpres .. […]

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