Your Resume: Who’s the #1 Audience?

I had an interesting insight yesterday strike me during the process of teaching a class on resume-writing methodology.

At this event, I was chatting with around 30 or so job seekers about the topic of resume “best practices” and asking them, many of whom are former hiring managers, to share their particular preferences in terms of what they liked (or didn’t like) to see on a candidate’s resume presentation.  What became instantly clear was that job hunters today can abandon any hope of ever putting together a resume that will universally please everyone.

While we all agreed on a few general guidelines, like guarding against typos and including all the keywords pertinent to one’s field, virtually everything else in terms of resume development — including format, length, tone, punctuation style and such — turned out to be highly subjective in nature, with very little consensus on these issues displayed around the room.  Some people really like short resumes.  Some like long, dense ones packed with information.  Some hiring managers enjoy reading about a person’s hobbies and outside interests.  Others feel such things are unprofessional.  Certain recruiters will tell you that you should explictly explain any gaps in your work history and the reasons you left each of your past organizations.  But ask the next so-called expert, and they’ll tell you this merely draws attention to these issues and positions you as a potential job hopper.

Perhaps most interesting of all was when I pulled up two samples of professionally-written resumes, one that a former client paid a service $150 to have written and another that cost an individual (gulp) $2,500 to have assembled!  Without telling the people at my event which one was which, the entire room voted for resume #1 (the cheap one) as the document they liked best.  So even if you outsource the development of your piece, it seems you can’t even really measure effectiveness from a “you get what you pay for” standpoint!

So what is one to do?  How do you know when your resume is “good enough” and it’s time to move on to all the other essential steps of the job hunting process?

The moment of truth I’ve learned to watch for doesn’t relate all that much to the feedback one gets from other people, but centers instead on the moment in time when a client reports — wait for it — that the resume they’ve put together pleases THEMSELVES!

To me, you, yourself, are the most important audience for your resume.  Since it’s seems bloody well impossible to achieve “universal acclaim” from those around you, and you’ll never know the specific personal preferences of the audience you’re targeting with your submissions, I’d suggest you focus on going to whatever amount of effort it takes to reach the point when YOU can say with confidence:

“You know what?  I’m pretty happy with this document — and feel it does a good job capturing my key career contributions, personal strengths, and professional capabilities.” 

Reach that moment in time and we’re in great shape — since you can then set the resume aside, lose the psychic baggage, and move on to the other parts of the process (e.g. lead generation) that are ultimately far more important to getting hired than the resume itself.

So despite what you may hear out there, don’t let somebody bully you into believing that there are a ton of black-and-white rules about what hiring managers and recruiters might — or might not — want to see in terms of a person’s resume presentation.  Just make sure you pass the agreed-upon basics (which I’ve described here) and then, from there, focus on developing a document that’s consistent with your own tastes and personality.  You’re going to be the most important audience you need to please, in the long run!

P.S.  Another frustrating-slash-comical example related to resume preparation?  One of my clients recently sat through a workshop related to getting hired at Boeing, where she was informed that it’s absolutely critical to make sure you have all the right keywords on your resume if you want to make it through the Boeing scanning system.  But just a few minutes later, the presenter said that if you have TOO many of the terms from the job advertisement listed on your piece, your resume will be flagged for suspected fraud and get booted out of the system!  What’s the magic line between having “too many” and “not enough” of the right keywords?  Unfortunately, the speaker wasn’t able to say.  How’s that for a catch-22?

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5 Responses to “Your Resume: Who’s the #1 Audience?”

  1. I addressed the issue of frequent job changes (due to the economy) by creating a standard resume and then an accompanying document that explains the reasons for the change. I read Kahnemann’s “Thinking Slow and Fast” and cued in on the fact that once someone’s eyeballs have shifted from my resume to an accompanying document, the latest thing in front of them takes precedence in the mind. Our brains “reframe” our thinking and emotions based on context, so the reader is subtlely distracted from the resume to the document. Great book. Lots of ideas about neuropsychology and how brain functions are leveraged in modern advertising and politics. Actually the former has become subsumed as a subset of the latter these days, but I digress.

    For example, I got “the Call” from my latest ex-employer saying that there had been budget cuts and restructurings and BTW, you’re laid off. I was a contractor. So I updated my “Recent Work History” doc to reflect the reasons for my brief tenure (16 weeks) and revved up my job search engine.

  2. Regarding PS~
    Did the client also mention Boeing allows 15,000 words in answering all the “+” expanded questions on the application? 15,000 WORDS! A typical 2-page resume contains 900 – 1200 words depending on font size and margins. According to Boeing, the high word count is to allow the highest chance of key word and phrase matching for the great variety of positions recruited for. If you do not answer each “+” expanded question you do not get passed through for an interview. No human is involved until one is passed through by the computer screening process. Getting passed through the computer screening process guarantees an appointment email for a call from a recruiter. The only other lengthy application process I am aware of, but not close, is for some of the State of Washington positions.
    For those I am acquainted with, who have attempted the process, it takes many hours/days to finish and submit. In general many of the positions are only open for 1 week! To date few have received interviews and none were hired, but I may not know the right kind of candidates. 
    I would be very interested in the drop off percentage for such a process.
    Does anyone else have other factual information? Has the process changed recently?
    What are your thoughts?
    John

  3. Regarding PS~
    Did the client also say the Boeing application process allows one to use up to 15,000 words – 15,000! – in completing the various “+” portions of the application. A standard 2 page resume contains 900 – 1200 words depending on font size and margins.
    If one doesn’t answer each “+” expanded criteria one doesn’t pass go. The high word count is supposedly to allow maximizing the key word and phrases required to pass the computer screening process. Only after being passed through the computer screening process is a human recruiter involved, and passing through guarantees a call. The only other similarly lengthy application process, but not close, is for the State of Washington.
    I would be very interested in the screened out – not passed through – percentages Boeing experiences. For those I am acquainted with, who attempt the process, it takes many hours/days to complete, and the jobs remain open for only 1 week. To date only a few have passed through for an actual phone or personal interview, and no one has been hired, but then I may not know the right kind of people. 🙂
    Anyone have different factual knowledge? Any thoughts?

  4. Brilliant!

    Yes, seriously brilliant. This could have been titled “The Zen of Resume Writing” subtitled “One must please themselves first before pleasing others.”

  5. Great information, Matt. THANKS! So now I can (and actually did) breath a sigh of relief knowing that I can abandon my on-going, agonizing quest (like searching for the Holy Grail) to create THE perfect resume that will (eventually) lead to me landing my dream job! It’s a HUGE weight off my shoulders knowing that there isn’t some secret code amoung the employed masses that I just haven’t been able to crack or that has eluded only me all these years. It’s a very freeing feeling – REALLY 🙂 The only question remaining now is how to create a resume that can actually please a type-A perfectionist who struggles with “gray areas” (I’m not naming any names . . . ) “Reach that moment in time and we’re in great shape — since you can then set the resume aside, lose the psychic baggage, and move on to the other parts of the process (e.g. lead generation) that are ultimately far more important to getting hired than the resume itself”. That statement seems like sheer blasphemy as it never occurred to me that *any* other part of the job search process could be more important than the resume. WOW – that’s hard to swallow. And the irony of it all in my quest to “get my foot in the door” at the elusive, secret society of the outdoorsy here at REI is that I have landed here most likely just by luck and ‘good timing’. I happened to have followed up in March with a recruiter who originally contacted me about an REI opening a few months prior and I was searching for new leads. Yeah, he saw my resume but I don’t think it really was much of a factor. REI was in desperate need of a BODY to fill this seat and preferably someone with the ability to read, type fast, and get up to speed with little-to-no instruction. I got lucky. My number was up. And here I am – LOL! Jennifer

    Our purpose in life is to find our gift, perfect it, and give it back to others Saving one dog will not change the world, but surely for that one dog the world will change forever

    Date: Thu, 18 Apr 2013 23:37:31 +0000 To: flyinirish@hotmail.com

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