Ask a Resume Writer: Am I Trying Too Hard?

If your resume is meant to sell you to employers, then the question becomes: What kind of a salesman is it?

Is it an impeccably dressed sales consultant at an Aston Martin dealership, ushering you into a private room to discuss your needs and how to address them in the form of a 6-figure automobile?

Or is it a sweaty-palmed hustler at a used car lot, trotting out every tired closing technique in the book in the hopes of lifting dollars out of your checkbook?

Make no mistake: If you’re treated with suspicion during the interview, or have to prove basic credentials, then the culprit is most likely a resume that is trying too hard.

Here are the most frequent offenders I see when working with job seekers:

1. Infographics

I see the appeal here, really. Pulling up a resume that visualizes what you’re bringing to the table looks impressive. The problem is that in 99% of cases, what I’m left remembering isn’t the person or the accomplishments, but the design wizardry. And that’s a big problem.

The layout of your resume, and any graphics used therein, should be all about the content. The content is your value. The content is king.

2. Too Much Corporate Jargon

Going nuts on the industry acronyms and buzzwords is like the intern who shows up to the office wearing a tuxedo: It’s way too much! Communicate ideas as simply as possible. And remember: in many cases the first person to see your resume will have limited-to-no understanding of precisely what you do. You’ll need to impress them regardless.

3. Exaggerated Leadership

Words like “Led” and “Spearheaded” automatically make hiring managers check your level of seniority. If you’re at a level where you are, in fact, continuously initiating projects, by all means, use them. But if you largely collaborated on these projects, then substitute for words like, “Supported” and “Facilitated”. There’s no shame in sharing credit.

4. Pie-in-the-Sky Keywords

Having a keyword section in your resume is a good move. For one thing, it’ll help your resume pass scanning by Applicant Tracking Systems. For another, it’ll give a reader an “at-a-glance” view of all of the skills you’re bringing to the table. Just remember: only highlight skills you have direct work experience in. You’ll have to defend these in the interview, so choose carefully.

5. Mimicking The Job Posting Exactly

Copying and pasting what’s listed in a job description within your resume is a desperation tactic that does not work. Employers aren’t looking for yes men — they need qualified, passionate people who bring something extra to the table. Here’s a way to tailor your resume in a way that’s effective:

Evaluate the job posting and separate what’s listed into 3 categories: Must Haves, Like to Haves, and Interesting to Have. Take special care to highlight your experience with Must Haves in the opening section of your resume, and keep coming back to them when describing major roles you’ve held. Spice things up with the Like to Haves, especially within the keyword section and when describing accomplishments within your work history. Don’t worry if you don’t have any of the Interesting to Haves — use what space is left over to highlight value adds, interesting skills, and work experiences you bring to the table that can set you apart.  

6. Giving Every Job You’ve Held Equal Emphasis

Is it relevant? This is the question you need to ask to determine how much space a job should take up on your resume. If it is, flesh it out. If not, briefly encapsulate it in 1-2 lines and move on. Too much space used on irrelevant positions makes you look low-level, or directionless. And FYI, unless you’re fresh out of college, delete those internships.

7. Too Much Ego

Don’t try to gain attention by calling yourself a visionary who delivers game-changing results. Go humble. Go genuinely passionate. And don’t be afraid to say you take a special interest in something, or are eager to learn something new within the resume (especially if it pertains to your job target). Humility wins friends — ego alienates them.

Anish Majumdar, CPRW is a nationally recognized Career Coach, Executive Resume Writer, and LinkedIn Expert. His mission is to help ambitious people reach the next stage in their careers. Click here to get Anish’s free Career Challenge video series, which shows you how to avoid the 3 BIGGEST pitfalls experienced by jobseekers.

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