Career Advice

Resume Must-Haves: Relevance & White Space

If I could burrow my way into the collective mind of job-seekers everywhere, I’d program this thought into its neurons: we don’t need to go to the print shop and drop off a resume print order any more. We don’t need to return three days later and pick up 100 resumes, and use every one of them before ordering more!

Our resumes live on our hard drives now. We can change our resumes, every single time we send them out! We need to lose the idea that our resume is written once and used over and over. Every time we open our resume on our hard drive and tweak it, we’re doing that for the benefit of one reader (or a set of readers who all work in the same company). The set-in-stone resume is an idea whose time has more than passed.

Relevance is the key! We won’t be lucky enough to pull up our resume and find that it’s dripping with relevance for every interesting job spec we encounter. We’ll have to pump up the relevance level afresh every time, by shifting our resume’s content slightly whenever we have reason to send a new one out.

Which elements of the resume will we change to add the relevance we seek?

The two big relevance-amplifiers in a resume are the summary at the top, and the bullets under each of our past job sections. We’ll edit our summary each time, to make clear how our background has led us to be perfectly equipped to handle the job we’re pursuing this minute. Then, we’ll make sure the bullets we’ve chosen for this version of our resume (versus the one we sent out yesterday and the one we’ll launch tomorrow) are the most relevant bullets in our bullet-library.

Relevant to what, you ask? To the current job opening, of course. If we were a purchasing manager two jobs ago and we’re looking at an inventory control job now, we’re going to make sure the inventory-related stories from our past show up in our resume bullets. We didn’t use those accomplishments when we sent a resume last week for a purchasing manager opening – that’s logical. Today, we’re going to highlight our inventory chops to show our relevance to the inventory job we’re targeting.

Most of us have done more in each of our past jobs than what’s visible on our resume! We need to think back, think about the job we’re interested in right now, and make connections between our accomplishments over the years and the requirements of the job we’re thinking about today.

There’s one more resume essential that smart job-seekers won’t neglect, and that’s white space. The typical resume has at least thirty percent more words than it needs. The reader chokes on the overwhelming volume of content. Our accomplishments are most impressive when we choose them with care (for their relevance, in case I haven’t made that point) and say as little as possible. We’ll be more impressive using fewer words to convey our power. Here’s a before-and-after example (in bullet form):


I was asked by my VP to look at why the salespeople’s profitability varied so much from territory to territory. I created a set of nested Excel spreadsheets that compared account size, number of accounts in a territory, various data provided by each salesperson and month-to-month sales to arrive at a profitability-per-rep metric that I showed to our sales managers. They used my tool to determine where to focus their training energy.


I created a profitability-by-region tool to help our Sales Managers focus their training attention, and boosted sales twelve percent in one quarter.

Fewer words (in context, with relevance) trump more words every time. Take a look at your own resume now: is it packed full of the relevance and brevity that will help you stand out from the pack? If not, it’s time to amp up the relevance level, get out the red pen and start pruning!