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Resume Roulette: How to Play the Game
Literally hundreds of books and articles have been written about resume preparation. The "help wanted" section of any Sunday newspaper contains advertisements by services offering to prepare resumes designed to unlock the interviewer's door. However, the only jobs generated by most of these were for the writers. There is no way to insure that your resume will even be read, let alone forwarded!
This has led some people to wonder whether your chances of getting hired are actually better without a resume. The premise is that "if you never do anything, you'll never make a mistake." If Babe Ruth thought that way, his 1,330 strikeouts would not have occurred. Of course, he would not have hit 714 home runs either. Which are remembered?
To understand why resumes are required, it is necessary to consider the plight of the interviewer. Most interviewers are inundated with a flood of different resumes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Since resume writing is indeed an art, the old saying "I don't know what's good, I only know what I like" fully applies here. In addition, even the most conscientious interviewer soon learns that insisting on resumes reduces telephone time and awkward explanations to applicants. It is nothing more than his way of maintaining his sanity and his job. When blind box advertisements are used, he can even take a lunch break.
Since there is no standard form for writing a resume, you can understand the fallacy of the words "We have evaluated your background..." in the form rejection letters most resumes generate. However, survival of the interviewers of this worlddepends on resumes; and for professional, management, administrative, and clerical positions, you'd better have one.
For our purpose,a resume is nothing more than a tool to get your foot in the interviewer's door. (It's not really locked, there's only a chair behind it.) A good one results in an appointment for an interview; a bad one does not. If buildings were constructed like most resumes, King Kong would have destroyed the world.
Interviewers are so subjective and inconsistent in their responses to resumes that I have described their use as "resume roulette." With that understanding, there are a few general rules which will at least allow you to stay in the game long enough to make the Deep Breath Phone Call.
A resume should:
1. BE NO MORE THAN ONE PAGE IN LENGTH
This is frustrating, I know. But an ounce of image is worth a pound of performance. You simply must resist the temptation to clutter your resume with detailed information. Instead, use general phrases that will incite the interviewer to positive action -- an invitation for an interview.
Use phrases like:
"Developed a series of..."
"Was responsible for a number of..."
"Was promoted to progressively responsible positions in..."
2. BE AT LEAST TEN-POINT SIZE IF TYPESET, OR TWELVE-PITCH SIZE IF TYPED
You can vary the typefaces, boldness, and underlining for interest, but conservative styles will increase the readability of the resume. My personal preference is Press Roman type if printed, or Courier if typed with a carbon ribbon. These sizes and styles are readable, available, and acceptable.
3. BE PRINTED WITH BLACK INK ON WHITE PAPER
Ivory stock can also be used and the weight should be at least twenty-four pound. Gray would be acceptable, but is often difficult to read and photocopy. Any othe ink or paper colors are a mistake. Your relationship with the interviewer is still too fragile, and your resume may receive attention for a negative reason. Save your individualism for your promotion party.
4. HAVE AT LEAST A ONE-INCH BORDER
This is primarily for esthetic reasons, but it is common for interviewers to write comments in the margins. If another sheet is required to do so, many will just move on to the next resume.
5. CONTAIN YOUR NAME, ADDRESS, AND TELEPHONE NUMBER CENTERED AT THE TOP
If you move or change telephone numbers, prepare another resume. When starting at the personnel department, this may also be done by attaching it to an updated application. After all, it's only one page.
6. CONTAIN A FEW CHOICE ITEMS OF PERSONAL DATA
Emphasize credentials and career-related affiliations.
7. SUMMARIZE YOUR EXPERIENCE, WITH THE MOST RECENT EMPLOYER AND POSITION FIRST
Whether you are a generalist or a specialist, this section of your resume can be written in several different ways. You will find that working backwards from the kinds of positions you want will help you to focus on the areas of emphasis. Listing or summarizing similar responsibilities is acceptable, but you must be concise. This is known as the "chronological" resume.
Some authorities advise a "functional" resume generalizing your duties when you have changed jobs more frequently than every two years. Interviewers are accustomed to application forms with chronological sequence, and therefore the narrative that a functional resume recites turns them off. Further, it is almost impossible to draft a generalized resume without looking like you're hiding the truth. Use a chronological approach, but combine and omit short-term employment. There is no reason for you to include everything at this stage of the game.
A resume should not:
1. UPDATE OR EMPHASIZE EXPERIENCE IN HANDWRITING
As we discussed with regard to contact information, updating should only be done through another resume or an attached application neatly typed in advance. Underlining or other emphasizing should either be done at the time the resume is prepared, or not at all. Since the resume is you at this point, make sure it has class.
2. CONTAIN INFORMATION ON REFERENCES
Instead, you should state the following: "Personal and professional references are available. They will be furnished upon request, once mutual interest has been established." References are too precious to annoy, and you want to be able to contact them first. This rule may be broken if you are relying on a highly motivated internal referral.
3. STATE A SALARY
This includes the amount you received in former positions and that which is your requirement. At the early stages, it is a no-win gamble: it invariably will be too high or too low. Besides, your value to someone else or even to yourself is irrelevant. This will become more evident when you read Chapter VII, on salary negotiation.
Moreover, when sent to a personnel department, a resume should not:
1. STATE YOUR OBJECTIVE
This is, unless you know it is the job being offered and you don't care about being considered for anything else. This is the problem with introductory letters also. You are just foreclosing your options. Your objective is getting an interview!
2. BE ACCOMPANIED BY A COVER LETTER
This is because a cover letter to an unidentified target can be counterproductive, pointing you away from the job opening. Unless you really know something about the job, or want to name the source of your referral, resist the temptation. Overworked personnel people will think of it as just one more piece of paper to shuffle.
However, if you are aiming at a departmental decision maker, an eye-catching cover letter has exactly the opposite effect! It directs you right where you want to be.
A well-written cover letter is crucial in this case: it serves to introduce you and spark a decision maker's interest. If you've done your homework, here's a place to use it. Your letter should meet a prospective employer on his own turf. Start with a comment or two on the company -- perhaps concerning recent developments you have read or heard about within the field -- and how your work experience might fit in. Close by suggesting your ultimate goal: an interview.
Your homework should include a phone call to the company to find out the correct spelling of the executive's name, his exact title, the full name of the company, and other details. There is no greater turn-off to a prospective employer than having his name or his company's name misspelled.
Like a resume, a cover letter should be neatly typed -- not in italic or other "handwriting" typefaces -- on white paper (preferably your personal business stationery with your name and address conservatively imprinted).
Your resume will be the goods, but the letter is the package. Therefore, it must reflect quality. We are motivating now, not educating.
The following three items are optional, but worth considering. A resume may:
1. CONTAIN A PHOTOGRAPH
Consideration of your face in the hiring process violates federal, state, and local equal employment opportunity laws, except under very limited circumstances. Inclusion of a photograph is therefore a matter of concern to employers, and only a matter of strategy to you. My personal opinion is that you shouldn't; my personnel opinion is that you shouldn't; but may legal opinion is that you can. Whether you should is best left to your judgment. One thing is certain: You're a contestant on "The Gong Show" without an audition. In fact, professional interviewers in some companies will not forward a resume with a photograph attached.
2. CONTAIN INFORMATION THAT RELATES TO SEX, HEIGHT, WEIGHT, HEALTH, MARITAL STATUS, AGE, RACE, RELIGION, PLACE OF BIRTH, OR CITIZENSHIP
As with a photograph, these allow the interviewer or supervisor to decide your fate based upon irrelevant and illegal criteria. You run the risk of a recipient automatically discriminating against you on the basis of this information.
If you want to know the effect of these factors, you can try calling the employer anonymously. Ask a few general questions about its commitment to affirmative action without arousing suspicion. While the information you receive may not be accurate, you will at least have some indication of what to expect. Affirmative action statements in advertisements are meaningless, since they are designed for public and government consumption.
3. USE AN ATTENTION-GETTING GIMMICK
Why not photoreduce and insert your resume into a fortune cookie? An applicant sent me a package like that once. It was a real grabber. I always felt that sending him "No Interest Letter No. 2" was not quite enough. If you happen to see a half-eaten pita bread stuffed with printed paper on some interviewer's desk as you search for a job, this applicant's probably still on the loose.
Your approach should be just to get your foot in the interviewer's door as inconspicuously as possible. Attention? You'll get attention! The rest of you is about to enter. It's time for the Deep Breath Phone Call.
Copyright © 1983 by Jeffrey G. Allen, J.D., C.P.C.