Thirteen Ways To Write A Really Terrible Resume




  • July 24, 2015

    While helping more than 150 marketing executives improve their resumes, I learned how to write a terrible resume.


    Paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln, I’ve seen some of the following in every resume and all of the following in some.


    My Prioritized List Of What Makes A Terrible Resume

    The following is in order of what would cause me to discard a resume and not consider the person for an opening. I’ve included bullets for explanation with my “role-playing” as an executive recruiter or company screener.


    1. Functional Resumes


    What are you hiding?



    • Functional resumes make it impossible to appreciate your career and successes and put your accomplishments in context. I can’t understand your achievements, where you achieved them, and the challenges and support that you had.

      • Merely seeing a functional resume causes me to not trust you, and I’ve not yet read a single word of your resume.

    2. Insufficient Headlines, Positioning, Or Focus



    • Your job title, level, and key selling proposition need to be obvious.
    • I’m not going to work to discover how you might help us let alone what position you might be good for.
    • I only devote three to four seconds to figuring out what job you think you’re qualified for and what makes you special enough to be considered.
    • Without focusing your readers, the bulk of your résumé is no more than lists of random skills and accomplishments that are hard to relate to.

      • For marketers: If you can’t position yourself, I will conclude that you also can’t position our products and services.

    3. Missing Complete And Clear Positions, Companies, And Dates



    • You only have another three to four seconds to help me determine that your job history fits our specs, so you better make your companies and job titles clear.
    • I need to know your full career progression, so be sure that I can see every promotion and include all titles and jobs, regardless of how different from the desired position.
    • I can usually guess someone’s approximate age and don’t take kindly to being fooled.

      • If your resume is difficult to skim, I’m going to assume you’re a poor communicator, which gets your resume tossed.

    4. Not A Senior Executive



    • Communicating great skills and accomplishments appropriate for a manger or director isn’t sufficient to get you hired for an executive level job.
    • Executives must communicate that they set new strategies, lead key initiatives, and work with other executives as peers.

    5. Not Up-to-Date



    • Insufficient emphasis on digital successes and whatever has been in the business news about your function during the past six months.

    6. Not Able To Generate Change And Improvement



    • Insufficient emphasis on leading changes and making significant improvements.

    7. Litany Of Self-Enhancing Positive Descriptors



    • Unbelievable.
    • Done by people who are unable to prove what they want someone to conclude about them.

      • Communicates they are not an appealing person I want to meet.

    8. Too Many Bullets



    • Suggests you can’t focus and make decisions.
    • Makes it difficult to understand your core strengths.
    • Tends to include generic wins that nearly everyone in your previous jobs also could list.
    • Makes it difficult to remember your core accomplishments.

    9. Lack Of Specific And Important Results



    • Vaguely presented results weaken even an otherwise solid resume.

      • A series of promotions at respected companies can negate this problem.
      • While it’s typical and easier to use specific figures to prove success, this can be done without any numbers by showing repetition and expansion of initiatives you began.

    10. No Persona



    • People hire people, but most resumes are sterile, having eliminated personality and thereby reduced memorability.

    11. Not A 360° Leader And Team Member



    • No indication of:

      • Leading peers; working in teams with peers.
      • Teaming with CFO and CIO.
      • Getting direct reports trained and promoted.
      • Being selected by CEO/COO for critical initiatives.

    12. Consulting Language



    • Consultants looking to move back to a company sometimes write so as to suggest an overly analytical, process driven, and insufficiently actionable approach.

    13. Too Managerial



    • That you are the captain of a large and impressive ship is less interesting than what the ship has accomplished under your leadership. Get quickly to the results.
    • Responsibilities, while necessary to highlight, also are unlikely to help you standout.

    Use these 13 concepts to write a terrible resume…or hopefully consider them as cautions to avoid doing so!

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