How to Prepare Your Resume (Your Resume Stinks!)

Questions This Guidance Answers: 
  • What should be on my resume?
  • What format should I use for my resume?
  • How long should my resume be?

This week's podcast addresses a topic that many of you might be surprised about: your resume. Your resume, regardless of the baggage associated with it, is probably your most critical career management document. While it's not something you ought to leave laying around on your desk (or on monster.com, for that matter), that doesn't mean you ought to treat it like something you dust off only when you really need it. It needs to be reviewed quarterly, believe it or not.

So, in this cast we'll teach you how to prepare it, and how to maintain it. We won't talk about cover letters, or how resumes are used in the job search, because job search is only one use of your resume.


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I really like your recent episode of

I really like your recent episode of 'Your Resume Stinks!'. In the program, you mentioned that you would post a sample resume so that we get some ideas about how a professional resume should look like. Where can I find it?

I really liked this podcast as well. I

I really liked this podcast as well. I appreciate the fact that some of us, who are not in a formal management role, are able to use this information as well.

Thanks for the great podcasts guys.

I was wondering if some of your

I was wondering if some of your techniques for resume writing might be modified depending on the size and type of company you are applying for. If you were applying to a larger company that had a seperate HR department, I could understand how your techniques would be to the applicants advantage. However, I ws wondering if you are applying to a smaller less sophisticated business without an HR department if it would have the same effect. One time in my distant past, I had a very small company hire me just because I had put in an objective talking about how I wanted to make a signifcant contribution to the success of the company. In the manager's mind, everyone else had talked about their goals only and did not care if the company was benefited by their hiring. How might you handle these smaller places where the specific managers do the hiring?

I love your podcasts and have turned my manager on to it as well. We enjoy talking about it on a regular basis. Thanks for the great information they provide.

Great podcast. I've listened to all

Great podcast.
I've listened to all of your podcasts (except the layoffs one, which I haven't gotten round to yet) and I've really found them helpful. I work for a small (approx 15 people) British company but I think that implementing good management techniques (within reason) makes good business sense even in a small company. Keep up the good work!

Specifically, in terms of your resume (or CV as we say in UK) podcast - I have always kept to two pages, but that suffers from too much whitespace and irrelevant information (personal stuff, hobbies etc) so I will definitely be reviewing mine with a view to getting it down to a single page. However, as someone who has gone through lots of CVs over the past few years, I have to say that the trend in the UK (for software engineers at least) is towards four or more pages, and boy some of those are really awful (we even had one where a guy listed witchcraft as one of his hobbies!) If everyone followed this advice, recruitment would be a lot simpler and interviews could be a lot more structured because they'd flow from the structure of the CV (sorry resume).

Anyway, thanks for yet more great, practical advice and please keep the shows coming!

Andy- Thanks for the kind words!

Andy-

Thanks for the kind words! Something to tell those whom you meet with two to three to FOUR page CVs...recruiters, technical or not, see it as sloppiness combined with kitchen sink mentality - in other words, a lack of preparation and a form of rudeness: "THIS person won't take the time to do a professional job on their CV, but they expect ME to take the time to wade through it? I don't think so. TRASH."

Mark

James- Thanks for the kudos. As our

James-

Thanks for the kudos. As our audience has grown, we've learned that we're reaching all kinds of professionals. Please don't hesitate to tell us what you'd like to hear as you observe managers.

Mark

Mankney- GREAT post - many thanks.

Mankney-

GREAT post - many thanks. I think we both have good points, just from different perspectives. Yes, if you are sending your resume to a particular company, smaller in size, it is "okay" to include an objective. Now, to be fair, there are PLENTY of people who will send resumes to that smaller company targeted for that job, and only THEN put that job as an objective on their resume. So, a more seasoned manager would put less stock in such a line on a resume. Yes, that takes a little of the joy out of those of us who wouldn't do such a thing...but there it is. I've seen it. Would I put an objective on my resume for a smaller company if it truly was my objective, for good reasons? YES. On the other hand, you absolutely do not need it in 90% of the cases. Those that might notice it are in the minority, in my experience.
And, there's a big company corrolary. If you have a resume that if you were to tailor it would be a perfect fit, and their job is one of your ideal ones, go ahead and put it on there. I wouldn't - I want those lines for accomplishments. But it's not going to kill you.

Our ISSUE with objectives is that they get left on and resumes get sent with the wrong ones on there, or they limit you unnecessarily. And, insofar as we only have 30-40 minutes in a cast, we aren't able to reach all the subtleties.

Good catch, thanks for the note, and thanks for listening.

Mark

Mankney- One more thought. They

Mankney-

One more thought. They didn't hire you because of the objective. They hired you because you were good. While I truly believe you specifically benefitted from your smart move...it was just a step in the process. Companies don't hire steps...they hire (good) people!

Well done you!

Mark

Thanks for another good and very useful

Thanks for another good and very useful podcast.
In my sector in the UK potential employers generally tell job applicants not to send in a CV, wanting to shortlist on the basis of an application form alone. For that reason I had thought that your latest 'cast would be of less interest. In fact it was very useful.
Part of its usefulness was your very practical approach to putting the resume together. There was a lot of sense in there about the simple but effective presentation of information (effective because simple), ideas that were transferable to other sorts of documents.
I also really liked the idea of using the resume for myself as a way of monitoring my career development and as a resource with which to prepare for an interview. I hadn't thought before of a resume as an 'internal' document, but it makes good sense.
Thanks again for sharing these ideas. About the show, I think that your style makes for very engaging listening. I don't know how much you script the shows, but the question and answer format and the feel of informality both work very well. I've added my vote to Podcast Alley.
Best wishes
Geoff

My first visit to your site and my

My first visit to your site and my first hearing of your podcast. Wonderful, pragmatically delivered advice.

Mention was made of putting a sample template on the site. I presume this will go under the Tools sidebar?

Graham Johnson
Melbourne, Australia

Once again a great podcast guys. I must

Once again a great podcast guys. I must admit that for the first time I was the most skeptical, especially given the law of keeping it to one page.

I keep two, one is about 3 pages (to send) and the other about 9 pages (for me) the latter being more a preparation point for me to remember items of interet from past lives.

I will still keep my big one (more of a work log really) but am having a shot at trimming mine down this weekend.

Keep it up.

AndrewM, Australia

Geoff- Thanks for the kind words.

Geoff-

Thanks for the kind words. Glad you got some mileage out of the resume show - that's why we do this - to help folks out.

Also thanks for the feedback on our style. We DON'T script the shows other than the high points, for two reasons: One, we like the looseness of it and Mike and I have been friends for 25 years, and easily understand each other. Second, what you hear me say in the shows is what I say at work day after day after day (but don't get me wrong - I love my work). The same issues come up over and over again. I spent a half hour today with a client working on coaching an ineffective subordinate manager: we used the coaching model and feedback - that's it. So, it's very, very familiar ground for us.

Glad the style helps - if it didn't, we'd change, even if we like what we're doing now...because we are ALL about EFFECTIVENESS.

It's a privilege to serve you,

Mark

GRaham- This is my error, to be

GRaham-

This is my error, to be corrected within 24 hours. So sorry - thought I had my "perfect" example on my laptop while travelling here to DC, and do not. Will get it back at the office.

Thanks for the sharp eyesight.

Mark

I'm really enjoying your podcasts.

I'm really enjoying your podcasts. Very, very practical, extremely helpful advice and tools. I do have one request:

Would you consider placing the topic of the cast at the front of the file name and shortening the "manager tools" part so instead of:
http://www.manager-tools.com/podcasts/manager-tools-2005-10-31.mp3
You would have, for example:
http://www.manager-tools.com/podcasts/Resume-MT-2005-10-31.mp3

I have two reasons for this request:
1. I'm developing quite a library of your casts that I'm going to want to revisit. It's much easier to find the cast I'm looking for if the topic is part of the file name.
2. On my portable media player the screen isn't long enough to display the entire file name (which is it's default). I can't differentiate your casts on the player with out some effort.

Thanks for providing the opportunity for feedback. Please continue the great work.

You guys do a terrific job keeping us

You guys do a terrific job keeping us in the loop on new techniques we can apply on a daily basis. I'm just affraid that you are going to become a pay per visit sight!!
Keep up the good work........

Clif- Rest easy. Manager-Tools will

Clif-

Rest easy. Manager-Tools will ALWAYS have free content. We're attached to you guys now!

On the other hand, we do have revenue plans (and we're thrilled you're not the first to mention it, meaning the value proposition is CLEAR).

For instance, how about all the podcasts on how to interview - 10+ of them, with the same level of detail, and specific examples by background, for $49.95? All at the same time - on CD? Look for it....

We are also discussiong delivering all of our content - hundreds of casts, covering the watrerfront from my entire consluting practice, to corporate clients. 6 figures.

We will be talking more abou this at some point.

What do you think?

Mark

Jeff, Although I understand what

Jeff,

Although I understand what you're trying to do, unfortunately the naming convention for our podcasts has implications on a number of fronts. For example, for a number of reasons, it's important that the podcasts filenames sort properly if sorted by the podcast name. Perhaps you can rename the files on your end after downloading?

Mike

This is my favorite podcast so far.

This is my favorite podcast so far. You mentioned you would post a sample resume but I couldn't find it. If you could post one it would be very useful. A picture speaks a thousand words.

Thanks guys. Great podcast as

Thanks guys. Great podcast as usual.

I have a question that might apply to other listeners as well: Over the years I've made a significant contribution to a couple of open source projects. This essentially works out to be volunteer work that relates to, and overlaps in time with, my professional work. Up until know I’ve listed this in a format similar to my "employment experience", but under the heading “related experience”. How do you recommend I list this on my resume? Should I list this on my resume?

What a great podcast. I learned more

What a great podcast. I learned more in the 45 minutes about how to create an effective resume, than I did in 5 weeks taking a career advancement course. The only bad thing about your podcasts are they are only once a week. I wish I didn't have to wait so long to get more advice.

Rod- Good question. Yes, I would

Rod-

Good question. Yes, I would include a significant contribution to an open source effort. It shouldn't go in a format "similiar to" your experience, but as an actual bullet under the job you were employed in when you completed it, even if your paid work was not related to the open source work. I would consider it just like any other accomlishment.

Thanks for the question - it's a privilege to serve you.

Mark

Great podcast guys, I always thought I

Great podcast guys, I always thought I had a good CV/resume as I always got the job I went after, but was never happy that it was 4 pages long! I've learnt so much from this last podcast that I now have the urge to start hacking mine to bits to get it into the "1 page, 10pt times" format.

Thanks again, and as always I look forward to next weeks podcast.

Andrew- Thanks for the kind words!

Andrew-

Thanks for the kind words! It's a privilege to serve you.

Mark

I have only worked for two companies

I have only worked for two companies over my 21 year career, and have held about 15 different jobs within those two companies. In your format, you recommended using a header with dates, titles, comany, location for each job.

Do you recommend that same format for my situation where the same company name would be repeated over and over, like this...

10/03 - present, VP - Marketing, XYZ Company, Toledo, OH:
5/01 - 10/03, Director - Product Development, XYZ Company, Toledo, OH :
2/99 - 5/01, Manager - Widget Group, XYZ Company, Toledo, OH

or put down the company name once, and then the positions...

XYZ Company, Toledo, OH
10/03 - present, VP - Marketing
5/01 - 10/03, Director - Product Development
2/99 - 5/01, manager - Widget Group

I know this sounds like a picky question, but I found the rest of the advice in the podcast so relevant that I wanted to get your view on this formatting question.

Thanks
Greg

*

Very nice podcast. What advice would

Very nice podcast. What advice would you give me as an IT consultant. During my professional career I've worked for a single company, but for a wide range of clients in several roles.

Greg- It's not picky, it's a spot on

Greg-

It's not picky, it's a spot on question, thanks for pointing out the subtlety. I don't recommend repeating the company name if you've only worked a couple places. The way you suggested is better. This is the downside of smashing hours of information into 30-45 minutes!

Mark

Hey guys - always, always a great show.

Hey guys - always, always a great show. A suggested topic, perhaps:

Noticing you're big David Allen fans (as am I - a friend recommended Getting Things Done and the change has been astonishing), I was wondering about your thoughts on a mobile office. I love his idea of organizing tasks by context in which to complete (in the car, online, on the phone, etc) and I keep a list by these categories in outlook, which works pretty well. I also try to religiously empty the inbox, which is a huge benefit.

Given that way of organization, (unless, of course, you have better ideas) what do you recommend for someone who basically lives out of a briefcase? Let's say there's a laptop, room for a thin binder and a small file folder collection, a few pockets, maybe a pda/phone combo. What would you carry on a regular basis and how would you keep everything straight? Just to add a layer of detail, say you have 10 direct reports and 150 accounts for which they're responsible (20 of which are key and/or problematic) - we can assume weekly one-on-ones, ongoing coaching, etc etc.

It's be great to hear your take on the topic. Or, maybe, a user forum on the website tracking message threads and etc for best practices would be a good idea?

Thanks again,

Joey

Conover, NC

Joey- GREAT question! And, thanks

Joey-

GREAT question! And, thanks for the kind words. I have some thoughts about this, after a 20 year career of traveling, and Mike and i have talked about leveraging the smarts of everyone in our community. He and I are going to talk about this and figure out how best to share some insights with you.

And, I will be somewhat cautious, as my travel over the last 18 years has been by plane...

Mark

I'm finding this podcast to be

I'm finding this podcast to be extremely helpful with restocking my supply of new ideas to apply to my front-line management position.

My question would have to do with having a section in a technical resume for skills. For technical postions I like to see a list of skills such as programming languages, frameworks, etc. This format would leave of that section and I wonder if that wouldn't lead to a resume being set aside because some particular bar like 5+ years of Java experience wasn't immediately obvious to a screener.

I actually use the skills section when I review resumes to see if they have some wider experience in languages or less technical areas like QA or requirements gathering so I often get a lot out of seeing these on a resume.

Insert foot in mouth in earlier

Insert foot in mouth in earlier comment. Hadn't finished listening to the last 5 minutes of the podcast where this is covered.

I am a search committee chair for a

I am a search committee chair for a position at a university. I have just spent the last couple of days going through over 80 resumes for this position and not one of them used the format you recommend. People list their positions and their responsibilities and you are left to assume their level of performance. This really does make it rather difficult to screen appropriate candidates to interview. A really well written resume would have shined through all of these others and gotten immediate notice. My recent experience really confirms the advice you have given on this podcast.

Thanks for the help that you provide.

Great show guys. I've gotten a couple

Great show guys. I've gotten a couple of other people hooked on your podcast after telling them to listen to this particular one. After listening, I pared my resume down from 2 pages to 1.

One question on something I didn't hear addressed... what's your recommendation on recommendations? I've always been taught to use 3 on an attached sheet. Is that still the best way to do things? I ask because I have probably 5 or 6 people who would be great recommendations and all of them work with me in a different aspect of my job, but I don't want to list an excessive amount of people and turn the HR person or recruiter off by having too much information.

Thanks.

Matt

Mike- Thanks for the kind words! I

Mike-

Thanks for the kind words! I don't know if I said it just this way in the 'cast, but I often tell people that the person who puts down responsibilities on his resume and not accomplishments looks eerily like the person who was fired from that job and CAN'T put any accomplishments on their resume. When I tell candidates that that's what many recruiters assume, THAT gets their attention.

Nice to get validation for our audience from the other side of the table!

Mark

Matt- Good question - this is one of

Matt-

Good question - this is one of those issues that we just didn't have time for on the cast.

NEVER put recommendations on your resume. You only have one page, and it's not the best use of your space.

Believe it or not, the use of "references" is a holdover from the days of family and ivy league connections - it was THE thing to look at. It's really quaint nowadays.

And here's the kicker: if we want them, we'll ask. And we know we'll get them.

Good idea to have them ready, bad idea to put them on the resume.

Thanks, and it's a privilege to serve you.

Mark

[...] The following podcast explains

[...] The following podcast explains how to use your resume to help you manage your career. October 31st, 2005 — This week’s podcast addresses a topic that many of you might be surprised about: your resume. Your resume, regardless of the baggage associated with it, is probably your most critical career management document. While it’s not something you ought to leave laying around on your desk (or on monster.com, for that matter), that doesn’t mean you ought to treat it like something you dust off only when you really need it. It needs to be reviewed quarterly, believe it or not. [...]

On a related note: Catching up, I just

On a related note:
Catching up, I just listened to this podcast today. Googling for "Mark Horstman" came up with http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/student/club/va/Horstman.htm, which includes an online video Mark's Jan. 12, 2005 lecture "How to get the offers you want". Thought I'd share this with the listeners.

[...] On the subjects of resumes,

[...] On the subjects of resumes, there’s a great podcast over at the Manager Tools site, which is worth listening to. They have a sample resume up as well. They sell the idea of the one-page resume, and it’s definitely a good idea. I can see some folks not getting along with the idea though, so – if you’ve sent in a two- or three-page resume, you may find mileage in taking along a one-page version. You can always leave it as a “leave behind” after the meeting, can’t you? Conversely, if you sent in the one-pager, you could have a more detailed resume available. It’s not always appropriate to do this, I think, but you’re not going to know until you get there. Having options is always a bonus. [...]

Dear Mark, my 16 year old son just

Dear Mark,

my 16 year old son just devoured your downloadable video of your presentation on how to apply that you gave to students at Kelloggs. He is now pushing his 19 year old brother to view it, and he will take the video to his school for further sharing. I hope you don´t mind helping out some German teenagers to better grapple with life´s tasks, although you probably didn´t really plan it that way ;-) Many thanks for your generosity to share your skills and experience.

Till

Till- I love it! Please feel free

Till-

I love it! Please feel free to have your sons email me with questions - that may be a long speech, but it's still just a starting point. I'd love to hear from them and help them.

I am thrilled to be helping German teens, and glad they're an extension of the Manager Tools community.

And hey, as a peek behind the scenes, Mike and I are going to be releasing a series of podcasts (15 or so) shortly that are specifically FOR interview prep. We're going to charge for these (we're going broke having all this
fun.) The price is to be determined, but maybe US$50 - $90 - and it will be
a huge expansion on that speech with details, etc. We figure it's worth
the price of 3-4 books, when you compare it to the books that are out there.

Your note made my day!

Mark

Hi Guys! I finally catched up with all

Hi Guys!
I finally catched up with all your shows! From my point of vue, EVERYone of them has something to learn and it. Really enjoyed them!

But for this one, I tested it live and I have a couple of comments to make. I'm currently working with 4 recruiting firms for project manager and director positions in Montreal.

For the first agency, I sent my 1 page resume as per your advice. They called me back asking for more information. Had to send them my full resume (3 pages)

For all the others, I sent both resume, the 1 page and the full resume. All of them used the 3 pages and said that the clients prefere more information than less.

Although I find my 1 page resume a lot better looking and more professionnal, none of my agencies used it and they were very clear that it is useless to them. They need all the information they can get to use it the best way they can with their clients.

Could you please comment.

Regards,

aL.

Alex- Great question! And thanks

Alex-

Great question! And thanks for the kind words.

My comment is that you're talking about recruiters, which we didn’t specifically address ‘recruiters and resumes’ in the cast.

The recruiters are asking for more because they CAN. Companies generally don’t do that if there’s a short list, because they don’t want to burden a candidate (you can hate the search firm’s demands and still love the client in this situation). But for the prices they’re paying a search firm, and the work being done by someone else (the search firm), it’s a no brainer to put the firm to work and get as much as possible up front. Note that if you demur, the search firm will tell you to blame the client (which is unprofessional).

Also, this allows companies to be more discriminating. Translated, that means, rule more people out before they get interviewed. (And this is smart, because interviewing is expensive and logistically harder than it looks). Since the PURPOSE of YOUR resume is to get you an interview, a 3 pager is NOT in your best interests in most cases (senior executives withstanding).

And, who is to say they’re actually forwarding the 3 pagers to the company? They may just be using it to characterize or push you... or to make someone else look good.

I’m not saying they’re misbehaving. Rather, that your example doesn’t contravene our advice because of the recruiter’s involvement and the negative of a 3 pager relative to its purpose.

Now, here’s something clever about 3 pagers. We said to regularly update your resume each quarter. What you should be doing is letting one version grow to 3 pages over time, always correct. That way, when an opportunity comes up, you can delete those items that sell least well for that opportunity, and you have a nicely tailored resume.

Mark

PS: Be very cautious about your recruiter relationships. Four is TOO MANY. You are creating friction you are not aware of. The term they would use is “serial networker”... because they do talk to one another. Just be careful, and over time pare back the relationships.

Thanks a lot for your response. Yes, I

Thanks a lot for your response. Yes, I know, 4 is a lot and I will cut my relation with 2 of them (keeping the best and complementary of course).

Regards,

aL.

I just reached the cast on resumes, and

I just reached the cast on resumes, and I was very surprised to hear how adamant you are about keeping it to one page. What surprises me is that I read Rites of Passage a couple of months ago, and it seemed equally insistent that the only people who need 1-page resumes are those who don't have much work history.

Is the difference that you're talking about resumes for companies, and the book's talking about recruiters? But if that's the case, which one would you have available for general use? I converted mine a couple of months ago to match more of their recommendations, and that's the one I have posted on a couple of job boards. Also, I'm getting (and almost always turning down) 4-6 emails a day from general recruiters asking for a current resume. I'm assuming that most of these are general recruiters who find jobs listed on company sites and then match up jobs to people in their database, but I know for certain that I've talked to more than a couple of consultants who were asked by their client to conduct a search.

So if I were to use both my full 3-page and a condensed 1-page version, I can tell that I would send the 1-pager if I apply on a company's site online, but which would I put on a job board (that companies and recruiters are both searching), and would I send the longer one to the recruiters contacting me?

Thanks for the help, and thanks for the program.
Some day, I promise that I'll be caught up!
chuck

Chuck- John Lucht's book is meant

Chuck-

John Lucht's book is meant for executives. His title started 15 years ago, when $100,000 was much more likely to define an executive's pay. When you read his book, you'll see that the examples are for quite senior positions. While to some degree senior positions no longer require "longevity", the fact is that most senior execs have 20 years of experience... and that could justify a two pager or longer. If a manager or director presented a 2-3 page resume (written the way most are today), they would be terribly ineffective.

So, our advice still holds for the vast majority of folks. A truly well written one page resume is exactly what is needed. Our sample is a good example of a 20 year career being clearly delineated on one page.

Hope this helps!

Mark

You mentioned you would be covering a

You mentioned you would be covering a resume cover letter. Is the podcast posted and I just don't recognize it?

Thanks

Sadly this week my job was eliminated so I am updating my resume and preparing for my new job search which I hope to complete before my 90 day notice period expires.

Lionel- I think when we mentioned

Lionel-

I think when we mentioned that, we were referring to our interviewing product, which we are trying to roll out before the end of the year. So sorry that it's unlikely we're going to meet your timeline. We're working as hard as we can.

Mark

Mark - not a problem. I really

Mark - not a problem. I really appreciate your guideance on writing a resume.

hi mark, I started listening to your

hi mark,
I started listening to your show since August and I really like your tips and they have helped my a lot. I am currently working as an electrical engineer in a consultancy and doing a master degree in engineering system management. As for the resume, do you think that I have to mention that in my resume that I am currently studying or shall I keep it to myself until I graduate?

Thanks

Ashatat- If you're certain of a

Ashatat-

If you're certain of a graduation date that is less than a year away, include it. If not, leave it off.

Easy one!

Mark

I must be the oddball on including

I must be the oddball on including personal information on my resume.
Over the past 13 years, I have garnered 3 interviews - all 3 leading to offers - that had a substantial reliance on personal information I have included on my resume.

1 - I am a musician, and had a 30-minute conversation with a hiring manager (nothing to do with music), that led to extensive discussions. Caveat: Maybe he wasn't a good manager because he looked at this?

2 - I used to work at Radio Shack in one of those "useless" jobs - I had to take a second job after a move during the mid-90's housing slump. A technical manager also used to work at Radio Shack, and used this as a starting point for conversation - this was a Fortune 100 firm.

3 - My wife is a 2-time cancer survivor. After her initial treatment, I did a fundraiser for a volunteer center and raised about 1 1/2% of their yearly budget through a charity raffle. This led to extensive discussions with a hiring manager who had several relatives and friends.

Is there a way to include these in such a way that it mentions them? Maybe the fund-raiser should be one of my accomplishments?

I'm also a student pilot - I don't know how many people make mention of this when they hear it. Just a thought.

As Drucker says, "It's the people." These personal connections might matter to some people.

Thanks,

Gary