self-assessments

Eight items to leave off your resume

March 30, 2012 Resumes 9 comments , , , , , ,

Here’s a quick list of things that should never appear on your resume. Unfortunately, I see them all the time.

A photo
unless you’re applying for a position as a model or actor.
A list of references
You’ll be asked for them at the right point in the process. If you want the company to be impressed by who you know or who you’ve worked with, then put that in the cover letter.
“References available upon request”
This is assumed. The reader will not think “This guy has no references available, so toss his resume.”
An objective
Objectives are summaries of what you want to get from the company. It doesn’t make sense to start selling yourself by telling the reader what you hope to get out of him. Replace your objective with a 3-4 bullet summary of the rest of the resume. (See more posts about objectives)
Salary information
Disclosing your salary history weakens your position when negotiating a salary. It’s also irrelevant on your resume.
An unprofessional email address
Email accounts are free from Gmail, so there’s no reason to use your “cubs_fan_1969@yourisp.com” account for professional correspondence.
Meaningless self-assessments like “I’m a hard worker” or “I work well on a team.”
Everyone says those things, so they have no meaning. Instead, the bullets for each position on your resume should give examples and evidence of these assertions. (See more posts about self-assessments)
Hobbies that don’t relate to the job
Everyone likes to read and listen to music and spend time with their families. Exception is if the hobby somehow ties to the job or company. If you play guitar and you’re applying to be an accountant for Guitar Center’s corporate office, then mention that you play, even though your job won’t involve guitar-playing directly.

What else do you see on resumes that should never be there?

Never put “excellent communication skills” on your resume

February 1, 2012 Resumes 11 comments , , ,

Never put “excellent communication skills” in your resume. Who doesn’t think they have “excellent communication skills?” It means nothing. It’s fluff that detracts from the real content of your resume. Instead, give the reader examples of how you use those skills.

Imagine four different people who have put “excellent communication skills” on their resumes, and their thought processes:

  • “I give weekly status presentations to upper management about project status. I can put ‘excellent communication skills’ on my resume!”
  • “I taught a lunch & learn session on JavaScript. I can put ‘excellent communication skills’ on my resume!”
  • “I’ve written articles for the company newsletter. I can put ‘excellent communication skills’ on my resume!”
  • “I am proud of my ability to spell and use basic English mechanics. I can put ‘excellent communication skills’ on my resume!”

So when someone reading your resume sees “excellent communication skills” on your resume, which one will she think it means? Chances are, she’s going to assume you’re the “I can spel gud” guy and gloss over it.

(Have you noticed that while you read this article, you tire of reading the words “excellent communication skills”? So does the poor hiring manager who has to read it on every resume he gets.)

Instead of putting those dreaded three words on your resume, replace it with a description about how exactly you use these skills. Doing that is an iterative process that digs down to find the interesting stuff that the hiring manager wants to read.

The other day I was helping my friend Katie with her resume, and I spotted the dreaded “excellent communication skills” near the top. We had an exercise to come up with something better that went a little like this:

Andy: “Why do you say you have excellent communication skills?”

Katie: “I don’t know, I’m just good communicating. People talk to me.”

Andy: “How do you mean they talk to you? About what?”

Katie: “There was this one time where I was on a project with these outside consultants, and consultants were upset because they weren’t getting what they need, and management didn’t know what was going on. It was just a mess. And people were really frustrated and they’d tell me all the things that were going wrong.”

Andy: “Good! And so what did you do?”

Katie: “I talked to the project leader, and explained what was going wrong that he hadn’t heard about, and we worked on ways to make sure everybody could keep track of the deliverables, and get them to the consultants. And then the project leader asked me to do status reports for upper management. It all worked really well.”

Andy: “So would you feel comfortable saying ‘Reworked project process to increase communication, both vertically and horizontally, across the company and with outside consultants?’ And can you specify how many people were on the project, too?”

Katie: “Yeah, that sounds good. And plus, there was this other time….”

Notice how with just a little digging and iteration (shortened for this article) Katie and I turned her vague “excellent communication skills” into something that tells the reader exactly how she has used those skills to benefit the business. What we wound up with is far more impressive than being able to write clearly.

As I’ve said before, don’t put self-assessments in your resume. Give the evidence and let the reader make her own decision.

What are your dreaded cliches on resumes that mean nothing? Let me know in the comments below.

Give just the facts when job hunting

February 27, 2008 Job hunting 1 comment ,

When faced with the daunting task of summarizing themselves, whether on paper in a resume or face-to-face in an interview, job hunters often fall into the trap of trying to encapsulate everything into a few simple, pithy phrases. I’ve seen these chestnuts far too often:

  • I’m a hard worker
  • I have a strong work ethic
  • I’m reliable
  • I’m a good listener
  • I work well with others
  • I take pride in my work

The hiring manager’s mental response, assuming his eyes haven’t glazed over, is likely to be “You and everyone else, pal.” Is there anyone out there who would not feel justified in using all of the assessments above to describe themselves? (I certainly hope that you wouldn’t be foolish enough to vocalize it if not.)

The next response to such vague summations is “According to whom?” A “hard worker” at a big faceless corporation or a government 9-5 job may be very different from a “hard worker” at a startup, or at a video game company. (And whatever you do, don’t put down that you “try to work smarter, not harder”, which is as trite as they come.)

What to do instead? Provide facts and stories, not judgments, when telling someone about yourself and your work history.

Back on the old radio and TV show Dragnet, Sergeant Joe Friday would question witnesses about a crime that had been committed. If she strayed into personal opinion about a suspect, he’d steer her back with “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” Imagine you’ve got Joe Friday reading your resume.

Instead of “I’m a hard worker,” give details of projects you’ve completed. Include points that make clear you were a hard worker, without you having to say “I worked hard.” For example, you might say:

I recently completed a five month, 50,000-line conversion project. Even though we we lost one of the four team members with only three weeks left, we pulled together to make the deadline.

You’ve described a big project, hard work, and made no self-assessments.

Got a strong work ethic? Explain it: “A few weeks ago, my team rolled out an upgrade to Office in our 300-seat location. We did it over the weekend to minimize work disruption. Sunday night we had to order in some pizzas, but Monday morning everyone was able to come in and get work at 8am sharp.”

Every manager wants reliable employees: “My projects are consistently done on time, never more than 10% over budget. Here are the planned vs. actual charts for the last three projects I worked on.” Then you can show the actual work products from your portfolio. “Plus, I’ve only had unscheduled absences twice in the past four years.”

Good listening is great, too: “I find that I’m able to help my team with listening carefully. The other day, we had a meeting and one of our developers and the guy from accounting were having quite a disagreement. As I listened to their arguing, I saw that they were agreeing, but didn’t even realize it. I gently interjected some restatements of what each of them was saying, and they came to see that their differences were very minor.”

Working well with others is a cliché, but critical in all but a few jobs: “As a web page designer, I usually work with three or four different teams throughout the week. They’re all very different in their makeup, but I work hard at fitting in with each as necessary. Ted in Marketing even sent me this gracious thank-you note for my work, which I was very proud of.” You can then open your portfolio to the printed copy of the email to show the interviewer.

When it comes to the pride you take in your work, you need not explain at all. Your resume and interview should be enough. The pride you take in yourself and your accomplishments must shine through without additional words being necessary.

Note that all these examples use recent examples, and not stories from years past. They emphasize teamwork and other people, which every manager should have high on her list. And they document facts that let the interviewer draw her own conclusion about you and your value to her company.

The examples above are taken from an interview setting, but they apply to any printed work as well. You’ll have less room to stretch out verbally, but you can certainly replace your “Reliable worker” bullet point with “Projects mostly completed on time, never more than 10% over estimates.”

Right now, I challenge you to take a look at your basic resume and scrutinize every sentence. If a claim is vague, replace it with a concrete example, or remove it entirely. If something applies to everyone, then it means nothing.