What a Resume Is Actually Supposed to Be

They happen to the worst of us. They also happen to the best of us. They happen even to those of us who are writers by training.

What am I talking about? Awful resumes.

The problem is largely a matter of ignorance, and I speak from personal experience on this one, having gone through a decent part of my own career with a thing I thought was a resume but which was actually a list of job descriptions.

Sound familiar?

English: An animation depicting a nodding gesture.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s OK. Don’t be ashamed to admit it. The first step … yadda-yadda.

The root of the problem

Here’s where I do the wrong thing and point the finger, placing blame on The System, The Man, etc.

Actually, I don’t really know what’s to blame. All I know is that I was fresh out of college and being told by job ads I was responding to that I should “submit my resume.”

Problem was, no one ever showed me what one of those — let alone a decent one — looked like. So I sifted through some resume templates in Microsoft Word and followed their lead.


Français :

As if you needed one more reason to turn to the Apple Side. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Again, sound familiar?

Back then, the economy was good. You could get a job with a pseudo-resume, and I did — several, in fact.

But that was then. And this is meow.

A cat arching its back up and hissing at a dog...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And your pseudo-resume isn’t going to cut it.

Ever. Again.

An employers’ market

While I dislike negative statements as much as the next person, there’s simply no point in me sugar-coating anything for you because you know today’s reality already: The job market is rough. Employers these days can ask you to jump through as many hoops (some of them flaming) as they want — and they will — only to decide they’d rather wait an eternity for what’s commonly referred to as the “purple squirrel”: the perfect candidate who has all the degrees they want from all the places they want, who worked for all the companies they want, who performed all the tasks they want and even had a stint in Cirque du Soleil.

English: Nouvelle Experience Finale 1994, Cirq...

I call this move “Dislocation en Rouge.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or some other such scenario.

So, as many job seekers can attest to, weeks or months or perhaps even years go by with no luck. The funk of frustration settles in. Dwelling gets you nowhere, but neither do your applications if you’ve got a pseudo-resume.

So you do what everyone else does in times of trouble and desperation: You Google it.

Maybe your search led you here. If you were me, your search would’ve led you to this wonderful post on Alison Green’s Ask a Manager about why people have trouble getting a foot in the door.

Yep, it’s a crappy pseudo-resume (and missing or similarly crappy cover letter) that’s to blame.

So let’s talk about real resumes (cover letters in a later post).

A resume should not mean, but be

The above header is a little nod to my fellow fans of poetry but also a decent way to look at your resume. Your resume should be active, alive — not something that puts people (including yourself) to sleep.

And what puts HR folk, recruiters, etc., to sleep? Pseudo-resumes that summarize tasks performed at one’s jobs.

Resumes, therefore, should not read like a series of job descriptions.

English: Female superhero placeholder with cop...

Thank you, Captain Obvious! (Isn’t it awesome how the copyright symbol is a C inside of an O?) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“OK, Raegen, that’s great,” you may say, “but what should a resume be, then?”

Glad you asked.

Your resume should be a marketing tool highlighting what you, specifically and personally, accomplished in a position many who’ve come before you have held and many who will come after you will hold. It should have the following:

  • Concrete numbers or metrics of some sort — and if a writer (e.g., me) has them, so do you
  • Awards and recognition you received while you held each title
  • Areas/tasks in which you excelled, improved something, saved the company money, solved problems, and/or otherwise benefited the organization
  • Examples of what you did that your coworker never thought to do while he or she held the title
  • Action words (try here for starters)

Most of all, a resume should work for you. A good resume will get you well beyond just a foot in the door; you may come to find you actually have a choice among multiple jobs being offered to you — a fantastic problem any of us would love to have! And believe it or not, that’s the position the right resume can help put you in, even in the worst job market.


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Filed under Resumes & Cover Letters

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