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In a tight job market, it is fascinating how many senior level and aspiring executives shoot themselves in the career foot with mediocre or bad resumes, or with a resume that contains major mistakes.

Curriculum vitaeThere is no shortage of books, columns and blogs that provide guidance in resume development, outlining the rules of what you should, or should not do.  But judging by 200 resumes of executives that I have reviewed over the past three months in connection with research for a career management book I am writing, our advice is being ignored, or that the ample career management knowledge base is one of the best kept secrets in MBA programs.

Some of the errors reflect carelessness.  Those are easily fixed.  Others are structurally flawed and need to be reworked.  But the vast majority of the resumes do not do their intended job, as a first interview, to get the candidate to the next level of the recruitment process. 

It has always amazed me how many people just list on their resume the name of their employer, their title and term of employment.  They do not explain who the employer is or what services they provide.  Finally, the candidates frequently use dot points to explain their scope of responsibility while failing to list any of their accomplishments, or explain the value they could bring to a prospective employer.  They wonder why they were eliminated so early in a search.

In competitive senior executive searches, virtually every candidate is qualified.  The vast majority has a master’s degree and, in healthcare, increasing numbers hold a Fellowship in the American College of Healthcare Executives, a certification that shows they have the requisite current knowledge.  The resume, therefore, should be that part of your personal career brand which helps distinguish you from everyone else.  That is why candidates should/must list the significant accomplishments that reflect their success and value contribution.  Moreover, as a general rule, recruiters focus on candidates whose resumes clearly demonstrate that they have produced positive results.  Candidates should never assume that their advancement to positions of more responsibility is sufficient evidence of success. 

Here are a few examples of the most common problems I noticed when reviewing the 200 resumes:

  • No address.  I saw a LinkedIn site where discussion participants argued that address was irrelevant since where the candidate currently lives should not be a factor.  It is.  Why be hardheaded, or try to make some point, and not be included in future consideration? 
  • Formatting problems.  Once you get your resume in perfect shape, convert it from an Apple Pages, Word Perfect or Microsoft Word format to a PDF document.  Be sure you do not have blank pages in the middle or tacked on to the end of the resume because you left a pesky page break in the document by mistake.  Be sure your name and page number is at the top of each page.
  • Too much information in too few pages with a typeface that requires a magnifying glass.  More than 25 executives with 20+ years of experience tried to cram their professional life and accomplishments into two pages because of some two-page resume rule that does not exist.  The length of a resume should be proportional to the length of a candidate’s career and the number and quality of their accomplishments.  Early careerists loaded their resumes with extraneous information to make it seem like they were more experienced than they really were.  If you have a 2.5 page resume and you are using a 9 or 10 point typeface, you might try increasing it to 12 point so we can actually read what you wrote without blowing up the size of the page by 200 percent. 
  • References were attached.  As a common sense rule of career brand management, DO NOT send a recruiter or employer your references until requested to do so unless, of course, you really do not care if someone inadvertently discloses your confidential search.

There are a lot of career management consultants in the market.  If you pay someone for advice, and if what they tell you to do doesn’t have that certain ring of common sense, or it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  

For a free copy of John Self’s resume guide, click here.

© 2012 John Gregory Self