Don't Try to Be Clever on Your Resume

by Handlin, Liz Friday, August 07, 2009
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Resumes are straightforward documents. They should list information that describes your education, the companies for which you have worked, what your jobs were, and what you accomplished in those jobs. In addition you can include lists of certifications, patents, affiliations, and board memberships. There are some variations on this formula but that is pretty much what a resume should contain. Do you know why?

Because that is what hiring managers, recruiters (retained or contingent), and human resources professionals want to see.

It amazes me that many people do not think about their intended audience when they put together a resume. I have had a couple of clients, both of whom had more than 20 years of work experience, who have asked me to do "clever" things to their resumes. For example, one client wanted to put her salary history at the top of her resume because she felt that it would demonstrate that she had excelled in her most recent jobs.

Salary is inappropriate information to include in a resume and if you list your salary on your resume it will appear that you don't know what information should and should not appear on this document. Not only that but this particular client wasn't making very much money compared to others in her industry. She seemed think that she was making a lot of money but she clearly didn't know what others in the industry were earning. If she were to put those numbers on her resume she would not only look out-of-touch but a good recruiter wouldn't even consider her for the type of job she was interested in pursuing. Keep your salary to yourself until its appropriate to talk about it.

Another client wanted to put together a data sheet which listed no specifics about her jobs and which just spoke in general terms about her ability to manage projects. Her goal was to change careers so she didn't want a potential employer to immediately be able to tell where she had been employed because she felt they would assume she wasn't right for the new career. She seemed to think that if she just talked in general terms about her skill set she would generate interest based on subjective statements. Wrong.

I told both of these clients the same thing: clever doesn't work on a resume. You aren't fooling anyone when you deviate from the types of information that recruiters want to see.

Recruiters get suspicious when they can't quickly look at a resume and determine what companies you worked for, what your jobs were, and when you worked there. If you want to change careers you can say so in a cover letter or summary statement. You can emphasize experiences you have had in previous jobs that are similar to the new career or job that you want. But what you cannot do is try to fool the reader into picking up the phone and calling you based on subjective generalizations or by adding information that is inappropriate on a resume.

Don't overthink your resume - straightforward and clearly articulated information will always be more attractive to recruiters than cute, clever, or "unique" formatting or phrasing.