The Fine PrintFor better or worse, the job market has certainly changed during the past few years. As such, the practice of looking for a job has evolved as well – so much, it seems, that what was once considered a best practice can now in fact cost you an interview.
What tried and true résumé rules have become obsolete post-recession? MainStreet talked to some experts find out what exactly has changed.
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Your résumé should fit on one page.Verdict: MYTH
The conventional wisdom used to say that interviewers would not look at a résumé longer than one page. Not so, says Nick Jimenez, executive vice president of recruitment site Climber.com. For him this “rule” applies only to entry-level applicants who don’t have credentials that stretch beyond a page or, perhaps, applicants looking only for part-time work. Everyone else can (and should) feel free to type on.
“In today’s electronic age, very few recruiters or hiring managers actually print the resumes out when they are screening candidates,” Jimenez says. “I subscribe to the the theory that a résumé should be as long as it takes to tell your story and convince the reader your background is well aligned with the needs of the open position.”
Bruce Hurwitz, career consultant and executive recruiter at a New York staffing agency Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, agrees. “The résumé needs to be as long as it takes to properly reflect the candidate’s career,” he says. “I have received horrible one-page resumes, fabulous five-page resumes, and magnificent 40+ page resumes from academics and scientists with multiple publications.”
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Always use a cover letter.Verdict: RULE
Sorry to break it to you, but this résumé myth, it seems, is true. While most job experts admit that many employers do actually skip over a cover letter and move straight to the résumé, you should still always send one. According to Allison Nawoj , corporate communications director of CareerBuilder.com, a recent survey conducted by the jobs site found that 20% of hiring managers would automatically dismiss a candidate who submitted a résumé without a cover letter, which means that those who don’t want to risk having their application end up in the slush pile, would do best to include one.
“[A cover letter]allows the sender to explain, succinctly, what their objective is, to answer any questions if they are responding to an ad and to refer to any issues that, by definition, would not be included on a resume,” Hurwitz says.
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Your résumé needs an objective.Verdict: MYTH
You can skip on including an objective on your résumé.
“Most ‘objective’ paragraphs are meaningless,” says Hurwitz, the career consultant. “It means nothing. In fact, it’s a waste of time and an insult to the intelligence of the recipient.”
Nawoj agrees, saying that the résumé objective, a must-have inclusion five or 10 years ago, has slowly been replaced by what can be referred to as a ‘career summary,’ a short list of accomplishments that highlight your achievements.
“Like an objective, the summary should give the employer an idea of who you are, except it allows you to focus more on your experience than on your goals,” she says. “You can briefly mention your career highlights, including past roles and your strongest skills.”
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Gaps in employment will cost you an interview.Verdict: MYTH
Before the recession, a gap between employment would have been a major red flag, but employers have become increasingly understanding in the current economic climate.
“Depending on the actual amount of time you were unemployed, as long as you were active and engaged many employers will look at the employment gap as a non-issue,” Jimenez says.
Laura Smith-Proulx, a professional résumé writer, agrees, but emphasizes that you will still need to be able to offer an explanation should an employer ask.
“Be prepared to explain the gap itself by pointing to an activity that filled it, such as volunteer work, caring for an ill family member, or launching a business, in order to explain time in between jobs,” she says. “Try not to point out a gap that you can’t name. Essentially, your best strategy when dealing with any potentially negative information is [to] focus more on the results you can bring to your next employer than anything else.”
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A little embellishment is OK.Verdict: MYTH
The current competitive job market may entice prospective employees to alter job titles, embellish achievements or fudge timelines, but our experts assert that applicants would do best to stick with the truth.
“Candidates should always be honest on their resumes,” Nawoj says. “It’s the first impression you make to an employer, so you want to show your integrity by being honest about your background.”
In case you’re not convinced, check out MainStreet’s look at the dangers of lying on your résumé.
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Organize your résumé in reverse chronological order.Verdict: RULE
While it may seem unnatural to some applicants, this myth, experts say, is true.
Climber.com, for example, surveyed recruiting managers and discovered that a majority preferred reverse chronological résumés, listing work experience from most to least recent. They preferred this traditional structure over the topical or achievement-based résumés that have emerged in the digital age. Why exactly?
“Topically oriented résumés are difficult to read, particularly when the recruiter or hiring manager is reviewing hundreds of other resumes for the same position,” Jimenez explains. “By not providing the context for your accomplishments, you make it harder for the reader to draw comparisons between you and the other candidates.”
Additionally, Hurwitz points out, a résumé should show growth. “Recipients want to know immediately where a candidate is now, not where they were five, 10 years ago,” he says.
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Educational background should be at the top.Verdict: MYTH
According to experts, this is another myth that gets perpetrated because it applies to entry-level applicants who have recently graduated from school. Experienced hires, in fact, should move their educational background further down.
“If you are an experienced professional, your education should always be listed at the bottom of your résumé,” Jimenez says.
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Your resume should include references.Verdict: MYTH
Don’t bother including a references section or even typing in “references available upon request” at the bottom of your résumé, since recommendations come much later in the application process.
“It isn’t necessary to include your references on your résumé,” Nawoj says. “If a hiring manager would like to contact your references, they’ll let you know. Save the space for more valuable information.”
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Use buzzwords.Verdict: RULE (with some exceptions)
This myth is mostly true. Experts agree that you should include buzzwords in your résumé, because they may help a recruiter find you in their internal tracking system or while searching databases on sites like Monster.com. However, be careful what words make it into your final product.
“If it seems like the candidate has dumped a bunch of buzzwords in for show, the résumé might also get dumped,” Tiffani Murray, career consultant and former human resources manager, tells MainStreet.
Hurwitz agrees that “the résumé has to read like it is meant for a human being, not a computer. Just listing keywords reflects poorly on the candidate and impacts credibility.”
What buzzwords should you avoid? Check out MainStreet’s Worst Resume Cliches of 2010 to find out.
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You should provide a hard copy printed on fancy paper.Verdict: MYTH
The idea that you should bring a printed version of your résumé on glossy or otherwise fancy paper is absolutely false. While you should bring a hard copy to an interview, all experts agree that there’s no real need for it to be printed out on thick and environmentally unfriendly résumé paper.
“The days of fancy résumé paper are all but dead,” Murray says. “Companies are cutting back on paper so your résumé is likely stored in an applicant tracking system that the hiring manager and recruiter can look at on their computer or smartphone whenever they need to review it.”
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