Ten Things You Didn't Know About Your Resume

Tips That Fly in the Face of All Other Advice

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Paul Gumbinner
Paul Gumbinner

What I am writing is resume heresy. It flies in the face of those same old tips you have always heard from resume writers and advisers. But if you understand how your resume will be used when it is received, you will be able to create one which works well for you -- in any market. By focusing on its use instead of just its format, you will not only save hours of needless rewriting, it just might help you land a job.

1. Your resume won't be read until you go on the interview. If then. It is a fact of life. Corporate recruiters and headhunters alike are busy. They glance at resumes to see what you are about and decide to see you -- or not. Most won't look at them again until they are sitting there with you. So make your resume eyeball friendly. Remember, a resume is an ad for yourself.

2. Interviewers and potential interviewers actually want to know very little about you. In advertising, all anyone wants to know is where you worked, how long you were there, what you worked on and, importantly, whether you were promoted.

These facts can be highlighted and shown easily. It is what executives, human-resource professionals and recruiters look at to determine if they want to see you. Until they see you, they are not interested in your accomplishments. They simply want to know whether it is worth their while to interview you in the first place. These simple facts give clues as to the kinds of cultures you have been at and the experiences you have had. For instance, if an agency is looking for a fast-food person, they look to see if you have relevant experience. A highly creative agency might want to know that you have worked on award-winning accounts.

3. You should skip the details. If you are staying within the same profession/discipline, the small details matter little. People spend hours on their resumes, often changing the wording numerous times; I have received as many as six versions of the same resume, each with only a word or two changed. Because of points two above and four below, the phrasing matters little, especially because few people will actually read them.

4. Resumes are used as interview guides. Understanding this is the secret of an effective resume. Don't describe your job -- everyone knows what an account supervisor or a copy group head does. Highlight the things you have accomplished that you want to be asked about. Make sure you include anything that makes your experience unique. While you are being interviewed, they will see and ask you about the things you emphasized and highlighted.

5. Your resume may be unintelligible. Terms and unfamiliar brands can work against you. Typos can kill your candidacy, but so can unfamiliar words, phrases and terms. Beware of client speak. I once had a resume which talked about the "module" that the candidate had created. It turned out to be his client's term for a marketing plan. Beware of client speak -- few people outside of your current agency or even your current account may understand what you are talking about. And, if you have been working abroad, don't assume that most people in the U.S. know that in Europe Tide detergent is Ariel.

6. If you have a date gap, it will be noticed. If you have been on maternity leave or raising children, those are valid jobs and should not be left out or people will not understand the skip in dates. This time should be listed just like a regular job, especially if during it you freelanced or worked part time. Professionals can spot a gap immediately. If you have been out of work, don't cover it up with vague dates that are a dead giveaway.

7. "References available upon request" is a useless phrase. I have no idea where this came from, but it is useless and no one pays attention. When a company wants your references, they will ask for them, and who doesn't have one person who will recommend them? Ditto goes for letters of recommendation.

8. Many recruiters don't like PDF formats. PDFs will keep your resume looking as you intended. But their downside is that they cannot be easily annotated, date-stamped or corrected. People are used to receiving e-mails in which the format gets jumbled. Don't worry about it. (You should always have a hard copy of your resume with you, just in case.)

9. Skip the fancy paper. Everything is computerized. No need to spend money on expensive paper that will only get filed or thrown away.

10. No one reads long cover letters. Your resume needs to speak for itself. You can't talk people into seeing you. A short, powerful note says volumes about your candidacy.

Paul Gumbinner is president of the Gumbinner Co., New York. Before starting his executive-search firm in 1985, he spent 20 years in advertising, as an account person in categories including package goods, cosmetics, broadcasting, financial services, publishing, retail and fast food.
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