Make Your Resume Relevant by Avoiding These Missteps
Part 1 of the “It Seemed Like a Good Idea for My Resume, But It Was Not” Subseries
By Brian Sullivan
Resumes are tricky. Seriously. As an applicant, you are attempting to encapsulate your entire professional journey in a handful of pages (or fewer). You want to share your education, your achievements, your professional interests, and also a piece of yourself. You aim to be factual, but not boring. You strive to prove your value, but without sounding arrogant. You’re showing how you’re the perfect candidate for the particular position to which you’re applying. Most of us have a very hard time talking about ourselves in that way; for those who don’t, they face other challenges when it comes to keeping the message concise. On top of all that, you hope to make your resume memorable to the reader, but not in the way where it stands out in a bad way. It’s a lot of pressure!
Ask any ten people about what to include in or remove from your resume, and you’ll get ten different answers. This post will likely be the starting point for several to come, investigating many of these topics in further detail. In future editions, we’ll explore resume formatting tips, common grammar issues, ill-advised shortcuts worth avoiding, and how to produce a final resume that is cohesive and consistent.
For today though, R&W Group Blog will provide an overview of some things we’ve seen on resumes that either don’t work, or don’t convey the message the writer likely intended. This is not an exhaustive list, but we hope this helps you construct your strongest resume yet!
Before Beginning… Why Does All This Matter?
Resumes matter a great deal. It is often the one thing a recruiter or hiring manager uses more than any other material or metric (before an interview, at least) in determining the viability of a candidate’s… well, candidacy. Studies show the average amount of time a resume gets reviewed is anywhere from 10-30 seconds, with some studies even indicating a miniscule 5-6 seconds. Most resumes have tons of great content, but the inclusion of something puzzling, overly personal, or just plain unprofessional might stop the reader from ever getting to those gems. Because of this, it’s critical to make your resume as strong as possible so it gets through the review stage, and hopefully leads to an interview.
What are our Top 5 (in no particular order) decisions to not make when creating a resume? I’m glad to asked!
1. Including Old and/or Irrelevant Experience
Entry-level candidates sometimes struggle to fill even a single-page resume with work experience, so they often include all sorts of clubs, athletics, volunteer work, and other items to add some heft. Recruiters recognize this, and normally don’t hold that against them. However, as people advance in their careers, it’s customary to shed some of these older, less-relevant positions from a resume. Any roles from 10 years ago need to be evaluated based on how compatible they are with the positions you’re applying to, and any over 15 years old should be removed altogether.
That being said, whether a position was from decades ago, or just a couple years ago, it’s important to consider why we choose to share a particular experience. For example, if you’re applying to a tech support job, and have related experience in programming, customer service, and project management environments, it doesn’t necessarily benefit you to include a part-time pizza delivery gig you held to earn some extra spending money. Similarly, if you are applying to openings in a hospital setting, including your experience as an accomplished realtor prior to going back to school and completing your nursing degree isn’t relevant either; your healthcare internships will be much more impressive than the real estate-related certifications you held.
2. Grade School Education
If you have worked in a school as an adult, be it as a secretary, coach, teacher, custodian, or any other position, you should definitely be including K-12 schools on your resume… in your Professional Experience section. However, when it comes to a resume’s Education section, whether or not you’ve worked in a school, nobody should be including their elementary or junior high school information.
Truthfully, your high school information shouldn’t be in there either, but some exceptions do exist. If you’re still in high school, then it’s fine to include it on your resume. If you have no education beyond high school, that’s also okay. However, as soon as you have additional education or training, whether that’s college, trade school, military, or any type of professional certifications, it’s time to swap those mentions of grade school(s) with these new, more substantial entries.
3. Headshots/ Photos on Your Resume
Unless the position is for a modeling or acting gig, including a headshot on your resume is not something we’d recommend you do. There are many reasons for this, which we will discuss more in future posts, but the main thing to consider is that many organizations (especially in the US) go to great lengths to limit subconscious bias and discrimination in their hiring processes. By having photos of a candidate on their resume, it certainly tests those efforts. It’s a situation from which an employer might choose to distance themselves just as a matter of course.
Plus, as already mentioned, a resume should only include relevant details about your background and how you can tackle the position’s responsibilities. Unless your appearance would directly impact work outcomes, a headshot is not going to be relevant.
As for other non-headshot photos (i.e., pictures you’ve taken, edited, used in marketing or promotional materials, etc.), for the appropriate position, those would be better showcased in a portfolio.
4. Extra-Curricular Interests
A resume is your elevator pitch to an employer about why you’re the best person for the job. It is not a dating profile or an icebreaker for a social group. While every one of us is more than our title and position, including hobbies on your resume is almost never relevant (noticing a pattern yet?). While creating a rapport with a hiring manager is valuable, our advice would be to focus on cultivating that connection in the interview instead of on the resume. The nature of a resume and its limited space means decisions about what should and shouldn’t be there have to be made. Choosing to share your love of reading, parasailing, or baking homemade focaccia indicates you decided to include that content, likely in lieu of possibly more relevant things. While you might this this gives a hiring manager a window into who you are outside the office, what is does instead is it compels them to wonder if you were merely attempting to fill space with fluff because there were no more substantive items left to add.
5. Overly Personal Information
While we could debate that our hobbies might be considered “personal”, the type of information we’re referencing here is slightly different. It’s worth mentioning this is primarily from a US-perspective, as employers in other countries may be used to seeing some of these details on resumes or CVs. In the US though, it is not appropriate to include information about your race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, family details, or other similar information. Similar to the issue with headshots, it’s often illegal for employers to base their staffing decisions off these demographic specifics, and they likely will avoid moving ahead to limit the potential risk of a discrimination suit.
Including information on a resume like birthdates, social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, banking IDs, or other Personally Identifiable Information (PII), while also unnecessarily personal, can open you up to the potential of fraud or identify theft. As a safety precaution, it’s just best to not include those.
Relevant personal information would include your name, contact info, and your location. It used to be common for one’s full home address to be included on a resume, but it’s becoming more accepted to simply note your residing city and state. Through the application process, an organization may ask you to provide information like a street address or date of birth, and it’s okay to share that with them in those situations, but would encourage you to leave those specifics off your resume.
We’ve said it before, but it does bear repeating: Resumes Are Tricky. If you heed these 5 warnings, it will help you trim the irrelevant and distracting clutter off your resume, and will leave you with a leaner, more impactful document to showcase yourself and your talents.
In our next edition of R&W Group Blog, we will dive into more resume no-nos. More specifically – we will be questioning common things candidates include on resumes, intended to impress employers, that often have the opposite effect. If you need additional support with your own resume and job search, please contact us at email@example.com. Looking forward to hearing from you!