The dos and don'ts of writing a resume

By Mike Cook
For the Bellingham Business Journal

For a while now I’ve had an itch that my writing hasn’t been able to scratch, and here’s what it is: the language people use when putting together resumes!

Maybe you recognize immediately what I am talking about. As soon as I get past reading the name of the person, I am faced with a barrage of words and phrases that tell me nothing about the person in question: results driven, goal oriented, dynamic, team player — of course you are results driven and goal oriented, you are looking for a job! Dynamic, team player — you cannot tell me this about yourself.

These are subjective traits; I’ll decide for myself just how dynamic you are and whether you and I have the same idea of what it means to be a team player.

Oh, and you’re an “ambitious” “people person!” Unless you are a total slug and in some way anti-social I think you’d be OK letting me assume that you were ambitious and honestly I don’t even know what a “people person” looks like, it is so vague.

To give you an idea of other phrases that are immediate turn offs for someone reviewing your resume you can read 27 annoying words on your résumé that make hiring managers cringe

To start with, don’t send me the same resume you send to every other potential employer. If you do, it will look like the same resume you send to everyone else and I’ll be able to see it right away. Learn something about my company! This finding the right position should be as much work for you as it is for me to find the right people. Put some work into it. These days there is no excuse for showing up to an interview and not knowing a good amount about the company you are asking to consider you.

Once you learn about my company, shape your resume more like a story. I can tell you for sure the least interesting things about you are the ones you will feature in your resume and end up having you look like every other vanilla candidate. Tell me that you know the type of work we do. Tell me about similar experience you have had or tell me why the type of product or service we provide is of interest to you and what talent and passion you might be able to bring that would make us a better business. Make it personal.

Know this, if you are someone worth employing, someone who will make my team better, the more you can make me see the potential fit the more likely I’ll want to have you come in and see me. Having it at least seem like I am not part of some massive fishing expedition when you present your resume shows me not only interest but also that you know this is hard work for me as well and you want to do your part to make the search process as successful as possible.

Now I’ll repeat myself, there has always been a demand for talented people, so approach this entire process like you have more to learn than you do to lose. In learning about my company beforehand you are not only saving me work you are saving yourself in the process. Yes, we have openings but are they right for you? If you do the research and stay true to yourself you’ll know whether you should even be sending me your resume, regardless of your need for a position.

It is my firm belief that the reason employee engagement scores across the country are so low is that people accept jobs simply because they can do them.

Don’t add to the suffering, let me know why I want to talk with you but don’t consider me the only game in town. Each business, like each person, is unique and the better the fit the better the future for everyone.

Mike Cook lives in Anacortes. His columns appear on every other Tuesday. He teaches in the MBA program at Western Washington University and also runs a CEO peer advisory group in the Bellingham area.

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