A couple of weeks ago, I received a frantic call from a past client. She begged me to make several changes to the resume I’d written for her two years ago. A resume that she’d told me helped her secure an internship. Really? After two whole years? Obviously I had questions and our conversation went like this:
Me: Can you tell me what kinds of changes you need?
Client: [Hesitantly] Well, let me explain from the beginning. This semester, I signed up for a career readiness course (at the university). The instructor asked if anyone would be willing to share their resume to be reviewed. I was so proud of my resume that I offered to have her review it, and was shocked when she began pointing out everything that was wrong with it and marking it up with a red marker!
Me: Okay… So I understand your concern. I remember that you sent me an email about a week after receiving your final documents. I asked your permission to use that email message verbatim for my Client Testimonials page on the website because you stated that you’d gotten 2 interviews immediately after submitting the resume. Do you remember that?
Client: Yes, I do.
Me: You emailed me again a few days later to let me know you’d accepted a job with one of the internship programs. Do you think that the resume helped?
Client: Oh, I know it did. I think I know where you’re going with this…
Me: Okay then. So we’ve established that the resume seemed to work for you. You have to understand that professional resume writers measure the success of a resume by a client’s ability to get interviews. You received at least two interviews within a week of applying for jobs, and ended up accepting an actual job offer for your current position. So I think we can conclude that the resume worked for you.
Client: Right. Yes, I agree. I even told the instructor that I’d gotten a job using the resume. I just don’t understand why she doesn’t consider it a good resume.
I won’t bore you with the additional details of our conversation; but I was just as curoious about the instructor’s critique; so I asked my client to elaborate on main issues the instructor identified.
#1 There was no objective
I rarely include an objective on the resumes I create for clients. Objectives are largely considered outdated and therefore unnecessary for most resumes (with a few exceptions) because an objective’s primary focus is on what you the job seeker are looking for in your employment; and employers could honestly care less. What the employer IS interested in is the VALUE you potentially bring and how they can benefit. You’d do better to focus your resume writing efforts on communicating a solid value proposition instead.
#2 The resume was longer than 1-page
Another outdated tip. It’s pretty standard for a resume with at least 4+years of experience to be 2-pages long. Take my client for example: she was looking to career pivot into a new profession after working for 8 years as a teacher’s assistant. She is currently finishing up a B.S. degree in Child Psychiatry. She needed a new resume as she prepared to apply to related internship programs.
The challenge in preparing her resume and cover letter was to take her previous skills and experience working with children and communicate it in a way that was most relevant to employers seeking Child Psychiatry interns. There was just no way to squeeze 8 years of critical work experience onto a single page in a way that would effectively illustrate her skills, hands-on experience, and value.
#3 The font was not Times New Roman
While it’s true that some older ATS systems can only read standard fonts (Arial, Georgia, Tahoma, and Verdana), that still leaves you plenty of style options to choose from besides Times New Roman.
#4 The focus of the resume was too specific
My client explained that the instructor believed a job-specific resume would limit her from applying for jobs outside of Psychiatry Internship programs. This was all the proof I needed that the instructor was unaware of the use of ATS systems in the current hiring practices, how ATS systems work, and the importance of seeding keywords/professional phrases and requisites into a resume that align a job seeker with the specific position they apply for. A general, one-size-fits-all resume may never be considered because it would be be too broad to pass an ATS/keyword screen, causing the applicant to possibly miss out on the perfect job opportunity.
All of the above issues point to the instructor’s outdated course information and her complete lack of knowledge on the changing job market and the most current hiring practices that have evolved over the last 5-10 years. Following this instructor’s feedback would have been counterproductive to my client, and unfortunately it’s not the first time I’ve had this type of conversation.
Time and time again, recent graduates hire a professional resume writer and then take the completed resume to a college advisor or career center contact for trusted feedback only to received outdated suggestions for “improvements” that no longer work for today’s job search. After experiencing this with several new graduates, I decided to do some research on my own to see how many colleges and universities were sharing outdated resume and career information with their students.
Full disclosure: I limited my research to schools in and around the southeastern and northeastern regions of the U.S., and the results were disappointing. While these institutions are preparing students to enter their selected professions and industries, some schools fail miserably at assisting in the transition to obtain an internship or that first professional job.
Still, I was pleased to find SOME school career centers (at a small number of higher learning institutions) WERE providing students with relevant job search guidance; and some of these institutions even have at least at least one Certified Professional Resume Writer and/or Career Coach on staff to assist and support their students.
Certified Career Professionals are trained on current hiring practices with the understanding that these practices are constantly changing; and participate in ongoing training to remain up-to-date. They are equipped to provide job seekers of varying professional levels with the most recent career information, tools, and resources; and the best tips and strategies for meeting career goals.