How Much Detail Should You Really Put in Your Résumé?

Both you and I know that there is no lack of advice out there, and one of the most frustrating experiences for those who are job seeking is how to figure out whose opinion is right.

I invite my clients and my students to run others’ advice by me, and I don’t make them follow my advice (though I do have to stick to rubrics I develop for my students.) I encourage them to run experiments but run them fairly scientifically so that they can achieve some objectivity.  (My blog post next week will talk more about how to do this.)

Just be aware that anything new will feel foreign and you will tend to be resistant to it. Once you know and accept that, you can get past it faster and open yourself up to the possibility of there being a better way.

When it comes to your résumé, whether you are going it alone or engaging a professional, the method you use has to make sense for what you want to accomplish. Reverse engineer what is right based on your goals.

For instance, my process is very front-end heavy (to ensure a consistent quality), and my branding services are an investment that I am committed to generating returns in the form of multiple, high-quality employment leads that represent greater satisfaction and (probable) better income.

However, if you are in a situation where you just need a job to make any income, and you refuse to turn down an offer no matter how badly it positions you for better opportunity or income, engaging me would be a waste of time and money. It won’t pay off as designed.

In this situation, you may be tempted to include every job you’ve had, because you “need” to appeal to any potential employer. What will happen is that you will only look appealing to employers who are looking for baseline skills, which usually result in you receiving baseline pay and working among baseline colleagues. This might be all you need right now – no judgment here.

In this situation, professionals like me are going want something more for you. That’s because we know it’s possible, and we’ll tell you to think about what you would really like to do, and what you have done in the past that you enjoyed, and what criteria your next employer needs to meet. We’ll challenge you to think about what this attractive employer needs to know about you and to only put in your résumé experience that matters to them. This is advice that you’ll likely ignore if your goal right now is survival. At a minimum, we’ll say, make sure that you include what you accomplished (not just what you did), so that they know you did what you were supposed to do, you did it well, and that it made a positive difference – the more precise and specific, the more believable and impressive you’ll seem.

I’ve heard some recruiters, and even some hiring managers, claim that no résumé should ever be longer than one page. For entry-level through 3 years of experience, I agree, with some exceptions being academics and scientists. For more experienced professionals, people who want a 1-page résumé are in the minority. Certainly, brevity is valued in the corporate world. However, sometimes one page is inadequate to deliver the details that are important to audiences who value them.

A résumé’s basic job is to inspire invitations to interview. But I hear many job seekers complain about the time that they spend going to interviews for jobs that they ultimately would never want to accept at companies that they would never want to work for bosses to whom would never want to report. The résumé can do much more than just inspire interviews. It can help employers self-qualify and disqualify themselves as potential fits for you. The offer goes not just to the most qualified candidate, but ultimately the candidate who has the greatest potential to be successful in that role, in that culture, on that projected path, with that team, for that boss.

If you want your résumé to do this, there are questions you can ask yourself to determine what to include based on your goals, not just general advice. These are also questions that can help you through the interview process to help you notice (by what questions they ask) if what is important to them is also important to you.

Do you want your future employer to care only what you were supposed to do, not that you did it or how well you did it?

Think about what you want your future employer to care about in all of their hires.

Have you ever worked in an environment where not everyone was held up to high standards of performance?

Think about working among people who only worked up to their job duties and did nothing further.

How financially stable could that company be if there are people on the payroll doing the bare minimum (or less)?

Would you wind up taking on more than your fair share of work, and, if you do, will that be recognized and rewarded?

Is the impact that you want to make going to be diminished by the lack of performance among others?

If you care about the performance of others around you, make sure your résumé reflects your ability to perform as an individual (first and foremost) as well as how the team contributed.

Do you want them to care only that you achieved results, not how you achieved results?

If your goals go beyond survival to making sure that your next employer’s values align with yours, then think about how they would do things and how they would want you to do things. For example, if all that matters are the results (not how they were achieved), where else in that company is there a focus on metrics over methods?

What would work be like if you worked among high achievers who would do anything to achieve?

Will a culture that only focuses on results lead to the company hiring people who will do anything for results?

How will that impact collaboration and team dynamics?

How will results be rewarded?

What might be sacrificed, then, for the sake of results? Are you willing to sacrifice that for results?

Are the how and how well important to you?

If the answer is yes, the challenge for many is how to add MORE context to achievements without adding length. I used to be frustrated by that task, but have found that if I approach it like a challenge – a test of my wordsmithing ability – not only do I enjoy it much more, but I complete the challenge successfully. I have developed a story formula that enables me to ensure that I have captured all potential impressive, relevant details of a story, and then use the visual layout of the story details to more objectively see what are the most important pieces of the story. Finally, I try to put them in a simple VERB (effort/action that directly led to results) > OBJECT (measurable results) + preposition/conjunction (due to/in order to) + intention/supporting details/additional impacts.

The White Stripes I just don’t know what to do with myself

The Whie Stripes i just don’t know what to do with myself from the album elephant

Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a 13-year-old leadership and career development firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play. 

While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales. 

Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot. 

She is an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and previously was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business  She is also an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where some of her students won the 2018 national competition, were named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs, and won the 2019 People’s Choice Award. 

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