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Watch Out for Bad Resume Advice!

Recently I asked some colleagues in a LinkedIn group what bad advice they had heard for job seekers.

It was a very popular topic! There’s a lot of questionable guidance out there.

A resume should never be longer than one page. (Bad advice.)

Maybe this was once true, but times have changed. Recent surveys of employers show that while a substantial minority prefer a single page, few insist on it, and a two-page resume is preferred for highly experienced candidates, as long as the information is relevant and it’s easy to read.

(Readability comes from the document being well written and well formatted. Two pages crammed with big, unbroken blocks of poorly written text in a 9-point font won’t cut it.)

Following this bad advice could mean short-changing yourself on your resume. It could cost you interviews.

Use a “Functional Format” to conceal lack of experience or weaknesses in your career path. (Dubious.)

In a functional resume the candidate’s experience is presented in categories according to job functions and skills, without dates. A brief work history follows, stating only job titles, companies and dates. Thus, the work history is downplayed and the skills are emphasized.

Unfortunately, hiring managers and HR professionals are hip to it. They know that job seekers use this format when they have something to hide. In rare cases, it may be the best strategy available, but more often these resumes end up in the recycling bin.

Take all the dates off your resume so they can’t tell how old you are. (Terrible idea.)

Again, straight into the recycling bin.

You should lie on your resume if the truth doesn’t look good. (Another terrible idea.)

Most people reading this article would never do this, but I feel it needs a mention.

There’s a strong consensus among career coaches (including me) that lying is a mistake in job search – for reasons both ethical and practical. Yet we all occasionally hear that someone was advised to fudge dates of employment, for example, to prevent a gap. Don’t do it! The potential damage to your reputation is more costly than it’s worth.

Good resume writers know how to handle all kinds of resume challenges – lengthy unemployment, lack of key skills, a zigzag career path – honestly but persuasively. You’d be surprised how good your resume can look.

You should write your own resume. (Maybe, maybe not.)

You may have gotten good jobs using the resume you wrote for yourself. But with a better resume, you may have gotten even better jobs. And you would likely have spent less time and stress in the job-hunt jungle.

Admittedly, I have a bias here. But let me ask you, do you cut your own hair? Good resume writers study their craft for years, and know all the ins and outs. And let’s do a little cost-benefit analysis on this investment. The cost is in the high hundreds to a thousand-plus (usually), but the benefit is likely to be in the tens of thousands.

A top-notch professional resume is almost always better than a self-written one. The key is to hire the right person.

Hire a resume writer – from Craigslist. (Bad advice.)

I love to use Craigslist – for some things. You can find low-cost resume services here, but watch out. If you want an excellent, highly qualified resume writer, a better method is to look up certified professionals via the websites of professional associations like the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches. Better yet, ask for recommendations and look for reviews. Either way, it’s crucial to talk to a few writers and ask a lot of questions before you decide. Good questions to ask include:

  • “How would you gather information from me–via a questionnaire, or through an in-depth interview?” The latter usually leads to better results. I believe this is the most important question to ask.
  • “Will you write it yourself, or subcontract it out to another writer?” Subcontracting a resume often leads to inferior results.
  • “What if I don’t like the resume?” You should have an opportunity to request changes before the document is final.

Don’t bother with a resume – many people get jobs without one. (More bad advice.)

There’s a grain of truth to this, since networking is generally more effective than sending in resumes “cold” to advertised job openings. But going into a job search without a resume is like going into the wilderness with just a knife and a can of beans. It’s likely to leave you cold and hungry.

Now that you have some tools to avoid bad resume advice, you may want to look at how to stay away from misleading interview advice as well.   (This post was originally published in 2013 and has been updated for the 2020s.)

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