Don't Make Hiring Decision-Maker Look for Your Light Under a Bushel (i.e., Your Value Hidden in a Weak Resume)


Tim Giehll recently published a blog post entitled How to See a Shining Candidate Through a Lousy Resume. “Why is it that the best candidate is never the guy/gal with the best resume?” Giehll asks. Although directed at recruiters, the post’s obvious message for job-seekers is: Don’t have a lousy resume; have a great resume so hiring decision-makers can see you as a shining candidate. Following are the ways Giehll suggests that recruiters can suss out shining qualities despite a weak resume. I’ve provided commentary for each:
  • Look carefully at the work history. Giehll writes: “Two things speak well of a candidate: 1) A long time with one company and 2) No long periods of unemployment. Both suggest a solid work ethic, dependability, and initiative.”
    Though it may depend on one’s definition of “long,” I don’t think a long time with with one company is in itself a stellar attribute; in fact, some hiring decision-makers consider many years with the same company in a somewhat negative light — as a sign of stagnation and lack of growth. And while I agree that recruiters almost universally regard periods of unemployment negatively, a resume is limited in its ability to turn that negative into a positive. A period of unemployment is what it is. A job-seeker can de-emphasize it on a resume but cannot make it go away. A job-seeker can also show productive activities during a period of unemployment — consulting, classes, professional development, projects, entrepreneurship — but sometimes these come off sounding lame. More commonly, by the time the job-seeker is unemployed long enough to realize he or she should be doing something resume-worthy, it’s too late. Job-seekers, and especially resume writers, used to write functional resumes to minimize periods of unemployment, until they figured out that employers loathe that kind of resume. I would love to know how Giehll believes a resume can mitigate a period of unemployment, especially in this era when plenty of good people have been downsized through no fault of their own.
  • Look at the work history within a company. “Did this person stay in the same position for a long time,” Giehll writes, “or did they steadily advance? If the latter, he or she is almost certainly skilled and is probably ambitious and eager for challenges.”
    It’s important to show progression on your resume. Some job-seekers tend to lump jobs for a single employer together to save space on the resume, but that’s obviously a mistake. I’ve always felt it’s best to show progression by listing each position separately, even when it means repeating the name and location of your employer. Some resume writers disagree and prefer to list the various jobs under the umbrella of the employer name. Also note advancement in your bullet points for each job if you were promoted into that position. In your summary section atop your resume, consider a phrase such as “regularly promoted” (or better yet, “frequently promoted.”)
  • Study the time frame of graduate degrees. Giehll contradicts himself on this point, so I’m not sure what he’s trying to say: “MBAs are great, but MBAs earned while working full-time suggest dedication and the ability to multi-task. On the other hand, a master’s done between jobs can suggest a directed effort to enhance or even shift a career, and there are few qualities better in a candidate than passion for what they do.”
    Isn’t he saying that a case can be made for any time you earned your MBA? Perhaps it would be worthwhile to explain on your resume your motivations for pursuing the MBA.
  • Don’t dismiss “irrelevant” degrees.
    Here Giehll’s point is that people with liberal-arts degrees often have skills that are just as advanced, if not more so, than those with business degrees. “Philosophy and English literature majors probably know more about analyzing an argument and communicating clearly than the average human-resources major,” he writes. I heartily agree, but I think this point is difficult to show on a resume unless the job-seeker is a new graduate (I write about marketing one’s liberal-arts degree here; the article contains sample bullet points that a new liberal-arts grad could use on a resume.)
I’m not sure Giehll has offered the most revealing examples of the ways job-seekers hide their best selling point in their resumes, but the point is certainly valid. The key is to see your resume through a hiring decision-maker’s eyes and ensure that he or she sees on it what needs to be showcased.