How Much of Your Experience Should Go on Your Resume? Opinions are Mixed

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A report by ExecuNet, Overcoming Today’s Toughest Résumé Challenges, by Marji McClure, notes that opinions of résumé writers are mixed as to whether an executive with more than 25 years experience should include all of that experience on his or her résumé. ExecuNetRezRpt.jpg In the report, Jan Melnik, president of career-management and résumé-writing firm Absolute Advantage, argues that all work experience shows how an executive has developed his or career into its current state. “Typically, these individuals present a progression of advancement and contribution that frequently began with the foundation of their first professional work experience,” says Melnik. She suggests including that early experience in a “very concise, collapsed fashion” by combining it into a four- or five-line paragraph that can appear in a “Professional Experience and Achievements” section in the résumé. Melnik offers this example: Earlier career background includes progression of finance positions with Stevenson Technologies (Providence, RI), reflecting advancement to Director of Finance (5 years) from initial positions as Cost Accounting Manager (3 years) and Senior Financial Analyst (4 years); prior to Stevenson, held accounting positions with Huntley Electronics (Wallingford, CT; 8 years). “Your résumé is a marketing piece — an advertisement — it is not an autobiography,” says ExecuNet résumé writer Michelle Dumas, owner of Distinctive Documents. “You don’t need to and shouldn’t try to include everything.” Meg Guiseppi, a C-level branding strategist at Executive Résumé Branding, agrees. “A résumé is not a comprehensive career history. It’s a career marketing document that needs to showcase just enough about you to generate interest and compel decision-makers to contact you.” Dumas says many recruiters prefer reading résumés that contain only the most recent and relevant experience. “On the other hand, you don’t want to cut it off too recently and leave the reader thinking you either have less experience than you have or are hiding something,” adds Dumas. Regardless, it’s important to ensure that the most crucial information is closer to the top of the page, where readers won’t miss it. “Your personal brand should be immediately evident above the fold, or within the top third or half of the first page,” says Guiseppi. “Because hiring decision-makers may allow your résumé only 10-15 seconds to capture their attention, and the top of the first page is what they’ll see first. Craft this section to stand on its own as your calling card.” “There are several strategies executives can use to mask their exact age, while still highlighting their experience. They can summarize the earliest experiences, including notable employer names and accomplishments and leave out dates. However, in this case, executives should also remove the dates from their educational accomplishments,” adds Louise Kursmark, president of Best Impression Career Services Inc.. “With this strategy, readers will assume there is a gap of ‘some period of time,’ but not know exactly how many years. Completely omitting the early experience can cause an executive to appear too young in some cases. If you are running a company, a division or a department, it’s perfectly okay to be over 40.” Executives must be careful not to be deceptive as they attempt to diminish references to their age within their résumés. “Executives run into serious problems when they try to dumb down their résumés to make themselves look younger,” notes Rachelle Canter, PhD, president of San Francisco-based executive development firm RJC Associates. “The minute they walk into an interview and are not 30, the interviewer feels conned. Instead, I recommend that executives focus on quantifying accomplishments, including showcasing big things they’ve been able to do fast (generally a way to show how experience can save time and money) so prospective employers can see that they can potentially get more from a seasoned employee.”

You can download ExecuNet’s free publication, Overcoming Today’s Toughest Résumé Challenges, here.

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