Job Search: Breakable Rules and Outdated Beliefs


The community of resume writers, career coaches, and other career experts called the Career Collective, of which I am a member, was asked to blog this month about job-search rules that can be broken and/or outdated job-search beliefs. I am posting my response, along with links to other members’ responses at the end of this entry. Please follow our hashtag on Twitter: #careercollective.
By Katharine Hansen, PhD Breakable rule: A resume must not exceed one page: The pendulum swings back and forth on resume length. For years, I’ve advised that job-seekers can break the supposed one-page “rule” if they have a good reason (see our article How Many Pages Should Your Resume Be?). For example, it’s difficult for experienced executives to contain their backgrounds in one page. Even a new college grad may have a hard time keeping to one page if he or she had solid internships, extracurricular experience, sports participation, and so on. In the age of Twitter, the pendulum has swung back to an employer preference for shorter resumes, however, so job-seekers are currently encouraged to keep resumes to one page if at all possible. My resume-writing colleagues are increasingly developing one-page resumes even for executives. Here’s the most important thing to remember, though: To keep your resume to one page, do not decrease your resume font size so it is barely legible, nor narrow your margins so that your resume is crammed with type! It’s always preferable to go to a second page rather than make your resume cramped and unreadable. To avoid being in a position to even consider decreasing your font size, narrowing, your margins, or adding a second page, edit ruthlessly! Trim the fat and the fluff! (If you can’t do it, consider hiring a resume writer who can.) Also consider developing addenda and supplemental pages with information you can’t fit on your resume but that you could send judiciously to employers as warranted. Breakable rule: Include as much contact information as possible on your resume: This “rule” not only can, but probably should be broken. In the age of identity theft, the bare minimum in contact information is best. As career expert and author Louise Kursmark writes in Trends in Resumes and Career Marketing Communications, “It is enough to indicate just city and state if you want to give readers an idea of your physical location. And because more and more people are reachable at all times via cell phone and email, it is sufficient to list just one cell number and one email address.” Outdated belief: Because a resume is a marketing document, it’s OK to leave off irrelevant (or too old) jobs and dates: It’s true that, unlike a job application, a resume is not a legal document in which the job-seeker is expected to reveal his or her full background. I have previously advised job-seekers to leave old and irrelevant jobs off of their resumes. I’ve changed my advice both because my research for the book Top Notch Executive Resumes told me that hiring decision-makers don’t like information omitted and because background checks are more ubiquitous these days. Omitted data will probably turn up in a background check, causing the employer to question why you hid the information. It’s still possible to de-emphasize old and irrelevant experience by listing it in a section titled Additional Professional Experience. (see our Employment Background Checks: Minimize Skeletons that Employers Might Find.)Dates may even be omitted in some cases. If you are a mature job-seeker, do avoid calling attention to your age by using expressions such as “30 years of experience in [name of field].” If you want to show significant experience, “15+ years” should be sufficient. Outdated belief: Job-seekers with problematic job histories should use a functional resume. While I have never supported a totally functional resume (organized around skills and completely lacking any chronological listing of experience), I once believed a hybrid chronological/functional resume was useful for career changers, job-seekers with minimal experience, job-seekers with gaps in their employment histories, and candidates whose job histories did not indicate a clear career path. Again, however, my research for Top Notch Executive Resumes taught me just how much employers loathe any kind of functional resume. Hiring decision-makers usually assume the person behind a functional resume has something to hide. Today, I would use a hybrid chrono-functional resume only when the situation is so extreme, no other choice exists. Outdated belief: Resumes should kick off with an objective statement: Objective statements have fallen out of fashion. Employers grew to dislike them because so many objectives are poorly written, self-serving, and so vague that they are pointless. It’s true, though, that job-seekers need ways to give their resumes a sharp focus — because when a resume is scanned with the human eye, that eye spends no more than about 20 seconds looking at the document. The employer wants to know at a glance what you want to do and what you’re good at. The most popular technique currently is to place a “headline” atop your resume. Usually, the headline is the title of the job or type of job you seek (and, yes, you will need to change it for virtually every job you apply for. The headline can also be accompanied by a branding statement that encapsulates your best selling points. See our Resume Branding Statement Samples and Branding Your Resume. Outdated belief: You need a scannable resume: For a few years during the transition from a time when job-seekers primarily delivered resumes to employers by postal mail or fax to the time when job-seekers usually delivered resumes to employers via e-mail or by posting on job boards, job-seekers did indeed need a resume that an employer could scan into a keyword-searchable database. But now that most resumes are delivered electronically, the scannable resume is outdated and unnecessary. You probably do, however, need a text (also called “ASCII”) resume stripped of formatting to eliminate barriers to placing your resume into employer databases. Outdated belief: The hidden job market — the portion of job vacancies that are unadvertised — is 75 to 95 percent of the total job market. This 75 to 95 percent figure has been used — and I’m guilty, too — without much substantiation for close to 40 years. The fact is that no one knows how big the unpublicized job market is, although some people think they do, and others don’t believe the hidden market exists at all. In 2010, I researched the hidden job market comprehensively (see Is the Hidden Job Market a Myth?). I concluded that it exists but is probably not as large as the oft-repeated 75 to 95 percent figure. The important issue is not the exact figures that describe the market, but the reasons some jobs are not publicized. Knowing those reasons enables job-seekers to tap into the unseen market (see How to Tap Into Jobs in the Unpublicized Employment Market). And no matter the size of the unpublicized market, networking — the need for which I’ve often explained by citing the “hidden” job market — is still one of the best ways to find a job. Outdated belief (probably): In salary negotiation, the first player to name a figure loses: For years, job-seekers have been advised to delay naming their desired salary for as long as possible, preferably until they have an offer in hand. While this strategy may still work for job-seekers, some experts have reversed course — at least partially — on this advice. Most notable among these is Jack Chapman, author of Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1000 a Minute, and arguably the guru on salary negotiation. Although he acknowledges risk in “going first,” he says, “To be safe, let the employer go first; on the other hand, to get the best salary, you go first.” (See our collaboration with Chapman.) Career coach and former recruiter Rita Ashley goes much further, asserting that the worst thing a candidate can do when answering an employer’s question about compensation is fail to give a number. Playing coy is just irritating to the employer in Ashley’s view. “Employers have a salary range, and what you want or what you previously made does not change that range,” Ashley wrote. “Once an offer is made, if it is lower than you want it to be, negotiate. But don’t ruin your chances of getting that offer by avoiding an important question.” The February 2011 Career Collective Links: