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On Your Resume, Sell Skills, Not Experience


We invited 15 of the top career and job-search experts — our Quintessential Careers Career Masterminds — to share their advice with our readers as part of Quint Careers’s 15th anniversary. We asked them (among six other questions): What are the most common strategic mistakes you see on job-seeker resumes? (See all their responses here.) We’re running a series of responses; here’s one of them: QC-15th-year-logo.jpg I wrote three books on how to write resumes, so this topic is near and dear to my heart. The worst mistake is selling experience instead of skills. I cringe when I see “twelve years experience in blah, blah, blah.” Nobody buys experience. They buy skills and abilities. Your track record indicates your skills and abilities, sure, and that’s why people make this mistake. But if you can create an impressive track record in, say, four years instead of 12, that’s actually more impressive. More years is not better. Focus on the skills, the abilities, and the track record, not the tenure.

Don’t put more than 10 years of experience on a resume. Just take the dates off your education and stop listing experience older than 10 years ago. If your best accomplishments were more than 10 years ago, you don’t actually gain in a job search today by pointing that out.

Directly related to this is the habit people have of building a resume off a job description. Don’t. When I see “duties included” or “responsible for” on a resume, I know that what follows is going to be boring and obvious. Focus on accomplishments, not duties. What did you do that was important? What did you accomplish or contribute? What did you learn on the job or in special training? What did you create that was above and beyond the scope of the job that was handed to you. That’s what sells.

Also, today, there are many people facing charges of being overqualified. There are ways to ratchet up or down a description of a past job. You always have to tell the truth, but there are many ways to tell the most attractive side of the truth. Don’t call attention to your level of responsibility. For example, suppose you used to be the director of sales, but at this point you’re eager to get any job in sales. Don’t say on your resume that you directed the sales function, or led a team of 12, say you went on sales calls and resolved problems to close major agreements.

While we’re on resumes, here’s something that’s new: The street address is disappearing from resume headings. Don’t list a street address at all. Just name, cell phone, and email. Why? Recruiters can use online tools to look up your house, see into your back yard, check out what car was parked in your front drive, and check the historical and current value of your home. That’s too much information for a stranger to have, to say nothing of the very real problems of stalking and identify theft. You can even leave off the city where you live, and the cities where your jobs were located, which helps when looking for work long distance.

There are lots of career problems that are actually resume problems. If you fix the resume, you fix the career. I covered the most common problems in latest edition of my book, The Overnight Resume, in print for 20 years and available from any library.
      — Donald Asher