Breaking and Keeping Resume “Rules”
By Louise M. Kursmark, MRW, JCTC, CEIP, CCM
a number of roles
and perspectives, I encounter a lot of questions about resumes. On
the Alliance’s monthly ResuMentor call, from contributors to
various books, and from students of the Resume Writing Academy, I
field questions every week of the year. Many of them have to do with
so-called “resume rules” that have emerged over
time as “the”
way to do things. And questions arise when resume writers question
whether those “rules” really apply.
I respond to these
questions – regardless of the rule, the complexity of the
situation, the client’s profession or level, or any other
the answer is always the same: “It depends. It depends on
client wants to be and the best way to position him or her to achieve
goals – not his or her experience,
accomplishments, or any resume “rule” –
must be the litmus test
for every resume decision. There is never any one right answer or
absolutely wrong approach. What works for one person will be entirely
the wrong strategy for another person.
look at a few
examples and I think you’ll see what I mean.
back 10 or 15 years and then stop.
1: Client has 10 years of relevant professional experience preceded by
5 years of unrelated, short-term, non-professional jobs. She is looking
for the next step up in her professional career. Recommendation:
Include only the last 10 years.
2: Client has 25 years of progressive corporate experience leading to
his current role as Vice President. He is looking for a President or
CEO position. Recommendation: Include all of his
experience, although trim the earliest positions to include just the
Write a one-page resume for new graduates.
1: Client has three highly relevant co-op jobs with measurable
achievements in each; she is looking for her first professional job in
a competitive technical field. She has held leadership roles in several
campus organizations, won numerous service and academic awards, and has
been active in professional associations and charitable endeavors. Recommendation:
Limiting her to one page will shortchange her and force
you to omit information that will establish her as a leader and
2: Client returned to school to get his degree in elementary education
after a 10-year career as a laboratory researcher (which he hated). Recommendation:
Eliminate or just briefly list his prior career; by doing so, you can
probably keep this resume to one page.
Write a functional resume for a career-changer.
1: Client spent 20 years in accounting and finance, now wants to
transition to nonprofit management. Recommendation:
Use a chronological format to present him as an experienced and
accomplished manager. “Mine” his corporate
experience to uncover relevant examples that go beyond finance and
accounting activities. Enhance the resume with volunteer leadership
experience, and lead off with a strong summary that clearly conveys his
2: Client has been a stay-at-home parent for five years and now wants
to return to work, but not as a nurse (her former career); she wants to
work at an organization that provides after-school and vacation
activities for children. Recommendation: Use a
functional format for front-and-center presentation of her relevant
experiences, accomplishments, and qualifications, culled from her
recent activities as well as her prior nursing career.
Explain gaps in employment.
1: Client has a strong work history with two gaps of a year or more
that occurred more than 5 years (2 jobs) ago due to extended maternity
leave. She is looking for a job similar to her current position, just
at a higher level and/or with a larger company. Recommendation:
Don’t worry about the gaps. Uses years (not months and years)
to minimize them as much as possible, but count on her strong
experience and accomplishments to earn at least a phone call.
2: Client has not worked for three years, after taking a buy-out and
seizing the opportunity to volunteer, write, and spend time with his
family. Now he wants to return to work as a senior executive for a
company similar to his prior employers. Recommendation:
Include at least a brief mention of a “sabbatical”
and concisely explain what he’s been up to, to answer
employers’ and recruiter’s first concern: What have
you been doing and why haven’t you been working for the past
above advice and
discussion probably seem elementary to those of you who have been
writing resumes for a long time! Yet if you are new to the field or
work essentially in isolation, without the opportunity to run ideas
by colleagues, you might find yourself going by the
rather than assessing each situation according to your
scenario. I want to encourage you to break all the rules… or
them, if that is most beneficial to your client!
if you find you have
lots more questions or resume-writing challenges, please join Deb Dib
and me on our monthly ResuMentor call. It’s a free member
The questions and issues range all over the map, and the discussion
is lively and interactive. We “meet” at 1 pm
(Eastern time) the
third Monday of the month.
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