In the November 12, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader proposes resumectomy to save the patient.



Does it occur to anyone that there is something wrong when a very good (flawless) resume or LinkedIn profile returns nothing, no interviews, no jobs — not even a thank you for applying? Why do we use them? I’m looking for an alternative to a resume. Is there an alternative?

Nick’s Reply

People have been asking me about resumes a long time! Let’s try something. This is one of the oldest articles on Ask The Headhunter: Resume Blasphemy. It’s an exercise. It suggests an alternative to resumes. I’d like to ask everyone to please read it — it’s pretty brief. Then come back and continue here.

Have a resume, put it away

Everyone should have a good resume, and it should be clear, concise and easy to read. It should list places you’ve worked, job titles, education and time periods. Brief descriptions of what you did at each job are best.

That’s it. No fluff. No branding. Your resume is not a “marketing piece.” It’s a document that fills in the blanks about you for a hiring manager you have already had substantive contact with. Otherwise it’s just a dumb piece of paper or bucket of bits. Put it away until you talk with the manager.

Don’t use your resume “to get in the door.” Ten million other resumes are ahead of yours. And almost nobody reads them.

The purpose of the Resume Blasphemy article is to nudge people away from resumes as a job-getting tool. There is no such thing. You are the job-getting tool.


Of course, I get loads of arguments, opinions and  “yes, buts” about my position on resumes. (My favorite is, “I know an algorithm is going to process it, but you can’t win if you don’t play.”) That’s why I’d like to ask you all to strap on a rubber apron and some gloves.

Let’s cut the resume open. Let’s do surgery. Maybe we should just remove most of it, do ya think? A resumectomy. Don’t mind the splatter. It’s all good.

3 Questions

Three questions for everyone:

  1. Do you even use a resume to get a job? If not, then what?
  2. If you do use a resume, what do you put on it that gets you in the door and gets you hired?
  3. What do people put on their resumes that sinks their efforts to get a job?

(If you’re a hiring manager, we’d all love to know how you’d answer those questions from your side of the desk.)

Okay, scalpel.

What’s that in there, in the resume? Is it alive? Is it beating? Or is it just mush? Should we take it out? Is a transplant in order?

: :

  1. Whenever I’ve played the game and submitted resumes and/or cover letters, it’s never resulted in an interview, let alone a job. What’s the point? I’ve given up on that silly charade.

    • @Askeladd: Resumes were useful to all involved when job seekers sent them after careful consideration, and when employers didn’t have to deal with thousands of “incoming” after soliciting resumes blindly.

      It’s now a racket.

  2. This is a reply for a managerial position in a technical area (Manufacturing Ops, QA) Director / VP level, but should be useful in other disciplines.

    This has worked for me for 2 decades.

    I take my resume and fold it in half so I can look at the top half. I look at the summary, and the bullet points. Does it describe me and high light relatable accomplishments? Will it intrigue the person to keep reading? If so, then I am 1/2 way there.

    Then I flatten out my resume and fold it lengthwise so I can only see the left side. I look for numbers like 70% reduction in warranty expenses …….., or 150% increase in production thruput ………… or something like that.

    I want to entice people into reading the rest of each sentence across the page.

    Between the two I have been asked to elaborate on my statements.

    The entire format has helped me with my interviews, usually triggers questions that leads to discussions I can control.

    My goal is always to take over the interview process because most of the time, the interviewers don’t really know what they want. Whenever I can answer the questions they are thinking about, I can sell myself since I am the product they need.

    Food for thought.

    Hope it helps.

    • @Joseph: You do two folds. I do one:

      I’m going to start doing your fold, too! So should hiring managers. HR, not so much!

      • Thanks for the encouragement – I have done this for years. The key is we all respond to numbers (percentages, dollars (or Euro’s), time) since we are very visual people.

        It was a corporate CEO who taught that trick to me.

        I have told others to do that and have had them revise there resumes to fit that format, and each time they said it helped.

        Nothing is perfect, nor will it guarantee your interview will happen. But it is logical because it is so simple. Took me many years to learn that.

        Now I look for it in resumes I get across my desk.

        • @Joseph: You think like a graphic designer!

          I do this to evaluate the graphics on the page. Also, when working in the newspaper field, the copy editors had to think about the most important leads in the top half of the fold. Same idea, as you described it earlier.

        • A CEO taught me something I’ve used ever since. Write paragraphs with boldfaced subheadings. Forces you to summarize the topic or point of each (or don’t include that graf). Grabs the reader’s eyes and delivers the short version before they even read the document (which should be brief when possible). It’s a form of mind control – the reader’s and writer’s!

  3. I admit I used to think of the résumé as a specialized sales brochure that got people past the initial screening round by HR. I have since come to realize the system hasn’t worked like that in at least 10 years. I love the internet age, but we humans still need connections with the people we want to work with.

    Since I’m known as a writer, I often get asked to help create or update résumés. I nearly always turn people down because I feel bad about taking their money for a worthless exercise. Résumés don’t introduce strangers; personal referrals do.

    I said “yes” to helping one person write a résumé last year because it wasn’t a résumé, it was a mini-business plan. It centered on how promoting the person to company manager and adding key staff could break even in the first year and reap steady profits after that. The owner turned it down flat, so the person quit and took a job with a competitor who wanted a manager with ideas and ambition. The original business is now floundering.

    • @Carol: “Résumés don’t introduce strangers; personal referrals do.”

      Bingo! (I’ve got to start using the special symbol é but it’s such a pain…)

      • Be careful not to use the special symbol e if you’re dealing with automation. It’s not coded as an E so will not be recognized. Automation for the win :/

      • I am at an industry conference in a field for which I want to start a new business. Today’s conference first of all helped me focus my startup efforts.

        I made a discovery along the way: I need to hire my first employee.

        More specifically, this person needs to be a partner in the business who can help me form it. (I cant pay yet, and I still have a full time job – this needs to be a side hustle for now.)

        So how will I find this person? I am going to talk to people I already know. I really need to trust this person, whomever it is. The last thing I need is a stack of resumes.

        This part will not be easy, but I already have 3 people in mind I want to talk to.

        • @Kevin: Speak with other respected attendees (opinion-makers, etc.). Tell them what you’re looking for. Ask for recommendations and referrals. If they give you a name, ask questions. In other words, do an informal reference check in advance. Do the same about the 3 you already plan to talk with.

      • Holding down “Alt” while entering “130” via the numeric keypad is a pain?

  4. I’ve got my resume out there in a few places (hey, ya never know), and my profile on LinkedIn is pretty much the same thing.

    I can say, without reservation, that my resume/profile does a fantastic job getting me leads for jobs…..for which I am not qualified and/or jobs I would have no interest in doing. I get emails/calls/etc. all the time for stuff that if you looked at the job description and my resume, you’d find very little overlap save for the education requirement. Or you’d see that with my 25 years of experience, I’m probably not interested in an entry level job.

    If I had the inclination, I’d make up a fake resume containing none of my real experience and see if it could get me jobs for which I *am* qualified.

    • I am convinced the “recruiters” do not bother reading LI profiles, summaries, education, experience, etc. – at least not in my case. All they do is look at your most recent position and pigeonhole you accordingly. That’s not exactly an incentive to keep the thing up-to-date.

      • @Askeladd: Those are not recruiters. They’re telemarketers dialing for dollars. Nowadays, HR hires them by the ton.

    • @Chris: Wow! Kinda makes you wonder if some kind of stupid robot is reading that thing, eh? :-)

      My buddy Peter Cappelli at Wharton tells the apocryphal story of a CEO who removed his name/ID from his resume and submitted it to his own company. He was rejected. Nobody recognized him because nobody read it.

    • Right there with you. There must be a shortage of people tho will do magic for peanuts, because I’m getting several recruiter emails a day stating that “we found your information in our database/online/LinkedIn” for entry level positions, or positions I got out of a decade ago, or short-term contract positions in East McKeesport.

      None of which are interesting after 10 years with the same company, and +/- four years out from retirement. At this stage of the game all I should be seeing are “you’ve paid your dues and we are going to open up the checkbook for your experience” positions.

      Anything else is a waste of both of our time.

      These are all a case of “email is cheap, let’s blast everyone!!” style of recruiting.

      • @L.T.: No offense to anyone who’s got to put food on the table or pay the rent, but why does anyone take such spam solicitation seriously at all?

        I think employers who rely on the shotgun approach to recruiting also rely on people suspending their good judgment. “There might be a brown pony underneath this pile of dung! Hey, I have to TRY, right?”


  5. Nick,
    Tell me if I am missing your point.
    As a decrepit old man (63) one thing I observe these days is people seem to be “life fishing” too much.
    They fish for a soul mate by posting online or joining a online matchmaking place. They fish for jobs too. If you just cast out your line where many other similar lines are, using the same bait, what are the odds of catching the fish? No matter how good your equipment is, it still is not enough most times.
    It seems the better thing is to do the strenuous work. Go into the water, even go underwater and find the fish an get it. In other words, just like in the movie, Field of
    Dreams, “GO THE DISTANCE” and maybe beyond.
    Lots of people here seem very intelligent so you guys take it from there. Thoughtful persistence always brings good results.
    If I really wanted a job, the last part of my “attack” would by the resume.

    • @Tony: You’ve got the point. Thanks for making it clear!

  6. I am a Creative Director. I am looking for project/freelance work. I have NEVER found that a resume is at all useful. People need to see my work, I use my resume stictly as a timeline of the places I have been, and a sentance to topline of what my role was only in my current position. 95% of my resume is a client list basically showing the wide range of products ad services I have worked on. I don’t know why anyone looking for a creative would even want to see it, but I have found it is a requirement to upload on any corporate site. I am also counfunded by linkedIn. I get a few hits a week and not ONE person has ever contacted me directly. I am currently working on a brochure to send to people trying to entice them to look at my portfolio website. I plan to snail mail this piece so it actually gets on the desk of the person I want to contact…thoughts? thank you

  7. Writing as an employer who recruites using in-house staff: have a professional looking email address, not stifflers_mother@. No photo. List achievements, not tasks. Make contact with the recruiting manager and be aware that you are being assessed from that first contact. Keep the resume brief and view the resume as just one tool in your boc of bits.

    • @Colin, thanks for the employer’s view!

  8. I had three jobs, and none were gotten with a resume. The first I contacted through a conference in which new PhDs could talk to universities and companies. That led to an interview and a job. The second was through a good headhunter. The third was through networking. A neighbor knew an HR guy who was working with a hiring manager who was looking for someone just like me.

    As a hiring manager, resumes don’t disqualify you, but they don’t get you a job. I hired interns who we later hired. They were through my university contacts – I asked professors to recommend good students. Our intern slots were coveted and I got more than my share by using this method. It wasn’t quite kosher, I rejected the not quite right resumes I got from HR until they got desperate for me to fill the slot, and then I said “well, I have this great candidate right here.” In one case I did fill the job from the HR slot because it was a good match.

  9. As a writer of technical, scientific, and marketing materials, it’s quite obvious that you produce
    ‘sales’ documents which speak to the needs of the client. Why would job search be any different?
    Research the client company…in so doing, you’ll meet folks who can refer you to hiring managers.

    While I have a resume, I also have a one page biography. It has a small head and shoulders picture, professionally taken, and it provides an easily customizable one-pager that tells my story in ways that relate specifically to the intended recipient.

    Most recently, I was contacted by a headhunter, with a tech writing position…in a company that was high on my list of potential clients for my free-lance tech writing practice. (she found me on LinkedIN, in fact.) Submitted bio and resume. Got the interview with the GM and the dept. head to whom I now report. The GM is a busy guy..the one page bio did the trick. All I had to do was point to where the relevant experience was, in my resume.

    Job search is a sales and marketing job. Research is the only way to do it effectively.

  10. Recently the boss asked me for input on a resume received. Its language was trying to assert “leadership” for what would have better sold as a “team contributor” resume. Before investing time in an interview I look for one clear defining entry that might interpret the character behind the “and then I did this” bullet points.

    One of the assessments in my review stated, “I give no credit for the university degrees because although [name] is already a low value for the money university, it looks to be an online degree program with brutal ratings from actual students.”

    The message sent by programs that have no rigor, designed for attendees who participate at their convenience, is that the candidate is a box checker who wants credit for things without the substance of having to earn them.

    Another observation noted that the resume incorporated smarmy language quoted from a recommendation received on the LinkedIn page…or was it the other way around? Who copied who? Ultimately there’s no credit for unsubstantiated captioning of yourself; the resume should already convey your substance between the lines without an overt declaration.

    • There’s no way to tell who wrote what you’re reading or what’s real. That’s what phones and in-person are for.

  11. The original questioner asked: “Does it occur to anyone that there is something wrong when a very good (flawless) resume or LinkedIn profile returns nothing, no interviews, no jobs — not even a thank you for applying? Why do we use them?”

    Before going further, I’d ask two questions of the questioner, which may solve their problem. The first is this: does your resume follow the principles Joseph Fabian outlined earlier in the discussion, i.e., “I take my resume and fold it in half so I can look at the top half. I look at the summary, and the bullet points. Does it describe me and high light relatable accomplishments? Will it intrigue the person to keep reading? If so, then I am 1/2 way there.
    “Then I flatten out my resume and fold it lengthwise so I can only see the left side. I look for numbers like 70% reduction in warranty expenses . . . or 150% increase in production thruput . . . or something like that.”

    If the questioner’s resume does not follow Mr. Fabian’s principles, revising their resume may solve the problem. A related question is this: did the questioner customize their resume to the job ad by presenting accomplishments that aligned with the needs of the hiring company? Failure to do so is another misstep that can quickly rule a candidate out of contention. Incidentally, the challenge of ongoing customization is why job seekers should use LinkedIn to support their resumes instead of using it to replace them.

    I’ve been a professional resume writer for over a decade. For most of that time, I’ve advised my clients to study and follow Nick’s advice on networking, working with recruiters, and on almost every topic he’s addressed. Despite Nick’s consistent minimizing of the importance of a good resume, however, my experience continually reinforces my belief that an achievement-focused, artfully designed resume is still a career essential that job seekers neglect at their peril.

    While effective networking is something that every employee should learn and practice, the reality is that there are many situations in which effective networking is not possible, and submitting a resume is the only game in town. The one I see most often is the candidate who never has networked and is now looking for work. Yes, she should have started networking years ago, but her immediate problem is this, how can she find and reach the hiring manager at the company she wants to apply for before tomorrow’s application deadline? All too often, submitting a resume “cold” is the only possibility for obtaining an interview that has any chance of success.

    And when the resume is persuasive, the chances of success are higher than some think. Despite the high number of resumes flooding HR departments, those resumes still get scanned and scored by ATS systems, and persuasive resumes are still opening interview doors to properly-prepared applicants. Case in point: a recent client’s interviewers told her that she had been selected as the first interviewee out of more than a thousand applicants because her resume had persuasively shown how she would meet the organization’s needs.

    Even if we are adroit networkers, coupling our networking with a persuasive resume creates better results than networking will do on its own. When a hiring manager’s colleague or subordinate gives a stellar referral for a candidate, that’s not always the end of the story. The hiring manager will be more confident that their acquaintance was exercising their usual good judgment if they have some additional supporting evidence to back up the referral. That evidence is the resume. Submitting a sub-par resume in this situation speaks against the applicant by creating a measure of cognitive dissonance in the manager’s mind (“If this person is so great, why is their resume so bad?”), and it also reflects poorly on the person who gave the referral.

    A persuasive resume will almost provide additional reasons to interview the candidate in addition to those given by the referrer. Also, it will give the interviewer a handy road map for the upcoming interview, and it can be a critical piece of evidence that the hiring manager will use to justify the hiring decision if their boss asks them to explain the hiring decision.

    Finally, the exercise of preparing a resume with a competent professional resume writer can provide critical additional information for referrals and resumes. It doesn’t matter whether they were entry-level graduates or C-level executives: as I have helped my clients review their careers, we have inevitably discovered significant accomplishments or key wins they had forgotten or previously dismissed as irrelevant. For example, I once asked a question that uncovered a forgotten billion-dollar success my senior executive client had delivered for his employer. Adding that win to his resume led to an immediate interview for the CTO position in one of Canada’s top five technology companies.

    So yes, you should become an adept job-search networker as soon as you can. But don’t forget to back your networking with resumes that are powerfully persuasive, effectively-formatted marketing tools.

  12. While I agree that a personal introduction, or an insider vouching for you, can be more productive than blindly sending out resumes to often fishing expedition online ads, the question begs, how many people actually have such networks? In my personal experience, when I’ve been unemployed (or under employed), I’ve reached out to former customers, colleagues, and others in what I thought was a good reputation I had, and what I thought was my “network”. What I got was “sorry to hear that you’re out of work. Good luck in your search… click” or “get on and send out resumes (blindly)”. Conventional wisdom would say find a new network, but I find more and more in today’s culture, unless its close friends in my church, I’m spitting in the wind when trying to network.

    • ^^ This ^^

    • @Antonio Zoli: It is interesting that you mention network at a church (or mosque or synagogue or a non-religious organization). As a church organist, I have been employed by many churches over the years. I have found more than one engineering job through church connections (and not just through churches where I was employed). I have even found a job through someone I used to date!

      I was a full time organist/choirmaster in a large church. The pastor (was clergy person) decided to make the job part time. I decided to dust off my engineering degree and find an engineering job. I knew a gentleman in the church where I was a member (different than where I was employed). He worked at a local research lab at a military base. He had a golfing buddy looking for someone.

      I went to the interview – the customer was one of my former choir members at the church I was going to be resigning from! I got the job, but i could tell I was being given no special treatment. It was a good start to get back into engineering.

      Religious organizations can be very good resources – plus the good ones will be able to provide emotional support. Not religious? Try either Unitarian Universalism or a humanist society.

      • Right, networking reinforces discrimination and exclusion. Anyone who did not fit in with that church community would be out of luck for networking opportunities through that channel and there isn’t necessarily another channel in town that may be open to them.

    • ^^ Exactly ^^

    • Yes, I’ve experienced this as well. However, if I get a shot at an interview through a networked contact, I still have to get past the gatekeeper, a.k.a. HR. Most interviews I’ve had with HR are merely a formality since they don’t know what the position is or entails, nor seem to appreciate my career path/credentials. Often, they only care about why I left one place for another, which as a contractor, shouldn’t require an explanation although I do state on my CV a reason to avoid these questions — (“the project was completed and there was no more work for me.”) Ironically, the position I am interviewing for is a contract!

    • “the question begs, how many people actually have such networks?”

      The most successful ones. Look, this is not a binary “do you or don’t you” have a network. This is BUILD AND FEED A NETWORK. There is no choice.

      I know the idea of networking terrifies or offends many people. That’s why I wrote these articles:

      • “This is BUILD AND FEED A NETWORK”. I personally got absolutely nowhere ever with networking, and got dismissed. Every job I’ve ever landed was done with my own blood and treasure, be it often a lengthy and degrading search from hell. My late father used to say “you are responsible for yourself”.

      • Building and feeding a network has *zero* to do with whether that network will ever know of of a job that you could do and follow through with letting you know about it, or whether your network has any influence on the hiring decision.

        The NYT recently had an article about the many older jobseekers who cannot get work no matter what they do. Many of them are very accomplished, smart people who have definitely heard of networking and done plenty of it. Literally millions of people. If literally millions of people do a strategy and it doesn’t work, it’s not actually a good strategy. It’s a far bigger problem.

    • THIS!!!

      Lots of people find that their network was no help when they really needed it. And/or that it was based on their holding a certain position or status in the professional community and when they lost that, they lost the network too.

      Networking only looks good as a job search strategy if you only count the times it works. And when it has worked for me, it was by chance, not as a result of any deliberate networking activity I did.

      Also, networking reinforces all kinds of discrimination and exclusion.

  13. I had been in the IT industry for 25 years. During that time I had a huge “network”, from knowing people from classes, conferences, peers, managers, customers, etc. Heres what I got when I needed a job…. sorry no openings here, sorry no openings here, ghosted, ghosted, sorry no openings here, ghosted..

    OK You get the picture.

  14. AS a developer of many years, I’m trying to think of how to “Do the job” in the interview when it’s project work and the manager/lead dev is reluctant to even mention what the project is due to competition/NDA’s etc…

    But I have been thinking that rather than the 1 hour interview (or 3 hours with 3 different people/teams – 1 hour each) requesting a half day where they treat it as if it’s my first day and see how I “come up to speed” I think it would be better than a “white board” exercise to reverse the characters in a string.

    Also, the question of a portfolio comes up now and then, and I’d have one, but I don’t do programming for myself, I do it for my employer, who generally doesn’t allow code developed in house to be used elsewhere – after all they have paid for it… meanwhile, I have a life other than coding, so don’t do much, if any, in my free time (other than to learn some new tech – and that usually looks pretty ugly until I get the concept).

    • I think that’s a good offer – to come in for half a day. The confidentiality issue can make it difficult. You could ask them to pose a real problem they’re facing, but in general terms, that you can discuss with them. A lot of this depends on how creative the hiring manager is!