Readers’ Comments: Garbage in Your Resume – Take it out

In the March 8, 2011 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wonders, just what really needs to be on a resume?

I’ve read conflicting advice about what to put in my resume. Right now, it runs over two pages, since I’ve got quite a bit of history that I need to present. Some resume advice says to keep it short, even just one page, and to say only what’s necessary. But what’s necessary?

Here’s the short version of my advice: (For the entire column, you need to subscribe to the free weekly newsletter. Don’t miss another edition!)

The purpose of a resume is not to recite your entire work history. At least 30% of any resume is jargon that’s in all resumes — cut it.

Here’s what I’m talking about. The “objective,” for example, is purely wasted space. Look at five resumes, and you’ll see all the same jargon and gibberish about wanting a job with a growth-oriented company, and good opportunities, and a progressive work environment, where you can make a positive contribution as a team player by “working with people.”

Gimme a break. Gag me with a spoon. Your resume doesn’t need to explain to anyone why you want the job.

If the hiring manager doesn’t already know why you want to work there, then don’t send the resume…

Another 30% of resumes is past history that is repeated, in one way or another, from one job description to the next. Cut it or shorten it way down…

The biggest waste of that 30% of space devoted to detailed work history is job jargon…

At least 10% of a resume is about credentials that, especially for management jobs, aren’t used to make a decision to interview you…

That leaves about 30% of the space in your resume to show how you’re going to apply what you’ve really got in your toolkit, to help the employer.

Where in your resume is that? Where do you show how you will do the specific job for the specific employer in a way that will drop additional profit to the bottom line? That’s what’s necessary… [Want a more detailed explanation and tips? Subscribe to the free newsletter, which includes the entire discussion.]

Try this test: Tear your resume in half. Read the top half. Does it tell me how you’ll bring more profit to my bottom line?

I can tell in 5 seconds whether your resume is worth reading. It quickly tells me you have a good idea about what I need, and outlines how you’re going to do it. Or it’s a bucket of history that I have to sort through, to figure out what you can do.

And I don’t have time to do that. Don’t gag me with your history.

Oh, I know it’s offensive that a headhunter or a manager won’t invest the time to read, fathom and understand who you are — and to guess what you can do. The reason you haven’t landed a new job is because you haven’t found a manager willing to carefully read your resume, right?

No, the reason is that your history doesn’t matter as much as what you can do next. And managers suck at figuring that out.

So tell me: What do you put on your resume? Do you even use a resume?



Did you get a free resume critique from a resume company recently?

I’ve written before about “professional resume writing firms” that offer “free critiques” of people’s resumes. It’s obviously a teaser, to get you to use their services. Nothing wrong with that — especially if you get some useful input about your resume from a good resume writer.

I’m doing some research on the resume business, and on free resume critiques in particular. And I’m asking for your help.

If you’ve received a free resume critique recently, I’d like to see a copy, if you’re willing to share it.

Please send it to me, along with any information about the resume writer who produced it for you, at (If you have the entire e-mail from the resume writer or firm, please send that, too.)

I plan to publish a column about free resume critiques in the near future. The more samples I have, the better!

Thanks for your help!



I went for a run last weekend… and bought a canned resume

In the June 8, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, I discussed a blog post by Jon Jacobs — Another View of Resume Critiques. Jacobs suggests that my column Free resume critiques: The new career-industry racket is over the top. I characterized the “resume experts” who review and analyze (for free) resumes submitted by sales prospects… as monkeys tapping on keyboards. He doesn’t really see a problem with  resume-writing companies that lure customers with “free resume critiques” that appear to be based on crib sheets — boilerplate commentary that’s used again and again.

But Jacobs’ own readers torqued up the discussion in an unexpected direction. Commenting on two resume critiques he received, one reader said:

The following is what a consultant from wrote me:

“These statements aren’t much too [sic] write home about because they list what you did—not what you achieved. It’s like me saying “I went for a run last weekend.” What I didn’t say would paint a whole new picture—that my “run” was actually a marathon and that I placed in the top 10 out of more than 300 runners, all while nursing a sprained ankle. See the difference? It’s all in the wording.”

Now here’s a preliminary review sent to me from a consultant at the

“The statement above is very vague and simply does not paint a strong picture. It’s like me saying “I went for a run last weekend.” What I DIDN’T say would paint a whole new picture—that my “run” was actually a marathon and that I placed in the top ten out of more than 300 runners, all while nursing a sprained ankle. It’s all in the wording—see the difference?”

Between March 2009 (when Jacobs’ blog post was first published) and the present time, people have been posting the same cautionary comments. These recipients of “free resume critiques” are bugged about different (?)  resume writing services that keep using that clever line, “I went for a run last weekend…”

Running with monkeys tapping on keyboards… I think my original take on resume-writing companies that offer this sales come-on was dead on. And I stand by it. If the company is using canned comments in the “free resume critique,” it’s a safe bet that the $495 resume it sells you was “built” using the same scraps of keywords, buzzwords, action verbs and phrases it’s selling everyone else.

What’s mystifying is how different resume-writing companies use the very same expresssions in their “free resume critiques!” (You figure that one out. I already know the secret.)

In the newsletter I pointed out that there are legit professional resume writers out there, and you’ll know them by the time they take to talk to you, interview you and produce a custom resume that reflects who you are. I also pointed out that I’m still not a fan of using a resume to introduce yourself to an employer, but if you’re going to do it, at least make a sincere effort to write your own resume. The learning lies in the doing. So do the hard work to write it.

Let’s hear your experiences with resume writing services — good or bad. (Resume writers are welcome to comment, but please — no advertising or sales pitches. If you’re going to post, please focus on the distinctions between pros and hacks.)

[Disclosure: The Jon Jacobs blog referred to in this column is part of, which regularly publishes Ask The Headhunter columns.]



Readers’ Forum: What’s in a cover letter?

Discussion: May 4, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks:

I was recently laid off and I am applying for jobs online. The question I have is whether to include a cover letter or not? Do they really matter these days? I always feel silly saying things like, “I am motivated and enthusiastic, and would appreciate the opportunity to contribute to your firm’s success.” If I do need to include a cover letter, what do employers want to see that would make them look at the resume?

Resumes? Cover letters? What do hiring managers want to read? Does a cover letter buy you anything? I’ve got it… How about a cover letter without a resume? Save time… arouse curiosity?

Do you use a cover letter? Think it helps? What’s the magic — or is there none? Help this reader decide what to do next.

[Update May 18, 2010: Okay — humor me. No cover letters. They’re illegal now… What’s a good alternative to get your message to the hiring manager that you can do the job profitably? No rationalizing… alternatives only, please! Let’s do something new under the sun…]



Readers’ Forum: One page resume?

Discussion: April 6, 2010 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader wants to know:

Are one-page resumes really “the thing?” I don’t feel I can adequately present my strengths on a one-page resume, more like two pages.

Er, ah, I don’t wanna touch this one with a ten-foot pole! Well, I could suggest you not use a resume at all and stop worrying about it… Okay, folks? How long should that resume be?



TheLadders: Would DaVinci buy a resume from Marc Cenedella?

When is TheLadders’ CEO Marc Cenedella gonna give it up? This latter-day P.T. Barnum knows no shame.

On January 21, 2010 I posted How to apply for a job: The Working Resume, highlighting a job application Leonardo DaVinci sent to the Duke of Milan. (DaVinci’s letter was brought to my attention by reader Phil Hey.) I used DaVinci’s application to demonstrate the job hunting methods I’ve been teaching on Ask The Headhunter for over a decade.

A few days later, Marc Cenedella posts a strikingly similar article on his blog: Leonardo DaVinci’s Resume. It also appears in his February 15 e-mail blast. Gimme a break. It seems Cenedella is running out of ideas.

I don’t read Cenedella’s sales letters because he sends them via e-mail, so they’re useless as bird-cage liners. (I get plenty of those in my U.S. mail already.) But reader Rick brought today’s missive to my attention in a comment he posted on this blog:

Nick – I trust you are on Mark Cenedella’s email list, and have received this morning’s pep talk from him… er you… seeing as its a copy of this post. Now we know that Cenedella reads this website… Hey Mark, I want a job that pays 100k give or take!!!!


Coincidence, ripoff or merely more of Cenedella’s P.T. Barnum-esque carny-barking? Whatever it is, it’s all in keeping with the adage, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” The sales pitch promotes one thing, while the huckster delivers something else entirely.

So where’s the contradiction in Cenedella’s current e-mail? Take a look at TheLadders’ resume-writing services. Ladders will sell you a $900 update to your resume, but wait minute… the Ladders CEO is warning you that such resumes aren’t what you need…

Cenedella tells his users that they need a DaVinci-style resume that emphasizes an employer’s needs rather than their credentials:

“… that’s exactly what your resume needs to do, too. Not the laundry list / standard bio that talks about you, but the marketing piece that talks about the benefits to your future employer and how you fit into his or her needs and desires.”

Trouble is, TheLadders runs a resume-writing operation that sells you a pricey, traditional “laundry list / standard bio that talks about you.”

Cenedella goes on to explain that, “I’m a hopeless pedantic, so of course I’m going to take this opportunity to let you know what you can learn from Leonardo’s resume…”

…Uh, learn what? That Cenedella’s advice and his own resume writing service totally contradict one another? Would Leonardo DaVinci buy a resume from TheLadders?

Perhaps Rick is correct, and Cenedella lifted from this blog the idea that DaVinci’s letter to the Duke of Milan is a model resume. More important, Rick’s posting points out that there are lots of people like Rick who are paying attention. They’re talking about fraud. They’re talking about Cenedella’s goofy sales e-mails and they question his ethics. They’re taking Cenedella and TheLadders to task for charging customers for “Only $100k+ jobs” that aren’t only $100k+. They’re not suckers.

Maybe Cenedella will address that in one of his e-mails.



How to apply for a job: The Working Resume

When I first started publishing Ask The Headhunter online in 1995, the most popular and frustrating question I’d get from readers was, How can I write a really great resume that will get me an interview?

My answer was simple: Throw your resume in the garbage. Don’t use a resume. A resume is a crutch. A dumb piece of paper. It cannot defend you to a manager who finds something wrong with it (or missing from it). It will get you rejected before you have a chance to make your case for the job. While your resume is gathering dust on some manager’s desk, my candidate is negotiating a salary package with the hiring manager.

But people kept asking, so I figured that if I can’t provide a useful response to the question, I’m useless. So I wrote an article titled Resume Blasphemy to answer the question. Shortly thereafter I added another on the same topic: Put a Free Sample in Your Resume. The two articles describe what I refer to as The Working Resume™.

Since then, I’ve challenged people to submit their idea of a Working Resume — cautioning them not to bother me with traditional resumes, which I won’t bother reading. A few have submitted interesting efforts because they get the main idea. But only a few. Others beg me to publish the good ones, but I won’t. Why should I give away one person’s insights to competitors? Besides, if I give you a template, you’ll just use it rather than figure it out for yourself. And figuring it out is 100% of the challenge.

Recently a longtime reader, Phil Hey (The Writing Coach at Briar Cliff College, Sioux City, Iowa — Thanks, Phil!) sent me an excellent example of The Working Resume that’s in the public domain. It meets the criteria I set forth in my articles — and it got the writer the job he was seeking.

Frankly, this resume kicks ass because it observes the #1 rule for a truly blasphemous resume: It should say nothing about you. It should be entirely about the work the employer needs to have done.

The killer part of the resume is at the very end. The job applicant volunteers to show up at the employer’s place — and do the job to win the job. He says he’ll prove himself.

You don’t have to be Leonardo DaVinci to produce your own Working Resume. But you’ve gotta be damned good and ready to prove it. If you’re not, you don’t deserve to be hired, do you?

Here’s Leonardo DaVinci’s letter to Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, applying for a job in 1481 :

Having, most illustrious lord, seen and considered the experiments of all those who pose as masters in the art of inventing instruments of war, and finding that their inventions differ in no way from those in common use, I am emboldened, without prejudice to anyone, to solicit an appointment of acquainting your Excellency with certain of my secrets.

1. I can construct bridges which are very light and strong and very portable, with which to pursue and defeat the enemy; and others more solid, which resist fire or assault, yet are easily removed and placed in position; and I can also burn and destroy those of the enemy.

2. In case of a siege I can cut off water from the trenches and make pontoons and scaling ladders and other similar contrivances.

3. If by reason of the elevation or the strength of its position a place cannot be bombarded, I can demolish every fortress if its foundations have not been set on stone.

4. I can also make a kind of cannon which is light and easy of transport, with which to hurl small stones like hail, and of which the smoke causes great terror to the enemy, so that they suffer heavy loss and confusion.

5. I can noiselessly construct to any prescribed point subterranean passages either straight or winding, passing if necessary underneath trenches or a river.

6. I can make armoured wagons carrying artillery, which shall break through the most serried ranks of the enemy, and so open a safe passage for his infantry.

7. If occasion should arise, I can construct cannon and mortars and light ordnance in shape both ornamental and useful and different from those in common use.

8. When it is impossible to use cannon I can supply in their stead catapults, mangonels, trabocchi, and other instruments of admirable efficiency not in general use — In short, as the occasion requires I can supply infinite means of attack and defense.

9. And if the fight should take place upon the sea I can construct many engines most suitable either for attack or defense and ships which can resist the fire of the heaviest cannon, and powders or weapons.

10. In time of peace, I believe that I can give you as complete satisfaction as anyone else in the construction of buildings both public and private, and in conducting water from one place to another.

I can further execute sculpture in marble, bronze or clay, also in painting I can do as much as anyone else, whoever he may be.

Moreover, I would undertake the commission of the bronze horse, which shall endue with immortal glory and eternal honour the auspicious memory of your father and of the illustrious house of Sforza.

And if any of the aforesaid things should seem to anyone impossible or impracticable, I offer myself as ready to make trial of them in your park or in whatever place shall please your Excellency, to whom I commend myself with all possible humility.

Leonardo Da Vinci

Now, who gives a rat’s ass what the job applicant’s credentials and experiece are, where he went to school, what grades he got, what skills he has, who else he has worked for, what titles he has had, and what his prior accomplishments are — when the applicant says he can do all the things you need him to do and is willing to show up and prove it? That’s a Working Resume.

(Republished from Yurica Report. If you need The Writing Coach, Phil Hey, contact him at


How to Say It: Why you should read my resume

Discussion: November 17, 2009 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter

A reader asks:

I work in logistics (freight and shipping) and I’m trying to come up with a better Objective statement for my resume. Right now it says, “Hardworking, capable operations manager seeking opportunity for advancement.” It’s pretty basic. How do I write an Objective that makes an employer want to read the rest of my resume?

How to Say It: Dump the Objective statement altogether. Who cares what your objective is until you show you understand the employer’s objective? Replace it with a Value Offered statement like the one I suggested in the newsletter. (Ooops! You didn’t see it because you don’t subscribe? Hey, it’s free — no excuses.)

What kind of Value Offered statement would you use? What do you use on your resume to get an empoyer’s attention instead of an Objective? Anyone still stuck on using an Objective? Let’s have at it… and we’ll all learn something! ;-)

(Not to crow about it or anything… well, I’m crowing… but I offer three, count ’em, examples of powerful Value Offered statements in my brand new How Can I Change Careers? Answer Kit — just published today. Check it out!)



There are resumes, and there are resumes

It’s good to find a fresh voice online that gives you useful advice, slaps you around a little (we all need it sometimes), entertains you, and leaves you feeling like you just learned something most people don’t know.

Check out 2 Great New Ways to Get a Kick-Butt Resume by Mark Bartz. Mark writes resumes for a living, in a special niche: medical and pharmaceutical sales — period. Mark knows the good side of the resume biz, and he knows the dark side, too. (There are resumes, and there are resumes…) If you’re going to hire a resume writer, this is what you need to know. And you’ll have fun reading it on Mark’s blog, What The Heck Do I Do?



Sorting resumes: A strategic hiring error all the time

Auren Hoffman has reinvented headhunting and escaped from Armchair Recruiting: Hiring what comes along. This is a genuine compliment, not a backhanded one. I’m tickled that someone else is writing about this.

In Why hiring is paradoxically harder in a downturn, Hoffman realizes that when more people are looking for jobs, employers get more garbage resumes because many more “C” people are job hunting than “A” people. (A people are the best, C the worst, B in between.)

This explosion of job hunters skews the outcome of any recruiting effort that relies on resumes — employers wind up wasting precious resources looking for the same needle in a far bigger haystack.

And this explains why headhunters charge $30,000 to fill a $100,000 position, while a job posting costs virtually nothing. The real cost of “recruiting” (it isn’t recruiting!) via ads and resumes arises on the back end — the overhead involved in dealing with all those resumes. Headhunters cost more by themselves, but they bring you only a small number of highly-qualified candidates. In Hoffman’s terms, “less noise.”

How is that so? Headhunters go find who they need. They don’t sit around waiting for who comes along after requesting resumes — and today who comes along is millions of C people.

Nice work, Auren, for figuring it out and explaining it. I hope more people get it. And I hope it’s clear that while the economic downturn has put a sharp point on the hiring-by-resume problem, it’s a strategic hiring error all the time, even in boom times.

More about this in 7 Mistakes Internal Recruiters Make and Ten Stupid Hiring Mistakes.