Why You Should Ignore the “Rules” of Resume Writing

Why You Should Ignore the "Rules" of Resume Writing

First Rule of Resume Writing: Ignore the Rules

I’m not a fan of the “MUST/MUST NOT” rules of resume writing. Most of us are familiar with the obvious ones.

Each of my conversations with a new client concludes with me asking them what their initial expectations are for the final product – what would they like to see changed or improved about the document they’re working with (in addition to my own recommendations). And more often than not, I get a response like this:

“I have no idea. It’s been 8 years since I’ve had to write a resume. I don’t know what employers are looking for.”

“The Rules” continue to change and evolve with emerging technologies, the changing processes that impact the way HR handles candidate acquisition and hiring, and the type of information that job seekers are looking to communicate about themselves, whether they’re staying in their field, or looking to make a career change.

So what has changed in the last 5, 10, 20 years when it comes to resume writing, building a personal brand, and marketing yourself in today’s ultra-competitive and digitally-driven job market?

Resume “Rules” are Antiquated

There are obvious standards of professionalism and presentation that will never go out of style (strong language, accurate grammar, clear and concise presentation and communication). Outside of that, hiring managers care more about what you have to say, versus whether you say it in one or two pages, in serif or sans-serif font, or whether you choose an Objective, a Summary, neither, or both.

There is still a lot of noise out there from different experts on what the “rules of resumes writing” really are. In fact, I was recently quoted in one of those articles myself. But here is my stance: It’s less about rules, and more about impact. Are you standing out, and is your message getting across? That’s your priority, not following the rules.

Resumes Are No Longer the Only Determinant

I disagree with anyone who says that video resumes, or any other kind of technology, including LinkedIn, are replacing resumes these days. That will never happen (at least in the near future), because that is simply not how HR operates. You are still evaluated based on your resume, regardless of how tech savvy or creative you choose to be.

However, the difference today is that they resume is no longer the only component upon which you’re evaluated. Think of your job search in the sense of having a Personal Marketing Portfolio, or a portfolio of tools that helps you simply, directly, and clearly communicate your value to employers.

This most certainly includes a well-constructed resume. But it also includes items that acknowledge the other ways in which hiring managers are engaging with you and evaluating your potential: LinkedIn, social media, a blog, a collection of press mentions or presentations, a portfolio or website, your profile summaries, and all of the sharable and publicly-accessible content you put out there.

So how can you put together a strong job seeker marketing portfolio? At the very least, start with these 3 cornerstones: A strong resume, a well-thought out LinkedIn profile (one that actually has content), and 1 or 2 cover letters that you can tailor to fit the needs and interests of the different roles you’re applying to.

Think in Terms of Impact, vs. Right or Wrong

Nobody cares if your resume is 2 pages instead of 1, as long as it looks good, communicates the message effectively, and the way that you’ve chosen to layout the information on the page supports the content, rather than takes away from it. One-page resumes should not be cramped, and 2-page resumes should have enough information to cover a solid 1.5 to 2 pages.

Similarly, it’s less important whether you use first person or third person voice, so long as you avoid pronouns. Avoid phrases that sound informal (“I worked at X Company for 3 years before I was promoted to General Director”), and keep in mind that the resume still follows a formal tone much like most business documents (“Recruited to support digital marketing efforts, earning a promotion to general manager within 3 years”).

Hiring managers don’t care about fonts, colors, or flashy design. You can choose interesting elements to give your resume a bit of color, an interesting design, and help it stand out and pop. But the rules on this are blurred, aside from the general principles of good information design. Don’t add any unnecessary visual elements that skew the flow of the document, distract the eye, or take away from the overall message.

It’s all about communicating who you are on paper, and it’s okay to add a little bit of personality into that, as long as it supports the document and strengthens the message you’re trying to convey. If there’s one other major change that has impacted the nature of resume writing and personal brand marketing, it’s the simple fact that a personal brand exists, and that makes writing a resume less about a collection of bullets and paragraphs, and more about telling a story about what makes you unique and valuable to an organization.

Years ago, it was more about simply conveying that you can do the job. But in today’s market, that’s not enough, and neither is a document that simply plays by the old antiquated rules of documentation.

Yes, you most certainly want to convey your qualifications, experience, skill sets, and strengths. But you have even more tools now at your disposal to use as compliments to the resume to create a strong candidate portfolio that goes beyond positioning you as “qualified.” Use these tools to also show the real value you bring to the table, and the various attributes and assets that differentiate you from similarly qualified competitors.


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