There has been and most likely will always be discussions over the “best” format for resumes. While there’s no debate over the need to ensure your resume is free from spelling and grammatical errors, the debate over several key areas remains. But parts of the debate actually focus on what’s commonly seen in resumes, not what the majority of career coaches recommended. Here are four areas where I believe this is important.

Duties Versus Accomplishments

The majority of resumes that I receive for review still contain descriptions of “typical” job duties, not accomplishments. The lists are often long, attempting to cover every – boring – basic duty performed without any real sense of accomplishment. And typically these lists don’t even get close to describing the results of the work. Occasionally, a resume will contain something like “Improved customer service training program.” That might be a good start, but if it was a true accomplishment, it would state how it was done and what the result was – at a minimum. “Improved customer service training program, by implementing experiential learning and a custom developed simulation, that increased customer satisfaction index by 30%.” What’s interesting about a good accomplishment statement is that as an interviewer, I want to know more about this. You’ve prompted me to interview you about something you are very likely eager to talk about. Each of your accomplishment bullet points should spark interest and curiosity.

Most Important First

While, in 95% of cases, your resume needs to be organized chronologically, the bullet points for each of your positions should recognize a couple of key points. First impressions can be examined in a cyclical process. For each of your positions, a recruiter may react to the first bullet point you list in a different way than the second or third. There’s a key point right there as well. Your resume is not a laundry list of everything you’ve done in a position. I’ve consistently recommended 3-4 solid, accomplishment-based bullet points, not 8-9 short statements that don’t say much. There’s a lot of truth to the Latin phrase “Omne trium perfectum” – “All things perfect come in threes.”  But beyond that, the first thing listed should be the accomplishment you want a recruiter to read first. Remember, many recruiters or hiring managers are quickly scanning your resume – not studying it to see if some valuable secret is hidden in the third bullet.

Objective Versus Summary

There is still an ongoing debate over objective versus summary statements. The objective statement was overwhelming dismissed several years ago because the majority of objective statements were meaningless generalizations included in a resume that was printed in volume to be “snail-mailed” in response to classified ads. Today the objective statement can feature the specificity and customization tied to a particular job you’re considering – the value that historically was relegated to a cover letter. Yes, it takes work, but every resume sent out can be customized to fit a particular application.

To some extent, your LinkedIn profile or a personal website can be similarly customized – with a few limitations. You cannot change your LinkedIn summary to reflect each individual connection you may be trying to make. But if you’re working on applying for jobs in a particular industry or with a particular strength, you can focus your online objective statement to fit that area.

I’ve also seen several resumes lately, including some that I know have been very helpful in getting someone employed after an unexpected career change or a military transition, where a good summary statement has received positive feedback from recruiters or hiring managers. These summary statements focused on accomplishments and strengths. They did not focus on generic statements of duties and skills.

The debate over objective statements versus summary statements is likely to continue. The key may be simple in concept but is difficult to implement: make the statement strong and interesting generating that curiosity mentioned above.

References Not Necessary

A few months ago I saw a piece of career advice that suggested putting “References available upon request” at the bottom of a resume was a “waste of space.”  I instantly agree with that advice. At the same time, just a couple weeks ago, I received a resume from a colleague that contained an entire page of references. In today’s world, often with organizations trying to make decisions quickly, your references need to be both relevant and timely. If I’m interviewing, I want two or three references from you TODAY – and I want them to be aware of the fact that I’m contacting them with your permission.  Alternatively, many organizations completely ignore any references you might provide and submit your name for a more formal background check. The bottom line is that I know I can get references from you – you don’t need to tell me that as the “footer” to your resume.

The value of LinkedIn “endorsements” is also notable here because they are a very different form of a reference. Of course, they can be driven by friends and relatives, but they can also be driven by a high volume of colleagues, bosses, and clients. They can be presented in a priority order and edited to the extent that you can discard the two endorsements you got for a skill you don’t want to present as a strength.

Author: Jim Schreier