I have a few things I might call my hobbies, and one of the strangest ones that brings me the most joy is editing and improving people’s resumes.  I worked in graduate school in our Career Services department advising students on how to search for jobs that might suit them, successfully compete for those jobs (with their resumes, cover letters, and interviewing skills), and finally how to negotiate a salary.  I really loved (and still do) helping people show their best selves for employers.

Last night, my coworker asked me to look at one of her friend’s resumes… and I had never met the woman, which was a first for me.  I thought it might be either more difficult or more easy to get the job done, and it was some of both.  It was easier to see the actual document very objectively and because I wasn’t worried about offending her or having to pad my comments to avoid heartache.  It was harder in that I didn’t have her personality or career goals in my head as I would with some of my closest friends and coworkers.  Either way, it sparked my interest and reminded me why I love working on resumes so much.

I used to think resumes were so silly, or even such a small snapshot of a person in such a small space… how in the world could you ever express yourself AND make yourself be that “perfect employee” for your dream job in such a short and confined format?  That is true- it is very hard, and I believe one of the hardest things to work on when on the job search.  On the other hand, it can be such a wonderful tool that propels you into the top tier of candidates. One way to think about a resume is:

A tool to get you in the door for an interview.

The interview, your experience, and demonstrated skills are what will earn you the job, not your resume.  But one of the best ways to get your foot in the door for an interview is by having a winning resume and cover letter.  Think of it like an advertisement or billboard of yourself to employers.

Now think of the billboards, signs, and ads you see for products or services you might be considering… and now think of those BAD ones.


Yup.  That’s real. And BAD.  (You can thank my hubby’s hotel during a business trip for that one.)  Consider a store you walk into for the first time, and your first impression of the surroundings is terrible: floors are dirty, the bathrooms stink, and the hostess is rude or snotty.  

White Trash Cafe

Are you tempted to spend your time or money there?  Nope.  And the same goes for a resume.  If an employer takes one look and the appearance, tone, or product looks bad… they aren’t going to think twice about skipping through yours and moving to the next one.   A few things to jolt you into action:

  • The average employer spends an average of 90 seconds looking at your resume.
  • An employer might be looking through upwards of 200 resumes for each job, depending on the location and the job.  At my organization, we are sometimes reviewing 100-200 resumes for each job posting… and I work at an average sized non-profit.  Imagine the numbers that a high profile private company is screening!
  • Unfortunately (and often fortunately), a resume can serve as an employer’s first impression of you, and there is no ability to filter the judgement and scrutiny they will have on you.  If you do not think in advance as to how your words and layout will appear to others (versus how much you like them), you are doing yourself a disservice.

If editing your resume still feels daunting or you are unable to think of it in a positive light, think about it this way:  Having your first impression be completely controlled by what you put on a piece of paper is not all bad.  When an employer reviews a resume, he/she can see you in a light that you might have a hard time expressing that first meeting.  We all struggle to ‘promote’ ourselves and how skilled we REALLY are at a variety of things, and a resume really forces those positive and amazing accomplishments out on paper.  What other times do we get to share some of our greatest work accomplishments with others?  When do I get to really talk about all the great stuff I was able to do in the Peace Corps, or when I volunteered as a zookeeper intern in college.  When else do those subjects come up?  Think about all the things that you are most proud about in your work… and share them in that light.

Your resume help you portray the best work “self” that you can give.

I’ll write another post with specific tips for effective resumes, but if you can take the first step in seeing your resume as an upper hand instead of a hindrance or annoyance… you’ll see how much it can work in your favor while on the job hunt.  The editing piece is hard, but make it work for YOU, and show everyone how the best version of you comes across on paper.