Resumes: Stick to Facts, Not Tricks


Q. My friends and mentor tell me I have a strong resume, but it’s not getting me very far. After reading the Wall Street Journal article on creative job searches, I am wondering if I should create a non-traditional resume to set me apart from others.

A. While a vast majority of resumes stick to the basics (one page, straight forward listing of jobs and accomplishments), some applicants try to separate themselves from the pack by employing gimmicks. A few work, but far too many fall flat. Be careful when adding creative flair to the resume drafting and delivery process.

Agency recruiters indicate that most resumes come in the expected format. This is especially important for firms that rely on electronic scanners to help screen resumes. Several agency recruiters indicate they receive between 250 and 800 resumes per entry-level job opening, so they need to streamline the initial review process. Over-sized and overly designed resumes often cannot be scanned. Understaffed HR functions don’t have time to manually load content from those resumes into their scanners. Smaller companies and agencies that receive fewer resumes are more receptive of non-traditional resumes.

Creative flair should be reserved for the interview and post-interview follow up. But this, too, carries some risk if your version of creativity doesn’t match the expectation of the potential employer. What works for one group of hiring managers might turn off others, so be sure to know your audience. Rather than over-thinking resume design, spend more time networking. It remains the number one way to land a job interview.

8 comments on this post.
  1. Krista Wison:

    How should a resume stand out if it is to be a “clean and plain” looking resume for standing purposes? How can I grasp the employer’s attention?

  2. Culpwrit:

    It’s all about content. Bullet points citing relevant work and volunteer experience trump colorful paper and graphics. This especially is the case when resumes are first scanned into an organization’s resume pool management system. Make sure your resume carries key words from the position description from the agency or company to whom you are applying.

  3. Benny Dorris:

    When resumes are electronically scanned, do the machines look for certain phrases? Are these typically predetermined by the hiring agency?

  4. Culpwrit:

    Yes, identification of key words in resumes is the main purpose of scanners. So be sure to search for key words in position descriptions in order to work them into your resume. Of course, don’t make claims that are not entirely accurate. That causes problems later in the interview process.

  5. Dani L:

    Hi, my name is Dani and I am a PR student at Southeast Missouri State University. In our classes we work on our resumes often. I have had 2 jobs and 4 internships throughout my college career. I was wondering if it’s more beneficial to explain in detail your duties at the internships most relevant to the job you are applying for or if it’s better to list all of the jobs/internships with limited information? All of my experiences have been relevant, but keeping my resume to one page is getting tough. Any feedback would be valuable. Thank you for your time!

  6. Culpwrit:

    Follow my 4-3-2-1 rule. Use four bullet points for your most recent position, then reduce the number of bullets by one for each previous job. Focus on accomplishments, not job descriptions.

  7. Chelsea Anderson:

    When writing your resume, is it necessary to put jobs that you’ve had for less than a year on it? I know it would look good as experience, but do most jobs look for longevity?

  8. Culpwrit:

    While in college, you can list all jobs even if you were there less than a year. It gets a little more problematic if you’re out of college and “job hop” too frequently.

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