Prepare Your Résumé

Today infographic format resumes are appealing and tools are widely available to create them. However, you will still need to have a traditional text resume that can be uploaded into employment software systems. Below are tips on how to frame it effectively and avoid common errors.

Organize content clearly and concisely

Use sections and headings. Résumés should not be more than a few pages unless for a highly specialized area in academia or consulting, where this is standard. Always lead with a summary section describing what kind of professional you are, what you have achieved, and what value you bring. The summary can have a qualifications list if this helps create a visual bridge from existing skills to new areas. Objectives are not necessary, as it should be assumed that if you are applying for the position, you want it. The summary of your profile and credentials is most critical.

Advertise for what you want

This sounds so basic, but is commonly missed or not done well. Downplay or leave out experience irrelevant to where you are trying to go. Clearly highlight the most relevant items up front and with details. Here is an example: You are midcareer and have decided to seek work as an expert witness based on your technical expertise in a given field. You have over 15 years of experience working in this area in one capacity or another. You spent the past five years as a manager and decided you no longer want to be a manager, as it did not suit your personality or play to your strengths. Most people follow the chronological timeline approach and put this manager job right up top. It is better to craft an objective, since you are making a pivot, then a summary of your professional profile as an expert witness, homing in on those assets and skills. Focus on the work you are seeking. Weave past experience and training to paint the picture of the perfect candidate for the desired work-not your current work. Connect the dots for the reader. Why would you want them puzzling over what you want or whether you are qualified? The manager position may be listed, but not prominently. List the title, but include expert witness-related accomplishment bullets. Make the goal and why you are qualified clear to the reader. Use your past experience to craft materials that focus on what you are seeking.

Do not seek things that you do not have any demonstrated qualifications or commitment to

You want to land a position in Middle Eastern education development, yet you have not enrolled in Arabic or Farsi courses, or ever visited the region? Do not send a résumé until you have basic qualifications to demonstrate you are capable and serious.

Here are some résumé and application mistakes to avoid

Poor professional summary statement

Only include content in this important leading summary section relevant to the job for which you are applying. This is where you set the stage and tone. Someone sent me a résumé with interest in a legal job, but in the objective was the phrase “animal rights enforcement.” She showed her hand-she did not want to work as a lawyer, but was applying for some unknown reason. Employers see risk of a short-term or unhappy employee from the start when there is a mismatch between the applicant’s presented image and the position. I gave her honest feedback and did not forward her résumé on to others. If you do not have time to craft tailored material for the job or person in question, do not apply or meet with those contacts. You have little chance of getting the job, and a high likelihood of making a bad impression. The book The Unofficial Guide to Landing a Job by Michelle Tullier has excellent templates for various résumé styles.

Mistakes and typos

Fix them. Proofread your material carefully before submitting. Have someone else read it as well when possible or critically important. We miss things after reading them over and over. Electronic applications may feel more casual, but reviewers notice mistakes quickly, and mistakes are far too common. Take the time to print it if hard copy is easier to check thoroughly. Run spellcheck. Cut and paste text boxes from employer sites into Word to use spellcheck if you have to. Do not rely only on spellcheck, because it will miss errors of meaning (such as “in” when you meant “on”). If you are not a native speaker, have someone proofread it for you. Employers look for reasons to narrow the applicant pool. Read through your material to scan for too many contractions, slang, or any unprofessional language.

Lack of plain English

Do not use undefined acronyms. Even if you are confident the hiring manager will know what you mean, someone in the chain will not: the recruiter, the human resources representative, or a higher-level reviewer. Assume an entirely fresh audience.

Wrong order

Do not put your hobbies or education first. What you like is far less relevant than your skills and accomplishments related to the position. The same with education. While some circles place high importance on elite schools, even then, focus on what you have done in the real world first.


If you are going to spin the truth on your experience, be very careful about how you do so. Use true words, and highlight the areas you want to emphasize most by putting them first and shortening other items. Never puff about the organization you are applying to. Nothing will disqualify you faster than claiming to be experienced in an area that they know well and you do not. Never reference work you did not actually do or try to seem like an expert in something you are not. If you are applying to positions in that field, it will be obvious to the reader.

For example, a man who was working in another group at the same employer contacted one of our experts, highly interested in getting a job in her division. He listed on his résumé “deep knowledge” of the division’s work as part of his current job. This was impossible. He did not work with them. Most of what they did was not detailed online or anywhere accessible. When asked him about it during a phone conversation, he said he had looked at the website. He did not have awareness that his attempt to seem like an insider came off as falsifying qualifications.This indicated integrity concerns. When they spoke a second time, he said “if only people would listen to me better things would be happening” in her division. On top of dishonest, he behaved arrogantly. Takeaway: one bad puff can signal others to scrutinize your other materials and qualities and exclude you from consideration.

The worst puffing example our experts have encountered was an administrative staffer in a law office who applied for a higher level position. He listed “law clerk” in a rural location for a period of time. He exhibited odd, inappropriate behavior, and had no academic credentials to be a law clerk. Upon some research, it came to light that the “law clerk” position was actually when he was incarcerated and spent time in the jail library advising other inmates on his views.

Too much information

Do not include excess information about hobbies or irrelevant work. Particularly avoid identifying with political causes, affiliations, or religions. This may be fascinating or offensive to a reader. You cannot predict which of those two it will be, so avoid the risk. Some people have extensive activities outside work. Some people do not, because they are too busy with life’s basic demands, or they are simply enjoying downtime. People used to recommend the special interests section as a conversation starter for interviews. Today it is best not included or kept minimal. With highly competitive candidate talent pools for most positions, and your personal life a quick web search away, it is not needed and can hurt you by being a distraction, causing unintended insult, or giving pause about whether you would actually be committed to the applied-for position. This does not mean your hobbies are not valuable and important parts of you. It just is not the place to share them. Save it for lunch with colleagues as you get to know them after you land the job. Hobby lists also take up precious character space-and many online applications limit the word count of your resume. The employer may web search you anyway if the processes advances, so some of your interests may be exposed that way.

The following are hobbies we have seen in résumés of colleagues and applicants for professional positions: Christmas tree farm and pear orchard, nonprofit in Africa making toilets, nannying, fantasy basketball league, triathlon program in Hawaii, neighborhood cat neutering program, frequent missionary trips to Latin America, wilderness training course involving gutting animals, Harvard Alumni Athletic Scholarship Board, helicopter skiing, samba dancing, child’s prestigious school board, running a three-day horse show.

With those in mind, consider interviewers reviewing these résumés and how they might react. Interviewers we have known include a politically conservative mature male, an exhausted single mother without time for hobbies, a Pakistani infotech expert with a private but active Muslim practice, a Chinese manager, a self-made manager who did not have the chance to go to an Ivy League school, an executive who was so scared to fly he had never left the country, a vegan, an Ivy League grad who could no longer ski due to repeated knee surgeries, a wealthy Orthodox Jewish male, a gay male, and several females who were disappointed not to have children for various reasons. From a quick scan one can find plenty of opportunity for insult or awkwardness between them based on the hobbies listed.

You do not know who is on the other end, and there may be a dozen-plus people or more seeing your resume throughout the hiring process. Your chances of bonding about personal activities on a résumé are less than your chances of rubbing someone the wrong way or at least raising questions. You can find ways to connect in person by following visual and verbal cues.

Any of the above individuals might make a great boss, colleague, or friend. You might learn from each other, help each other’s careers, or simply enjoy working as a team. They are not bad people because they might react negatively to your résumé at first. Give them a chance to get to know you after you wow them with qualifications and performance.