Stretch Your Resume, Not the Truth

Answering the age old question about tailoring a resume to the job sounds good in theory until you try to do it. Obviously, hiring managers are looking for the right person for the job based on a variety of criteria and these change from company to company. Rather than be faced with an infinite number of varieties of job-matching resumes, most people will resort to the one-size-fits-all version. This is probably a pendulum swing toward one end of the spectrum, but a worse direction is to force fit the resume into each job without regard for a true match of qualifications. One way may cause you to be overlooked because a key matching component of your qualifications will be missed, and the other leads to a temptation to misrepresent qualifications in order to appear to be a match. Of these two alternatives, you will almost always lose if you lie.

A job search never begins with writing a resume. A second job search never begins by re-writing your old resume. The purpose of a resume is primarily to get you in the door, but it is so much more. In the third installment in my ten part series Job Seekers: Think Like a Recruiter I recommended several preparatory steps before composing the resume. Why? Consider this a prerequisite course leading up to the final exam on the subject of you. A detailed inventory of your life experiences, skills and accomplishments will give you the necessary rehearsal for networking, phone screens, elevator pitches and interviews. The resume comes from the same body of work and is the key to opening those doors.

The Curriculum Vitae Maxima – This is your career smorgasbord that displays all of the juicy morsels of your work life and has everything on display. Without regard for how many pages or how many words, this becomes the most complete story you can ever tell about yourself. It is constructed by listing all of the accomplishments from your personal inventory of skills displayed logically in chronological order by employer. Be careful to make this about you and not the employer because your next company will be hiring you for what you did, not what the previous company did. Also note that this is not about pursuing any objective but a narrative proving your worth with measurable results about everything that you have done in your career to date. Each new accomplishment adds to the list. Oh… and nobody will ever see this but you.

The Ultimate Standalone Resume – While the term “objective” may be passé in the job search language of today, you must have one in mind to write a resume. What do you do or what do you want to do? The rest is focused on obtaining that result. You already have the master document in the CV you created so now it is all about carving out the things that are both significant to you and to a prospective employer. The primary difference is focus. Even though it may seem like cutting out a piece of flesh from your body, get rid of the fluff. If the accomplishments listed do not contribute to the overall understanding of the value added by hiring you, then it doesn’t belong. This document may be the only resume you will need. Most people who are looking for a similar job or the next step in their career may not need to agonize over multiple resumes.

Serially Significant Tailored Resumes – The source of these resumes comes from the same baseline CV that created the standalone resume. This methodology is used to make subtle changes to the overall resume to match differing job requirements. A good example could be a systems engineer who is equally strong in several languages and wants to emphasize different strengths to different employers. The trimmings from the original CV were not a throw-away and are now useful in painting a slightly different picture.  The downside of this is obviously that no matter how directed your targeting happens to be, these resumes have a way of taking legs. You never want to appear to be two different people. It is likely that both could end up in the same ATS database and cause confusion. It causes more questions than it answers and you won’t be there to explain away the differences. Always consider your target audience and what they will think.

Parallel Strength Tailored Resume – There are several reasons to go this route. The decision to make a major shift in career focus means that you need to bring other accomplishments to a position of significance on the page. Perhaps after a previous promotion or job you want to return to another path which would be equally beneficial to you and your employer. A move from being an investigative scientist into technical sales could have been the wrong move but your previous experiences are more relevant to the new path. Another obvious reason is when a career has been on a totally different track, such as military service, and now you need to prove value added by highlighting translatable skills.

Seek Certified Professionals If Needed – I cannot overemphasize the value of seeking professional resume coaching if you can afford it or if you are not sure about your choices. The consequences of doing it the wrong way may be more costly than paying for professional advice. Be honest with your life coach and they will use their experience to guide you toward your goals. It probably goes without saying that everyone who professes to be expert resume writers are not, but that is also true of other professions. Ask for references and samples of their work. They will not be insulted, rather they will be proud of what they do and excited about helping you.

Finally, if you have been told that everybody lies on their resume and that you should beef up your accomplishments to get a job, be very careful! This isn’t really about ethics even though most companies have serious consequences for employees that get in the door on false pretenses. Even if nobody ever knows about it, you are setting yourself up for failure. When you are expected to deliver on the skills you promised and fail, it may be better to have never been employed there. Life has too many difficulties in store for you to become your own worst enemy.



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    • Ed Han on November 9, 2012 at 8:41 am

    Tom, this is excellent! I volunteer with several jobseeker organizations but have never before seen as comprehensive a breakdown of resume approaches as you present here.!

      • Tom Bolt on November 9, 2012 at 2:26 pm

      Ed, thank you for your kind words. But most of all, thank you for the work you do in assisting job seekers in their search. You have been a great presence online and I’m sure that your local volunteer work is providing a great contribution to those you help.

    • dawnrasmussen on November 9, 2012 at 1:16 pm

    Tom, this is a great article but job seekers also need to be aware that CVs are ONLY for positions in academia, scientific positions, and jobs outside the United States… some people get confused and write them for American jobs, and end up getting passed over because there’s too much detail about the job duties and not enough about the accomplishments. Just wanted to clarify this! 🙂

      • Tom Bolt on November 9, 2012 at 2:36 pm

      Dawn, I’m glad you clarified that very important point. When I was proofing this post before uploading it, I added the line “Oh… and nobody will ever see this but you.” It wasn’t clear that the CV on steroids I was talking about was not the academic CV so that is a little confusing. Probably a separate topic, but in the academic publish or perish environment the list of publications could be longer than the actual resume and very necessary to being competitive in that realm. I began calling this version of a CV my “CVM” when I created one for myself more years ago than I would like to mention and it served me well in emphasizing key contributions when I edited it down to a resume.

      I think this dialog also emphasizes the importance of getting professional advice instead of going it alone. Do-it-yourself doesn’t work well in nuclear reactor maintenance or resume writing.

    • Cyndy Trivella on November 9, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Another thoughtful and comprehensive post Tom! Your recommendations are excellent food for thought as someone is considering what content, format and approach to use for a resume.

    Rule of thumb for everyone everywhere: Never, ever lie on a resume. If someone considers something on her resume “just a stretch,” she better be able to back it up with facts, details of the situation or accomplishment and outcome. The interviewing process is, in itself, a stressful situation. Lying will only increase the stress level and ultimately, an astute recruiter or hiring manager will notice and summarily dismiss that candidate.

      • Tom Bolt on November 9, 2012 at 9:27 pm

      Cyndy, we can’t emphasize enough how important it is to be honest instead of trying to keep up with a trail of lies. I can tell you story after story of how this failed but it still happens. The most classic case that comes to mind was in a company with a temp applying for a full-time job. He claimed a degree which he did not have and not only didn’t get the perm job he got fired from his temp job as well. In a twist of irony, the job didn’t require a degree so there was no need to lie. Like they say, you can’t fix stupid.

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