3 Things I Wished I’d Known When I Started Writing Resumes

While today I market myself as a virtual jobsearch mentor and offer a pretty wide array of services to job seekers, in the beginning (13 years ago, I’m getting old!) my business just focused on writing resumes. Back in those days it was very much a learn-as-you-go experience. I’d always been a decent enough writer and I am/was a certified and active English teacher, therefore I had thought starting a side business as a resume writer made a lot of sense. So I got busy educating myself.

I read a number of books on how to craft interview winning resumes. I joined some professional forums where other resume writers gathered. I reviewed and studied lots and lots of samples and templates. After a month or so of research I felt ready to start taking clients.

And I was. But at the same time I wasn’t. You see this post isn’t just biography, it is also cautionary tale. Even after weeks of studying the process I still had not mastered the art. If you are trying to write your own resume learn from my mistakes. Here are 3 things I wished I’d known when I started.

1. Fancy doesn’t equal better
One of the first things I did when I decided to start this business was to learn everything I could about Microsoft Word. While the program is admittedly bloated, the functionality is pretty amazing. The things you can do in terms of formatting are nearly endless. And at first I wanted to show off. I tried writing documents that had so much “presentation value” that clients would be impressed. But as time went on and I made more connections with HR people and recruiters, I realized all those fancy flourishes were hurting my clients’ chances. You see hiring managers want something easy to read and follow. They don’t want flourish. And worse, sometimes that elaborate design actually gets misread by ATS programs. So lesson one learned: Keep it simple.

2. Less is always more
Clients came to me with impressive backgrounds and I wanted employers to see all of those amazing accomplishments. But I also knew that you were supposed to keep a resume to 1-2 pages. So I played with margins, I crowded fonts and I generally just crammed a lot of text in there. And the resumes looked bloated. There was little white space and no natural flow to the text. Employers reading them must have felt like they’d gone back to high school physics class and had picked up those too-dense text books that make your eyes glaze over. What I should have done is focused on the accomplishments that were directly related to the positions my clients were applying for. I should have written succinctly. I should have left white space and made a document that was just as pleasing to the eye as it was full of information. Lesson two: write with your reader in mind.

3. There is no such thing as “a” resume
When I started out I was a resume writer, which meant I assumed when a client came to me and said they wanted a resume that allowed them to apply to a few different types of jobs I needed to craft one that left as many possible doors open as I could. I was wrong. There is no such thing as “a” resume, there are only “resumes”. You see, each one needs to be laser-focus on one particular opening. By creating a jack-of-all-trades type of document I was making sure that the resume wasn’t specific enough to match anything. This is when I learned that to be a good resume writer I also needed to become something of a coach. My clients needed me to educate them just as much as they needed me to write for them. Lesson three: at heart I am still a teacher, whether it is at school or working with a client.

This then is how I become a job search mentor and not simply a resume writer. And 13 years of experience has taught me the difference.