I was just reading the Wall Street Journal'sFINS.com website, which featured an article listing ten of the worst things you can put on your resume. It's a very good list, but what most struck me was a comment from an anonymous reader:
"A word for recruiters: it's not a resume writing contest. You're trying to find the right person, not the best resume writer."
I'm responding here, since I wanted to explain more in depth. I feel the frustration in those words, but like it or not, your resume really does matter, and for very valid reasons.
To a recruiter, your resume and cover note is our first experience of you, and if we don't see what we're looking for, then it will be our last experience of you, too. We may have dozens or even hundreds, of resumes that need to be sorted and reviewed, and not much time to do it, so we rely on the resume and cover note you give us to do the first cut, which works great because there are things we can easily tell about you from your resume.
Sloppiness tells us you can't produce perfect work even when your livelihood depends on it.
Your resume is the brochure you're giving me to sell yourself, and if it's a mess, then I have to assume that creating (or overseeing the creation of) high quality documents is not high on your priority list.
We can see if you know how to use your computer's software.
I see resumes all the time that list MS Office as a skill, yet the document doesn't even use proper formatting for tabs, indents, underlines or borders. That tells me that the person is either overestimating their ability or their standards are low. This might be less important for a chef or plumber, but for anyone whose job requires them to produce or oversee documents or presentations, it matters big time. (And I guarantee that if you are a chef or a plumber, a great resume will set you head and shoulders above your competition.)
The writing in your resume shows us how well you communicate.
I know resumes are challenging because they are written in a style that's different than anything else, but how well you put words together in your cover note and resume are a good indicator of how well you'll put words together on the job.
We can see whether you know when to ask for help.
Obviously, not all jobs require that you be a power user of word processing, but all jobs need you to know when to enlist the right help for things you don't know how to do.
When I see poorly formatted CEO or VP resume, I know that that person either doesn't know what a quality document should look like (which is a real liability with my clients who are startup companies where you have to do things yourself), and/or the person thinks it doesn't matter. This one stumps me; you wouldn't cut your own hair, or sew your own suit for the interview, would you? Your resume deserves a professional touch, too.
The accuracy of your resume is an indicator of the accuracy of your work.
People who aim for perfection in their work don't send out resumes with typos, misspellings, grammatical errors and weird formatting; if you do, you can expect to go right into the "no" file. This is most important for people whose jobs require them to oversee document production in any way, and for people whose jobs require great attention to detail, like accountants or editors, but anyone who is hiring is going to care about your accuracy.
How you tell your story shows how clearly you think.
A five-page resume filled with minutia, lists of disorganized bullets and too much information tells me this person isn't a clear linear thinker, and is not able to boil their thoughts down into well-organized form. A sleek resume, where the data is organized in an easy-to-read and easy-to-digest way, gives me confidence in that person's ability to communicate.
The side of your experience that your resume presents tells me whether you are able to pay attention and adapt to different situations.
If I post for a VP of Business Development and you send me a resume that says you're looking for an accounting position, with a cover letter that tells me what a great accountant you are, I must conclude that you either aren't paying attention to what I asked for, or you are unable to adapt how you present yourself for different situations. Either way, there is no way you'll be getting that interview.
How you describe your jobs tells me whether you're a big-picture results-oriented leader or a task-oriented worker.
The level of how you describe your work is indicative of the level of your role. A six-page resume listing every job responsibility in nitty-gritty detail is the mark of someone who is task and process-oriented. A brief topline resume that summarizes the target goals of positions from a high perspective and the results is the mark of a senior leader whose focus is more on what needs to be done than on the details of how to do it.
A great resume is a your most powerful job search tool. It can position you in the way you want to be seen, it will get you more responses, for better jobs, and will even get you more money too. It influences how you are perceived, and can have readers convinced you're the right one for the job before they even meet you.
A great resume will also make you feel confident about who you are and what you're offering, and put new energy into your job search. To top it off, a strong resume will guide your interviewers' questions so interviews will focus on your strengths.
Yes, a great resume really is that important, so instead of seeing it as a contest about who writes the best resume, see it as your opportunity to show how you shine.