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Making Your Resume JUST RIGHT

Updated on August 27, 2012
She got the job because, first, her resume was JUST RIGHT!
She got the job because, first, her resume was JUST RIGHT!

A Resume that is Too Hot or Too cold is not Right

Goldilocks tasted three bowls of porridge; one was too cold, one was too hot and the third was JUST RIGHT.

Turning from the world of porridge to the world of resumes, far too many resumes are too cold or to hot and too few are just right. By too cold I mean resumes that undersell the job applicant and that lead selecting officials and HR departments to consider the applicant under-qualified for the position being filled. By too hot I mean resumes that oversell applicant and lead selecting officials and HR departments to consider the candidate over-qualified for the position being filled.

The problem for the job applicant is that resumes that are either too cold or too hot for the position being filled are thrown out; the applicant is considered unworthy of an interview and, therefore, has no chance of being offered the position. People who are invited in for an interview have found a way to make their resume just right for the position they are seeking. People who send out resume after resume and never get an invite to the job interview probably have not learned how to steer their resume from excessive cold or excessive heat relative to the nature and requirements of the job.

So, if only the RIGHT resumes produce invitations to the job interviews, how does one go about making his resume RIGHT? First, let us look at the two golden rules about writing resumes:

Golden Rule 1: Never Lie on Your Resume

Below we will discuss how to make your resume more tailored for the jobs that you apply for. In doing this you can change your resume in a number of ways. But one thing you cannot do is to put in false information, to say that you have something you do not have or have done something you have not done. If you do not have college degree, do not claim that you do; if you only have two years of specialized experience, do not claim that you have more. While lying on your resume may work in terms of getting you in to the interview, if you get the job and the organization finds, as they often do, that you have misrepresented yourself, you will be fired in a heartbeat.

Golden Rule 2: Never expect just one version of your Resume to fit all Jobs for which you apply

One size does not fit all. Many job hunters make the mistake of doing one version of their resume and sending it out to every vacancy that arouses their interest and for which they feel qualified. After a long wait, they are puzzled by the few invitations to interviews they receive. The problem commonly is not that there is something wrong with the applicant relative to what the positions require. The problem is usually with the resumes. They are not creating the impression of the applicant that he or she wishes to convey. The resumes are probably too cold or too hot for the positions. What needs to happen is to make the resume more customized for the position; to make the resume just right.

In the ancient days before computers, when resumes had to be pounded out on a typewriter, customizing the resume for each job meant rewriting the entire resume every time it was necessary to make changes to it. Today, word processing, making changes to the resume is a snap and the changed version can be saved along side the original and used for a number of jobs with similar requirements. Plus, customizing the resume does not require completely rewriting the document; it simply requires tweaking it one way or the other. To determine what, if any, tweaking is required, one must first examine the minimum requirements of the job being sought. These are usually stated in the job posting in terms of minimum the education and experience requirements of the job being filled. If they are not stated or are stated vaguely, it would be wise to contact the HR department for a detailing of the requirements. After that, and with the minimum requirements in mind, look at your resume as the employer would look at it and anticipate his reaction.

From this examination of the resume you can determine if it requires Tweaking to have a better chance to making it to the job interview. If it does require tweaking, the two types of tweaking usually required are upward tweaking and downward tweaking.

Upward tweaking

This is required when the resume to too cold or undersells the applicant for the position to the point that the employer might conclude that the applicant is under-qualified for the position. Remember, you cannot invent additional qualifications or lie, so you must honestly determine if your present qualifications can ever be made credible for the position without lying. For instance, if the position requires a college degree and two years of specialized experience and you are only recently graduated from high school and have only six months of job experience, you should send your resume in a different direction. On the other hand, if you are close to meeting the minimum qualifications or only meet most of them, then tweaking upwards could get you invited to an interview. Here are some suggestions on upward tweaking of your resume:

1. On education: Except in universities and research organizations, few professional positions require more than an undergraduate degree. Even then, for most organizations the degree is usually less important to success in the position than other things, like experience and special skills. If you do not have the required undergraduate degree, but have some college or university credits towards a degree, then this should be mentioned in your resume. A possible example of this could be, “Completed most requirements for a degree in------; graduation expected in-------. Or, working part-time on degree in-------. Graduation expected in________.

Also mention any completed courses, seminars or workshops in job-specific areas. This, like job experience, is frequently considered more important for success in the job than a degree.

2. On experience: If the job requires a specific amount of related experience and you are several months or up to a year short of the required experience, you cannot add experience you do not have. However, you can enhance or enlarge upon the experience you do have. For instance, if your resume says that you coordinated a function or program, replace the word “coordinated” with “managed”, which sounds stronger. If your resume says that you helped in administering a budget of $50,000, change “helped in administering” to “managed a large budget for the program”. If the job requires supervisory experience and you have no actual supervisory experience, try claiming that you were often asked to fill for your supervisor in his or her absence or you were often asked by your supervisor to act as lead or senior employee-a kind of assistant supervisor.

The essence of tweaking up is boasting up the resume without fictionalizing or lying. You must stick with the basic facts of your education and experience, but you must spin the facts as positively as you can and still remain credible.

Downward Tweaking

This is obviously the opposite of upward tweaking. It is required when your resume, as written, runs the risk of getting rejected for the position because you are over-qualified. In my hub, The Great Myth about Selection, I talk about how an over-qualified applicant poses more risk for the organization than one who is under-qualified for the position being filled.

Downward tweaking is easier than upward tweaking because you can employ the simple technique of omission, or leaving out certain things about your background, so that you do not look excessively qualified for the position, in comparison to the other applicants or to the requirements of the position. Omission is not at all the same as lying on your resume. There is no law or rule that says that you have to disclose everything on your resume. You can decide if you want to omit certain things. For instance:

1. On education: Certain advanced degrees can be omitted, except in the academic world and when the position only requires an undergraduate degree. I have hired several people who did not reveal on their resume that they had a law degree or a PhD degree, although they did reveal that they had a master’s degree. If a position only requires an undergraduate degree, as most professional positions do, a master’s degree is not considered as disqualifying as a PhD degree or a LLB degree. I have known many people with a law degree, who never practiced law and had a successful career in management or administration and who never revealed they had a law degree on their resume. Many employers consider advanced degrees above the undergraduate level, but especially above the masters level as too ivory tower and irrelevant.

2. On experience: With a chronological resume, in which you list jobs you have had, in order and starting with your present or most recent job and going back, you cannot omit a job and create a noticeable gap in your employment history, you can determine how far back you will go in your employment history. If, for instance, you have had five jobs in your career history, you can go back to the most recent three or four jobs and leave out the fourth or fifth job, thus making your resume seem less excessively qualified for the position.

Besides omitting earlier jobs, you can also make your resume less hot by toning down the appearance of some of your experience. For instance, if you want to cool down delegated supervisory or management experience because it is not required for the position, simply do not mention it. If you had been delegated certain responsibilities for budget administration or management, simply leave it out of your resume. Otherwise, you can simply soften the level of responsibility or authority down to the requirement of the job and avoid being perceived as overly qualified.

Every job applicant should remember that no matter how well-written or “just right” the resume, the most it can do is get one invited to a job interview. It is how well the applicant passes muster in that process that will ultimately determine if he or she is offered the job.


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