Résumé Yea or Résumé Nay?

The dos and don’ts that can land you the job

November 1, 2018

Most of us update our résumé only every few years at most—meaning that as times change, it can be difficult to know how to present this crucial document in the most effective and up-to-date way.

That’s why we’ve enlisted National Résumé Writers’ Association President Mary Jo King and San José (Calif.) State University School of Information Student and Alumni Career Consultant Jill A. Klees to give the thumbs-up or thumbs-down on several common résumé practices.

Nay: Objectives

Once, many résumés led with a section titled “Objectives,” listing what the applicant sought: “A challenging entry-level librarian position with opportunities for professional growth,” for example.

No more. “We don’t do objectives anymore, because they all read the same,” says King. Instead, she recommends a short opening summary that includes a positioning statement or slogan encapsulating what differentiates you from your competition. She recently crafted the following example: “Improving process, safety, and infrastructure for bottom-line results.”

Yea: Keywords

The first eyes on your résumé are unlikely to be human. Rather, most employers now use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to weed out the first round of job seekers. That ATS determines which applicants are qualified for an interview on the basis of keywords. So how do you know which keywords to include?

You mine them from the job posting, King explains. If the posting states that the employer is looking for an adult programming librarian to “provide readers’ advisory and reference services,” you’ll want to make sure that your résumé includes the words “readers’ advisory” and “reference,” for example.

This is especially crucial when it comes to technological requirements, which an ATS often weights very heavily. If the job posting says applicants must be proficient in Microsoft Office and familiar with LibGuides, the exact words “Microsoft Office” and “LibGuides” must appear in your résumé if you don’t want to be automatically disqualified.

Nay: Templates

There they are, right in Microsoft Word or on the internet, dozens of résumé templates free for the taking. Resist them, Klees counsels.

“When students send me a résumé, I can tell very quickly if it’s in a template format, and I recommend they take it out,” she says. “Templates are very confining. They don’t let people create a document that’s the best representation of themselves and what they can offer. And a lot of times, the template formatting is really odd. It might have thick borders or a big heading section that takes a lot of real estate. It just looks awkward.”

Yea: Metrics

“Everything an individual does over the course of a workday either contributes to or detracts from the bottom line,” King says. “Metrics make that story strong.”

Don’t just state that you reduced turnover on your team; point out that you reduced it by 25%. Have you orchestrated a change from one enterprise platform to another? Make sure to note that you increased information retrieval efficiency by 10%.

“A lot of times people will say, ‘I don’t know the exact number,’” Klees says. “I say, if you can guesstimate, go for it.”

Nay: One-page limit

Now that résumés are seldom submitted as hard copy, their length matters less than it used to.

“It’s not about the length. It’s about the space that it takes to tell the story adequately,” King says. In her view, employers care much less about how long a résumé is than they do about how easy it is to navigate. Try to squeeze your résumé onto a single page and you’re likely to end up short-selling your accomplishments and creating a document that resembles a wall of text.

That said, for brand-new graduates, one page is still usually appropriate. Though, Klees says, “if you have enough really good, solid information that relates to the job, and it goes to two pages, fabulous. Do it.”

Yea: Nonlibrary work experience

Let’s say you’re a new library-school graduate with little or no work experience in the field. Is it worth including your job experience in other areas? Absolutely, as long as you tailor it to the LIS field. This applies even if, say, you worked your way through college taking orders at Whataburger.

“You might think, ‘Well, nobody cares about what a server did, so I don’t have any relevant experience,’” King says. “But we can use that information to the candidate’s benefit nonetheless. We can demonstrate motivation. We can demonstrate customer service skills. If you were a server and you got employee of the month because of the scores your customers returned on surveys, that’s something worth mentioning.”

Take Kelly Drifmeyer. In a past life, she was a college professor and professional musician. By turning her 12-page, music-oriented curriculum vitae into a two-page, library-focused résumé, she landed a position as a librarian at San Antonio College Library.

“Musicians are in the library all the time,” Drifmeyer points out. “Because I worked at a school that was primarily an education program for performance students, I maintained my own library in my studio. Cataloging and assessing materials, reading—all of those skills are things you often use in other professions. You just have to name them with the language that librarians use, not with the language that a teacher or a businessperson would use.”

Nay: Worry about longevity

“It’s a much more transient work environment than it used to be,” King reports. “When I first started writing résumés, longevity was critical; we wanted to demonstrate at least a couple of years’ employment in each job.”

These days, she says, just making it to a year in each position counts as longevity. Employers know that if younger workers aren’t happy in a job, they move on. So don’t worry if your résumé doesn’t include a 10-year stint at a company the way your parents’ résumés did.

Yea: Persist

Using the techniques recommended here can help speed up a job search. Still, everyone experiences rejection at some point, and it’s important not to let it interfere with your efforts.

During her yearlong search, Drifmeyer racked up about two rejections a month. “For 19 positions, I did not get a nibble,” she recalls. “For one of them, I interviewed and was not offered the job. And the job I have now is number 21. They were like, ‘Yay! Come work for us!’”


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