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September 9, 2009 > Counseling Corner: Common resume problems and how to fix them

Counseling Corner: Common resume problems and how to fix them

By Anne Chan, Ph.D., MFT

I have seen hundreds of resumes in my lifetime thus far, both as a career counselor and an employer. 99% of the people I talk to feel badly about their resumes and their experiences. They usually come in with a hang-dog look on their faces and apologetically give me their resumes like they're wasting my time.

Part of my job involves helping people see and articulate the solid points in their skills and experiences. Another part of my job is helping people create a resume that showcases their talents in the best possible light. It is extremely rewarding when I have helped someone create a resume they are proud of. The smile on their faces and the boost in their self-esteem makes all the difference in their self-confidence and how they value what they've done.

A critical component when creating your resume is feeling good about what you have to offer. There is really no need to feel badly about your resume. Here are some common resume problems and solutions so you too can create a resume you are proud of:

Problem: You don't have enough job experience or skills.

Solution: You are not alone if you face this problem. Sometimes, employers will ask for a long list of job preferences, but do not expect you to have every single skill. If you find that you are missing a major and required skill, then take action now and address this problem by taking a class or volunteering at a position where you can get experience. For example, if all the jobs you want require Excel and you never got around to learning Excel, then consider taking a class at any Tri-City community college, adult school, or even a City recreation class. You will then be able to list the class on your resume.

Also, know that it is okay to list skills that you obtained through volunteering or hobbies. People often believe that they can only state paid work experiences in their resumes. This is not true - you CAN state skills you learned in a non-work setting, so long as you can demonstrate the level of proficiency you claim to have.

Problem: You've sent in hundreds of resumes without getting a single call.

Solution: This may or may not be a resume problem, especially in these economic times when employers are swamped with resumes. However, when someone tells me they've sent out hundreds of resumes, I know they are not doing the all-important step of customizing their resume for each job they are applying for. It is essential that you revise and adapt your resume for each and every job you want. Show each potential employer why you are the perfect candidate for the job, the department, and the company. You cannot send the same old resume to all the companies you apply to. Think about it - would you rather hire people who take the time to demonstrate how they meet your unique needs, or would you offer the job to someone whose resume could be applicable to any and all job environments?

Problem: You have gaps in your work history or have changed jobs way too often.

Solution: One way around this is to organize your resume by skills, rather than by job history. The traditional resume format is a chronological one, i.e. you list your jobs in the order you had them. Another way to showcase yourself is via a functional resume format that allows you to highlight your skills, while downplaying your job history.

Problem: You want to change careers, fields, jobs, or industries, but all your experiences are confined to one specific area.

Solution: One solution is to use the keywords or buzzwords from the new work environment you are targeting and apply them in your resume where appropriate. Another strategy is to use a functional resume format (see above) and highlight all the skills desired in your new work setting.

Problem: You graduated from high school or college a long time ago and you don't want the employer to think you are too old for the job.

Solution: It's okay to leave out your graduation dates. Simply put the name of your high school, community college or college and your major, and leave it at that. It's also okay to leave out jobs that you had in the 1970's or 1980's if you'd rather not emphasize how long you've been in the workforce.

Problem: Your resume goes on and on for too many pages - it's way too long!

Solution: You can save space with simple tweaks like adjusting the width of your margins and font sizes. Take out unnecessary statements like "References Available Upon Request." Most importantly, take out anything that isn't relevant to the job you are applying for. I know that you are proud of your accomplishments, but please don't turn your potential employer off by listing irrelevant information. Generally, employers glance at resumes in minutes or even seconds, so you've got a very short amount of time to impress them. Get their attention by providing a resume that showcases how you are the exact person they are looking for. Don't spoil your chances by submitting a long-winded, unfocused resume that makes their eyes glaze over.

A resume is the golden ticket to a job interview . . . and the job you hope for. It is worth spending time on your resume to make it the best resume it can be. Ask as many people as you can to review your resume - it's helpful to get as much feedback as possible. I really want all of you out there to have the tools needed to put your best foot forward, create a resume you are proud of, AND get invited to lots of interviews!

Anne Chan is a career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people find maximum satisfaction in their careers and relationships. She can be reached at 510-744-1781. Her website is

(c) Anne Chan, 2009.

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