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May 6, 2014 > Common Resume Problems and How to Fix Them (Part I)

Common Resume Problems and How to Fix Them (Part I)

By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT

Resumes are one of the most difficult documents to write Ð not only do you need to be thoughtful and confident about your work experience, you also need to have the requisite skills and abilities to highlight for the potential employer. Even if you had a perfect job history, it is still a feat to put together a great resume. If you do not have a perfect work history, resume writing can be a tough and painful exercise. But, fear not! First, take comfort in the fact that you are not alone Ð many, if not most, people have something in their work history that they are embarrassed, nervous, or concerned about. In this article, I will discuss the most common resume problems/questions that IÕve encountered as a career counselor.

Question: How many pages should my resume be?

I recommend that resumes be no more than two pages. A crisp, well-targeted one-page resume is far more effective than a rambling, unfocused two-page resume. (There are a few rare exceptions to the two-page recommendation, such as federal resumes and curriculum vitae for academic positions).

When you write your resume, bear in mind that the employer will likely spend mere minutes (perhaps even seconds) to glance at your resume. So whatever you put on your resume should be information that targets what the employer needs. Do NOT put information that is completely irrelevant, unless youÕre sure that the information will interest the employer. Yes, it is painful to cut out your significant accomplishments, but it is critical that you show concisely that you are a great fit for the job. Worse, putting irrelevant information in your resume will distract the employer from seeing you as a viable candidate. For instance, if you are proficient in an obscure software program that your prospective employer will likely not need or care about, then leave it out. Or if you have a job in your work history that is completely different from the job you are applying for, give a brief description of it or leave it out altogether (unless it leaves a gaping hole in your work history).

Many people make the mistake of including everything in their resumes, thinking or hoping that something will stick with the employer. This is a risky strategy to take because employers do not have the time to sift through your work history. Worse, they might reject you outright because you have not demonstrated that you understand their job requirements. HereÕs an analogy that will hopefully make this clear Ð say youÕre the prospective employer and you want a cheese pizza with tomatoes and olives. Instead of serving you a cheese pizza with tomatoes and olives, the job-seeker decides to ÒimpressÓ you by throwing in extras like salami, anchovies, and pineapple. Not only do they serve you stuff you donÕt need or want, they also decide to deliver the pizza with a wrench (since theyÕve done plumbing in the past), a scuba diving tank (since they know how to do deep-sea diving), and a forklift (since theyÕve done warehousing as well). If all you wanted was a cheese pizza with two vegetarian toppings, would you welcome a pizza with meat toppings you didnÕt want, together with implements that wonÕt help you eat the pizza?

Problem: What should I do with a gap in my work history?

Gaps in work histories are fairly common since people often take a break from the workforce for a variety of reasons, such as being laid off, getting fired, having a child, or going to school. How to address this resume dilemma depends on the reason for the gap. If you were laid off or decided to further your education, you can explain this in your cover letter or email. Remember that whatever your write on your resume and cover letter is fair game for the interviewer to ask about during the interview Ð so think carefully before putting anything in your resume or cover letter that youÕd rather not talk about. For instance, if you took time off work to raise your child but do not want prospective employers to ask you about this, then do not mention this in your cover letter. If youÕd prefer not to discuss the gap, you can make it less obvious by putting a part-time job or volunteer position that you held during that time period.

These are two of the most common dilemmas that IÕm often asked about. Next column, I will write about more common dilemmas and how to fix them. If you have any questions about your resume, email me at the link below and I will try to address them in my next column.

On a final note, know that almost everyone has something in their resume that they are concerned about. You are certainly not alone if you have something that concerns you about your resume Ð the good news is that there are ways to fix these concerns!

Anne Chan is a career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people find happiness in their careers, lives, and relationships. Her website is

© Anne Chan, 2014

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