Don’t Let Bad Advice Strangle Your Job Search by Liz Ryan

In Home on April 15, 2010 at 6:19 pm

Nearly every day I read at least one piece of jaw-droppingly bad career advice. It’s depressing. Still, we can’t blame the editors of the papers that print this stuff. It’s not like printing recipes in the paper. If readers write in to say “That caramel soufflé was the worst thing I’ve ever tasted,” the editor would have to take the feedback seriously. With job search advice, it’s nearly impossible to tie the bad advice to a reader’s failure to get the job – so the bad advice keeps showing up, year after year.

The worst part is that the bad job search advice flying around could hurt you. Here are the top three worst bits of job search advice I’ve run across:


They say: Keep Your Resume Formal

This is code for “write your resume in the stiff American corporate-speak boilerplate style beloved by millions.” That’s the style that government manual-writers and the most stuffy HR policy-writers use, too. That sort of writing sucks the life out of your resume. Don’t do it!

I say: Put a Human Voice in Your Resume

Hiring managers are starved for human ingenuity, personality and spark. Replace “results-oriented professional with a bottom-line orientation” with “I love to dismantle the ugliest project-management roadblocks and get amazing products to the market ahead of the competition.”


They say: If a Job Isn’t Listed On Your Resume, Don’t Mention It

The idea is that if you held a job so long ago that it no longer appears on your resume — before 1985, for instance — you can’t reference accomplishments from that job (or roles or skills or clients) elsewhere on your resume. The fear built into this bad advice is that if someone asked you “What do you mean here in your resume when you talk about Sales? I don’t see a Sales job on your resume,” you’d be caught in a lie of omission.

I say: Claim Everything You’ve Done, and Begin Your Career History Where You Like

People don’t list their entire career histories on resumes because they’re worried about age discrimination. No question, age discrimination is real. But here’s the thing: the ability to solve employer pain trumps age, and it trumps another dozen or so common job search worries. No one’s going to care how old you are if you can relieve the pain they’re feeling. No one is going to care that you don’t have the right degree or inside-the-industry experience, either. You can go back as far as you like in your resume, and if you choose not to do that, you can reference cool projects and satisfying accomplishments without actually listing the title, dates and milestones for every role you mention.

How would this look? Let’s say that your stint as Marketing Manager at Acme Dynamite is not included on your resume, because you left there in 1981.

Your resume Summary could still say this:

‘I’m a Call Center Manager who thrives on building nimble systems to get customers thoughtful answers to their questions. I built the Call Center for a voice recognition software startup and established the training, tech infrastructure and career path that allowed that company to grow 500% in three years. Earlier, as Marketing Manager for Acme Dynamite, I saw the strong connection between top-drawer Customer Support and long-term brand loyalty…”

Acme Dynamite isn’t listed on your resume. No problem! Your confidence and ‘brandedness’ in talking about your Call Center passion and mission come through. Not a hiring manager on earth would toss your resume because the Acme Dynamite assignment shows up in your resume Summary and nowhere else. 


They say: Write a cover letter template, and add employer details to customize it.

Nearly every cover letter advice article tells you to write a standard, boring letter and insert the company’s name in it, along with the name of the job you’re applying for. That won’t get you to first base.

I say: Write a pithy Pain Letter from scratch, one that names the dragon the hiring manager is up against.

To get your hiring manager’s attention, you’ve got to dig in, identifying the hiring manager by name in your letter, spotting and tagging the pain the hiring manager is likely to be feeling, and talking about your experience with that set of challenges in your Pain Letter.

Don’t fall for half-baked job search advice. Follow your instinct, trust your gut and your years of experience, and break the mold to get your job search engine humming.


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