Reducing résumé clutter

In the comments to last week’s post on organizing a job search, a reader asked if we might be able to put together a résumé organizing post. Since I haven’t put together a résumé in more than five years, I thought it best to turn to a professional. Today we welcome guest author Tiffany Bridge who worked for many years as a recruiter for a job placement company. Welcome, Tiffany.

Usually, uncluttering is about organizing your stuff in such a way that life is simpler for you. Résumé uncluttering is a special challenge because it’s about organizing your stuff so that it’s easier for someone else — most likely someone you’ve never met.

Common causes of résumé clutter and how to combat them

The One-Page Résumé. This is one of the most pernicious lies ever to haunt hiring managers. Yes, the Career Services people at your college were right that you should keep your résumé to one page when you’re just coming out of school, but once you have some real experience to talk about it’s needlessly constraining.

Solution: Your résumé should be exactly as long as you need to describe it, and no longer. For most people, this is about two pages, but even three are fine if you need them. You generally only need to cover about the last 10 years of your experience for most fields.

The Functional Résumé. This is another one of those things that your college Career Services people tell you about, which kind of makes sense when you’re getting out of school, but is completely useless once you’ve had a job or two. Hiring managers want a sense of career progression, how you got to where you are now, and a functional résumé completely obliterates any ability to observe it. It’s also commonly used to play down embarrassing gaps in one’s work history, so the hiring manager starts wondering what you’re trying to hide — firing? nervous breakdown? prison sentence?

Solution: It’s fine to have a functional component of your résumé if you have a job history that’s not a straight line toward your goal or if you’re trying to change fields and need to pull all your relevant skills together. However, you still need to be able to show the actual chronological history of your career.

The Objective Statement. This is a waste of an inch or two of space you are trying to use judiciously. If you’re bothering to apply to a job, clearly your objective is to get that job. No one needs to be told that.

Solution: A summary statement is a nice alternative, especially to pull together disparate experience, as long as you avoid tired phrases like “customer service-oriented,” “team player” or “seasoned professional.” Or you can skip it altogether and just jump straight into “Experience.” Your cover letter will explain your objectives better than a statement on your résumé.

In short, remember that the HR person or hiring manager giving your résumé the first review is going to be scanning, not reading. Keep the most relevant information (your experience) near the top, avoid pointless and outdated conventions, and don’t be afraid to take enough space to help the reader connect the dots of your experience and skills to get a complete picture of your strengths.