EditorialsBy Matt Bud, Chairman, The FENG

I have often wondered how actors polish their performances before the first show. With only the director and the producer in the audience it just can’t be the same. Sure you are up there on stage and perhaps even in full costume, but there is no audience clapping or talking to each other to let you know how your delivery is going.

Once you have a full audience, tuning up your performance has got to be a lot easier. Changes in gestures at key moments, raising your voice, lowering your voice, all seem to get a reaction.

When I am speaking to chapter meetings I sort of experience the same thing. I may have thought through what I am going to say, but I fine tune it on the fly based on the audience reaction.

I have had several conversations with members these past few days about their resumes. If you have been at your job search for too long (this can be anything over two weeks, depending on how much patience you have), it is easy to blame your resume or your cover letter and start making changes to something that is already an effective communication tool.

Doing direct mail campaigns with your resume is sort of like an actor playing to an empty house. You really don’t get the kind of feedback you need to know if it is working.

Sure, most of the resumes I see could use a lot of improvement, but don’t kid yourself that a paid resume writer is going to necessarily do a better job communicating what you do. You need to always be critical about the product they produce and use the good parts and disregard the bad parts. (As financial folks, this is one of the things we have to fight. If we have paid for something, we insist on using it.) But, hey, this is America, and if you don’t like it when you get home, you can throw it away!

I have over the years noticed trends in resume formats. At outplacement offices around the country various formats go in and out of favor. Whether we are talking about one page versus two, or type size of the name at the top, or the new “tables” structure, these formats come and go and typically get applied when they aren’t appropriate. I think they get tired of doing things this way or that way. It has nothing to do with whether or not it is more effective. (And by the way, if you don’t know how to do a tables format, PLEASE don’t fake it with your space bar. This NEVER works on any printer but the one you are currently using.)

Just to give you a simple example, if on all the resumes being produced this week the name at the top is in caps, it will be in caps on your resume. And, not wanting to get into the typing business, you leave it that way. Well, in my opinion, if your name is McDonald, I don’t like seeing it as MCDONALD. The same thing is true of the companies at which you have worked. If you have a mix of companies and some of them specifically should be in capitals like CBS, I like to see upper case and lower case letters used. CBS PUBLISHING to me does not look as correct as CBS Publishing.

Clarity of presentation is vitally important. What is the most important information you want folks to easily be able to pick off your resume? I would suggest it is the companies at which you have worked, the titles you have held and the degrees you have earned. Frankly everything else is just fluff anyway. If this stuff isn’t presented with clarity, forget everything else.

Simple messages are best. Long introductory paragraphs filled with unnecessary modifiers weaken your message. If you strip out all the unnecessary modifiers like “dynamic manager” you will find that you no longer have to use a smaller type font and margins that are less than 1 inch. (These are my biggest complaints. Smaller fonts and smaller margins are no substitute for editing, editing, and more editing.) In addition, one of my rules is use no abbreviations. Frankly, I never know what they mean and neither does anyone else. Like the New York Times, you need to write at an 8th grade level to get your message across.

The solution to the empty house problem is to go over your resume with other members of The FENG. Either by email or in person, these are folks who understand what you do and who can be most helpful. In addition, we tend to be traditional and I believe traditional works. Let the marketing folks experiment.

The modification method I would suggest to you I heard from a psychology professor who was discussing how he designed and built his book. He had students circle any word they didn’t know. For any word that a majority of his students didn’t know, he wrote a definition of it in the margin of the book.

In your context, have the person reviewing your resume for format and clarity circle anything they don’t like. They don’t have to come up with an exact reason they don’t like it. It is enough for them to zero in on the bothersome parts of your presentation. Now, analytically and without pride of authorship go through and clean them up.

I think you will find this to be quite effective, and almost as good as playing to a full house.

Perhaps there will even be a round of applause for you.

Regards, Matt

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