What to Cut and What to Keep on Your Résumé

You’ve likely heard that you should only include relevant experience on your résumé – and then you’ve probably asked yourself what exactly that means. You may be wondering: Shouldn’t I include all my work experience? Won’t it hurt my chances of getting called for an interview if an employer doesn’t know everything I’ve done and am capable of on the job?

The answers are “no” and “no.” You hurt your chances if you include experience that has nothing to do with the job you’re applying to. The reason for limiting a résumé to two pages is that an employer only wants to read what is important for the job. Plus, writing a concise résumé demonstrates business savvy and an ability to write well.

Remember that your first screening is likely done by a computer and possibly next by an human resources representative. While many disgruntled candidates argue that employers should seriously consider every application they receive, they forget that the initial screeners may not have more insight into the job than what they read on the job description itself. This is why your résumé must respond directly to the description.

Here’s how to decide what to keep on your résumé and what to nix from it:

Step 1: Think about your career level. If you are just starting out in the job market, you have more résumé real estate available. While you shouldn’t just fill it with any sort of information, such as your favorite foods and sports teams, you have more leeway when it comes to including the extent of your experience, because you have a page to use. However, even then you should focus on quality over quantity. Employers don’t want to spend time reading information that doesn’t help them determine if you’re a good candidate for the job and potentially a likeable person.

Step 2: Consider the industry and company. If you’re wondering whether to include a job description for a position you held more than 10 years ago, the answer will depend on what value it adds to your story for a particular job application. So if you worked at an entertainment company long ago and are trying to re-enter the industry, you should include it. If you worked for a similar company years ago, include it. If neither situation applies, a simple list of previous titles, companies, locations and dates will suffice.

Step 3: Look closely at the required and preferred qualifications. This part of the job description is where you should concentrate your efforts for the meat of your résumé – the bullets. The qualifications tell you what the company wants. In your head, rephrase all these statements as questions. For example: “Do you have five to 10 years of experience in software sales?” Then answer each question. All of your answers should be in the résumé wherever applicable, whether it’s in the career summary at the top or in the bullets under your jobs.

Step 4: Decide what your greatest accomplishments were at each job. An accomplishment is something you’ve done that produced an impact of some kind, big or small. It does not have to be a number or figure, but it should be as specific as possible. Choose your most significant achievements, and incorporate them into your bullets.

Step 5: Filter out responsibilities. Employers can likely find almost exact replicas of your job descriptions by doing a Google search for your job titles. It’s your responsibility to tell them more of your story and what you are capable of. Replace your laundry list of duties with specific examples and the impact of your work. This is what is going to get you noticed.

Step 6: Consider grouping experience into skill areas or industries. This technique may help you to figure out what’s important, what can be left out entirely and what can be given just one simple line. Perhaps you’ll decide it’s worthwhile to use one or two relevant bullets for some jobs rather than five or more. Again, you should be thinking of your answers to the questions you asked yourself in step three as you make these decisions.

Résumés might as well be called “questionnaires,” since that is the approach you are taking when writing them. If you treat it this way, you’ll be able to address the important requirements in a job description. This will increase your chances of getting through applicant tracking systems and to a human who will appreciate your attention to detail and ability to parse out what’s significant for the job. If you can figure out what’s relevant, you’ll stand out from the crowd

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