Answers To Popular Resume Questions From Recent Grads

Here’s an interview I did for MadGrad blogger and recent graduate, Ashley Mittman, asking me some popular resume questions on behalf of her fellow Millenials.


Let’s start with the most common Resume question: Should the resume fit on 1 page or go to 2?

[Cliff Flamer] Ah yes…the eternal question. For recent grads to mid-level professionals I suggest 1 page. Also, career changers often benefit from a 1-pager; it helps them to avoid seeming overqualified with all the wrong qualifications. If you must go for 2 pages (and some recent grads certainly have the experience to warrant this), make sure page 1 is enough to sell you in itself. (Check out his post on this topic here)

What is your biggest resume pet-peeve?

[Cliff Flamer] Flowery language that doesn’t say anything. Here’s an example: Multifaceted business professional well-versed in developing influential relationships with key decision-makers integral to the inner workings of the prosperity of multi-million dollar organizations that…Blah blah blah. Even professional résumé writers turn out this kind of rigamarole. It may be impressive to English majors but not to hiring managers. (I’m an English major by the way.)

What is the biggest mistake you see on resumes?

[Cliff Flamer] Including generic job descriptions instead of quantified accomplishment statements. If you’ve read even one book on résumé writing, you’ve heard this before but it’s still where most people err. You’re unique, so too should be your résumé. The easiest way to accomplish this is to show the impact of what you do. In other words, what do you see happening as a result of your efforts. For example, anyone can Market products but how successful are YOU at doing this and what approach do YOU take?

With the millions of people applying for the few jobs that are out there, how can you make your resume stand out from the rest?

[Cliff Flamer] You’re going to hate the answer to this but…it depends. There is no silver bullet with résumés but following the above advice about accomplishment statements is a good beginning. That and a clean, sharp format. Never, never underestimate an easy-to-read format. White space is your friend.

A question that has come up a lot is, whether or not you should put your objective on your resume, and change for each position you apply to. Do you think you should?

[Cliff Flamer] I’ve definitely heard this one before. Personally, I think Objective Statements are outdated, just like serif fonts and aol accounts. That said, you absolutely must make 2 things crystal clear within the first 5-10 lines of the résumé:

-What job/industry/functional area of company are you shooting for; and
-Why are you qualified to do it

This can be handled in tons of ways, depending on what experience you have. For recent grads, you can start with your Education. For people currently doing the work they want to do in their next position, you can get right into experience, especially if the job titles match. For someone with a lot of experience or irrelevant recent experience, consider building an introductory section that highlights you relevant skills outside the context of the job you used them in. In Résumé Speak, this is called using a combination format; it’s by the far the most popular format of all professional résumé writers. The word “combination” refers to combining a lengthy skills summary with a subsequent (detailed) chronological work history.

With, a few years of actual experience out of college, how many jobs should you put on your resume (ie. highschool/college part time jobs)? How far back would you recommend going?

[Cliff Flamer] I just worked with a client today who has her Spelling Bee Championship from Middle School on her résumé. And you know what? It’s a darn good idea. As long as it’s not the centerpiece of her résumé (or education section), this award could serve as a hook in that your interviewers might want to “use it” to break the ice or start a “get to know you question.” The other benefit is by saying she was in the spelling bee, you can infer that she had a pretty good work ethic way way back. I mean, how many spelling bee renegades do you know?

The point of my story is go back as far as you need to to dig up relevant or interesting work experience. And don’t be shy about coming out and saying you did something in high school or during the summer before Freshman year of college. Give the accomplishment context so it’s clear you’re not trying to over inflate. Also, it’s always impressive to mention that you worked your way through college or held a part-time retail gig while in school.

In terms of the number of jobs you should put, I’d only limit the amount if you have tons of short-lived positions in your work history. Pick out the jobs you liked or that are most relevant to your new target job, being careful about leaving gaps of more than 6 months between positions.

What about job gaps? Would you recommend taking something small, in the meantime and if so should you include this on your resume?

[Cliff Flamer] The criteria for a job gap is changing. I think it’s okay to have “job gaps” of 3-6 months on your résumé. Honestly, that’s how long a job search can take! But once you’re out of school and out in the workforce, anything over 6 months and especially over a year needs to be addressed.

Again, take the direct route. I worked on a résumé a few days ago for an Operations Manager who took off about a year and a half handling family crises. During this time, she picked up a very simple office manager job (just a few hours here and there). Our solution to this “gap” was to be open and honest about why she took the cut in responsibility. Here is the exact quote from her résumé:

“Accepted temporary office position to keep skills polished while handling a string of family emergencies, offering ongoing support and counsel to each of the partners at this niche-market real estate firm.”

We went easy on the bullet points and just moved on to the next job. That way, we filled the gap and she still comes out smelling like roses. Seriously, who’s going to fault someone for continuing to work while taking care of their family?

What advice would you give to recent grads as they start their job search?

[Cliff Flamer] Create your own luck. Acknowledge the fact that even the best planned job search is no match for happenstance. I got a job at a community college career center from going to an Oakland As game. Make opportunities like this happen to you by getting out there in anyway you can: Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook will hook you up online but also consider volunteering, attending a conference, emailing a book author, going to church, interviewing a friend of a friend….Build a space where opportunity can flourish.

Stay on the BrightSide.

15 April 2009 | Resumes | Comments