Coachology: See yourself clearly and put it on paper


The reason I spend so much time telling you to have someone else write your resume is that I have done it before, and it worked out really well for me.

I thought of myself differently after getting help with the resume. This is because a good resume is not a list or a work history, but rather, a story. And the way we tell stories about ourselves really reveals who we are, but it’s very hard to craft a story about our work when we are so close to the details day in and day out.

Stories are powerful. If you have a coherent story of yourself, then your resume reads like an organized plan. If you have no idea what your story is, your resume reads like a disjointed list. The most effective resumes show a timeline of progression in your life in a way that creates a story that will stick in the reader’s mind.

It’s hard to sift through all the resume writers and figure out who is good. So people ask me all the time for the name of the company I used. The problem is, that company is no longer in business.

However a bunch of the people from that company continue to do the resume work as freelancers. And one of them, Elaine Basham will rewrite two peoples’ resumes for free this week.

If you want to have Elaine take a crack at your resume, send a three-sentence email to me by March 25 that says what is wrong with your resume now, and what you want to accomplish with a new resume. Elaine will pick the two people who are most able to benefit from her service.

For those of you who don’t end up working with Elaine, you might end up having to write your resume yourself, so here are some of the most common mistakes.

11 replies
  1. Pete Johnson
    Pete Johnson says:

    JibberJobber just ran an interesting series on resume writing that captures both sides of the “should I write my own resume or have somebody else do it” argument pretty well:

    I personally prefer to do it myself. Going through the exercise helps you reflect on what you’ve done so far and makes you really think about what it is you want to do in the future. I also think it helps you prepare for the interview better than if you rely on someone else because you are forced to think about your previous experience on a deeper level, which will be used to support answers during the interview process.

    Still, as Penelope points out there are some benefits to having someone else write it too. The choice is up to the individual, but I would say that if you enlist the help of another person that doesn’t mean you don’t have any work to do. Stay engaged in the process regardless.

  2. Tom Morgan
    Tom Morgan says:

    Great offer Penelope! I took advantage of this type of service last year and it cost me around $300. It was well worth it as I had two job offers within a month.

    P.S. I would love to hear how those lucky winners of your past free coaching offers have benefited from these free services.

    * * * * *

    Managing everyone’s expectations: Of course, it’s great to hear that Tom had a positive experience. But $300 is on the low end of resume writing fees. Just FYI. Don’t want people to be shocked when they get quotes that are much higher.


  3. Career Change Steps
    Career Change Steps says:

    It’s funny that you suggest only 1 page (in the linked to resume mistake list). I had a headhunter type who had a lot of experience in NYC employment scene tell me that 2 pages was now the norm for technical people. He also said that there were a lot of companies that were using screening software that was similar to search engine rankings. So if my resume said Java 14 times, even if it also said I only learned Java a year ago, that I was ahead of someone else’s resume that explained they invented Java and were the world’s greatest expert on it, but they only used the word Java 3 times in saying that.

    I thought it was sad that it would be so, but figured he knew what he was talking about. I did have a resume expert rewrite/polish my resume and it did not dramatically change my success rate. I did finally get interviews and offers, but it wasn’t night and day. I think it’s great to get a fresh angle on your resume, but my own experience was not to expect miracles.

    * * * * * *
    Two interesting things in this comment. One is that you really do need to pay attention to screening software if you are sending your resume cold, via some human resources email adress or form. 

    The other thing is that a professional resume writer is not there to create career stories and career golas for you. The resume writer translates those onto paper, in a very specific format. If you don’t know where you’ve been or where you’re going, or both, you probably need some other sort of help before you make the leap and pay for help with a resume.


  4. Evan Woolard
    Evan Woolard says:

    I like to adhere to the 1 page rule for almost all of my clients. The only type of person I would recommend a 2 page resume for is a person looking for a tenured faculty position at a university. Credentials, published papers, etc have a greater importance there. In which case, you aren’t even producing a resume; it is called a curriculum vitae.

    * * * *

    Thanks, Evan. It’s nice to see that the resume pros are weighing in. Makes this comment thread a great resource.


  5. Fati Erdogan
    Fati Erdogan says:

    I am the Head of Corporate Communications for a multinational company. Since I work for a big company, the CVs are filtered by HR first, and sent to us via email. Usually, the CVs submitted thru headhunter sites come across in a generic format, making all CVs look alike. They are certainly not visually appealing. I tend to spend less than a minute scanning through these CVs (assuming these are for entry level positions)

    My advise is that, for positions that require creativity such as marketing or communications, you may want to consider sending your resume differently. For instance, whenever I get a CV in the mail, almost always, I review the CV more carefully than other CVs, if the qualifications meet my requirements for the position. And I tend to usually invite those people for an interview.

    * * * * * *
    This is a very useful comment. Fati is not unique in that he spends a minute looking at a resume. He is unique in that he admits it. Most recrutiers and human resource types spend a minute — or even less – on each resume. You must write your resume with this in mind. A resume is a piece of direct mail, crafted to catch someone’s attention. A resume is not an essay someone curls up on the sofa to read.

    Also, that part about sending a resume in the mail is great. I once got a job by faxing my resume because, it turned out, my boss received so many responses to the job post via email that he didn’t want to deal with going through them. So he read my resume first.


  6. Nitant
    Nitant says:

    I am currently seeking a job in an IT firm and after a lot of research discovered that it is wiser to send the resume to the highest possible company official(only for high level jobs).This is because they are completely aware of the fact as to what position you could fit into and whether or not there is any kind of job opportunity regarding the same.

  7. Jenflex
    Jenflex says:

    I’d recommend being really clear what it is you are buying when you work with an outside resume writer: Do you want someone who specializes in knowing how to manage the screening system, are you looking for someone to increase your degree of self-awareness/understanding of how to position yourself on paper, or are you looking for someone who can point out style and communication issues. (or, all 3!!)

    Those are 3 very different value parameters a resume professional can provide, but they may have different price points!!

    For my part, I update my resume myself when I want to benchmark progress in my own career, or remind myself I am marketable (I’m in a 3rd tier market with one dominant employer, and I like where I live). However, I’m not “in the game” as an HR professional, so I’d go for help as a matter of course at the point where I really wanted to make a move.

  8. Rowan Manahan
    Rowan Manahan says:

    As a professional CV ‘Wordsmith,’ the one DIY piece of advice I would give to your readers is that you can’t START with brevity.

    As the CV moves through the draft stages when I am working with a client, it gets longer – not shorter. The key is to brain-dump everything first and then start getting selective with what you include and omit for each application.

    We might have 100 ‘bits’ of beautifully-formatted, tightly phrased, information in the long-form Core CV. After trimming and tweaking for the final version for any one employer, we get it down to anything from 60-80 bits.

    So, if Penelope decided to apply for a job with the Parks Service and another post at NASA, the elements of Penelope’s history that would be of interest to those two readers would be veeeery different. Same person, same history – different elements highlighted. I reckon that if you did a good enough job in tailoring the two CVs, and then stuck them in the wrong envelopes, you shouldn’t get shortlisted for either job.

  9. William Mitchell, CPRW
    William Mitchell, CPRW says:

    Another benefit of having someone else to write your resume is the objectivity. Employers don’t need (or want) to hear your life story. One’s resume should grade high on the relevance scale for the reader. I find that clients are too invested in everything they’ve done, usually wanting to include everything they’ve ever done at the start of the project. It takes someone to say “your reader will not care about that”.

    William Mitchell, CPRW
    The Resume Clinic

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