Copying a Professional Resume? Watch Out For These PitfallsBy Laura Smith-Proulx
Recently, I was contacted by a job hunter who wanted an update
to his existing resume, a service that I offer to former clients in
my practice. The resume looked strikingly familiar on some level,
but the name didn’t resonate. Then it hit me: I had written
it but for someone else.
Professional resume writers encounter this scenario all the time, and for the most part, it’s flattering to think that our work is compelling enough to be copied at least if we can ignore the obvious part pertaining to copyright law. However, here’s what worries me when I spot a copied rendition of a professional resume, the copier rarely grasps the branding and building process that went behind it in the first place. Therefore, he’s doing himself a grave disservice by borrowing the format, writing style, and tone, then pasting his career story in between that of someone else.
The worst part? The “borrower” often fails to understand this context, and goes right on using it as if it were a coherent and targeted document. If you’re determined to make your resume look like the masterpieces that you see on sites like mine, here are some likely problems that you’ll encounter in doing so:
You might make generalizations that blur the message
Here’s what one candidate did with my power summary that described market-leading achievements including a 70% rise in revenue over two years, a totally restructured team and profitable turnaround effort, plus a total obliteration of the competition: “Dedicated and hard working professional with over 12 years of experience in the food service sales and marketing industry, Successful experience in strategic planning, analysis of results, and international media relations.”
If you haven’t read lists of overused words for resumes, it might be time to do so. Words like “hard-working” or “successful experience” are both no-brainers and would not be taken seriously by employers… plus, they’re a dead giveaway that the writer doesn’t know what he is doing when trying to describe himself.
You could repeat yourself
And put words like “created,” “spearheaded,” and “developed” in the document so many times that they’ll lose their meaning. Hopefully, you’ll refrain from describing all your achievements as “successful” and reference a thesaurus to avoid using the same word four times in one sentence. Here’s where training in power verbs can really save the day. Not convinced? Most professional writers count word occurrences and tend to scan documents for our favorite words, just to ensure that employers remain fully engaged in your resume.
Changes can mess up the format
Professional resume writers are masters of presentation and formatting, to the point that they’ll incorporate tricks and nuances into a resume that escape your untrained eye. In fact, just moving a sentence or two will often throw an entire page into disarray, because you’ll be challenged by figuring out how to adjust headings or change point sizes for spacer lines. Worse yet, you might feel the need to shrink the font below eleven points. This should only be done for certain sans serif fonts, and then reviewed on different monitors to verify that the over 40 crowds of employers can read your document.
Your writing might suck up space
Professional resume writers specialize in something your English teacher never approved of: sentence fragments. That’s right, we boil ideas and full sentences down to the most minute of details in order to avoid that font problem that I just described. Best practices in journalism dictate that sentences must be short, conveying meaning in the first five to ten words. So, with minimal practice in tight writing, your sentences might be as long as the one I just reviewed in a copied resume: 79 words. It’s close to impossible for your resume to pass a 10-second scan with a dense paragraph like this.
In addition, lack of parallel sentence structure is a dead giveaway that your resume wasn’t professionally written. Parallel structure means that your sentences are written in alignment with each other (such as fragments that all begin with nouns, or verb forms that consistently appear in past tense).
In summary, you can certainly try to adopt a professionally written resume as your own but the pitfalls that can trip you up along the way can actually hurt your job search results. You’re better off pulling in some formatting styles that appeal to you, and writing about your own career history from scratch.