Time for Resume Spring Cleaning

Unless you’re prepared to edit out old information and streamline the rest, your resume becomes an outdated clutter.


The budding daffodils and the financial-page headlines are saying the same thing: It’s a great time for spring cleaning. For your job search, that means your resume.

To spruce up your resume, you’ll have to tack on your most recent jobs along with any new accomplishments, skills, training or other bragging points. That’s a good first step, but a real resume cleaning also requires editing and deleting old information. If not, your resume becomes a hodgepodge of outdated accomplishments, irrelevant awards and bloated skill lists.

Tackling that dusty clutter means narrowing your career goal, condensing your opening summary, editing your work experience, consolidating your education, being choosy about your skills and streamlining your “What can you do for me?” employer appeal.

Ladders spoke with professionals to find out the nitty-gritty details of what employers want to see and how the pros approach this spring-cleaning chore; here’s what they told us.

Scrap the Way-Back Machine

The first step is easy. Whatever you were doing back when bell bottoms were all the rage will likely not hold a lot of interest to an employer. In your work history, put the most emphasis on the positions you held in the past 10 to 15 years. If it makes sense to include employers from earlier days, write them out in a one- to three-sentence format so the work is represented on your resume but doesn’t hog space.

Bulk up the top

Lauren Milligan, owner and head resume expert at ResuMAYDAY, said the first thing she does when looking at a bloated resume is to identify whether it’s top- or bottom-heavy.

“Is the bulk of your career experience/history on the first page, or is the first page cluttered with a long, prose of a summary statement and a hulking list of accomplishments so that your career history has been shuffled down to the second page?” she said. “If (it’s the latter), that’s a problem. Employers don’t read a resume as most job seekers write them. For this reason, I highly recommend: 1) a reverse-chronological resume over a functional resume 100 percent of the time and 2) editing sharply, so that a few years of your career history is represented on the first page.”

Cut the obvious

The next step to a lighter, cleaner resume is to remove the obvious. Example: If you’re in sales, you don’t need bullets that explain how you “developed and maintained relationships with customers,” Milligan said. “That’s Sales 101! [Likewise,] if you’re an administrative manager, will people be impressed that you ‛maintained files for easy access by other users?’ ” By eliminating these sorts of obvious statements, job candidates afford stronger statements room at center stage.

Take the same care with your skills section. Career counselor Holly Klose of Boston Career Counselor recommends avoiding generalities such as “good customer service” or “hard worker.” As for technical or computer skills, “Internet research” has no place on a resume, as most employers assume you have those basics down.

Filter the fluff

Kevin Murray is the director of recruiting for Vistaprint, an industry leader in marketing materials for small businesses, who receives hundreds of resumes each day. When he reviews resumes, Murray looks for a strong educational background, consistent work history with a track record of increasing responsibilities and roles, quantified accomplishments, and documentation of the candidates’ impact for the employer.

“If you can’t quantify your results and instead produce jargon on your resume, that can be seen as clutter and not useful to a potential employer,” he said. “If a company is going to hire you, they want to know that you are going to positively impact their business. Companies don’t have time to cut through the clutter. They want to know what you’ve done and how that can translate to their business needs…. Your brand should say that you can deliver and add value without a lot of fluff.”

How to filter the fluff? Milligan recommended removing extraneous words or phrases, such as “in addition to,” “including but not limited to,” or “this resulted in.” She also strips out any “etc.” that winds up at the end of a sentence. “Any bullet with these phrases can be rewritten to be more concise.”

Klose added these dust bunnies to the list: “people person,” “multi-tasker” and “team player.” They’re overused and they don’t offer details about accomplishments, Klose said.

Ditch the boilerplate language

Every job seeker in the world could have the words “results-oriented” on his resume, Milligan said, but what does it really mean? “Do the words ‛results-oriented’ hold a lot of meaning to you? I hope not because they don’t mean anything to an employer,” she said. “Trust me; No one was ever hired because the first two words in their summary statement were ‛results-oriented.’ ”

Another boilerplate phrase to dump: “finishing projects on time and under budget.” “Apparently, no one has ever stretched a project’s time or money parameters, because the majority of resumes still boast this tired sentence,” Milligan said. ”Some of my best and biggest ROI has come when I have taken risks in regards to budgets and timelines. As an employer, my knee-jerk reaction is to be quite unimpressed with candidates who so eagerly lock themselves within boundaries.”