Why less is more when it comes to your resume: Ladders 2019 Resume Guide

We all deal with loss in our lives — in this chapter you’re going to deal with loss also — the loss of past achievements that are very near and dear to your heart, but that don’t support your job goals.

We all have them — me included. As a freshman at Yale, an enterprising group of us living in the same residential college (that’s what they call dorms at Yale) put together a proposal to take over the college’s coffee shop. The professor assigned to manage the dorm agreed and we giddily took over “The Buttery” and ran it for the next several years. Our enthusiasm was only marginally damaged when we did the math and discovered that we were making less than minimum wage for all the hours we put into it.

Nonetheless, that achievement stayed on my resume for well over a decade because I loved to be reminded of it. “Bright college years” is the old Yale school song, and thinking about my time in college, and the antics we got into, and the friends made there, felt wonderful. Even years later, it was a happy trip down nostalgia lane for me every time I reminded myself of those times by glancing at my resume.

It made me happy to see ‘The Buttery’ there.

But all of those wonderful feelings didn’t justify this achievement taking up 3 lines on my resume in the years ahead. While I thought it showed pluck, and energy, and entrepreneurial zeal, it was largely lost on recruiters, and hiring managers, because absolutely nobody really knows what a “Buttery” is. (Turns out it’s a funny old word from Europe related to where the butler stashed his stuff — Yale had adopted it for some of our coffee shops).

You, too, have achievements from back in the day that don’t belong on your resume. They come from a time in college, or at your first job, or even just a really wonderful experience you had in your last position that you are fond of in a way that doesn’t reflect the achievement’s value in your professional advertisement, but instead reflects the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you think back to that time.

Or perhaps it was an achievement that was hard-fought, that caused you nights and weeks of anxiety, and when the triumph came one misty morning, it smelled like … victory. Sometimes those battles, and conflicts, and times of terrible effort and concentration that go along with huge achievements have a rosy glow in hindsight. When those achievements support your professional advertisement message, they ought to be included.

But when those achievements are simply self congratulatory, represent the joy of victory, or mark a struggle that was more important emotionally than it was professionally, it is important for you to leave them off your resume.

Only the achievements and accomplishments that support your professional message deserve to be included. And every achievement that you select to show on your resume should help deliver the message to your future boss about the benefits you can deliver to them in the coming years.

So you’ll need to go through a painful, bittersweet exercise. Review all of your past experiences that you loved — an internship, a college course, a lifeguard job, an early achievement. If it, in fact, supports a key part of your benefit to your future boss, then definitely keep it on your resume.

But if, as I discovered in the case of my college nighttime snack shop experience, it is on your resume for reasons that are more sentimental than they are practical, you’ll need to make the hard choice and remove it.

But don’t mourn its departure too wistfully. After some time passes, you’ll discover that your enjoyment of the event is just as great with it off your resume. And you’ll be even happier with the outcome of having a cleaner, crisper resume that makes the case for your future employment more concisely.

This article is adapted from Ladders 2019 Resume Guide: Best Practices & Advice from the Leaders in $100K – $500K jobs (Ladders, Inc. , 2019). Purchase the Kindle Single for immediate download here.*

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