The Goldie-Locks Resume: Not Overselling Yourself or Underselling Yourself on a Resume

You can and should strike just the right tone on a resume. I worked with a grad student seeking employment outside academia. His resume had one overriding characteristic: it was studded with the word ‘helped’ and the phrase ‘helped with. It took hours of conversation with him to get him to even see these phrases in his own resume! I said, “Jake (not his real name), did you set up the labs, or did you help set up the labs?” He’d say he set them up. After five minutes he’d see that he could remove the words ‘helped with’. Then I’d be on to the next one, “Jake did you grade the papers or help grade them?” After 5 more minutes, ‘Jake’ would agree that he did grade the papers.

Several hours later without the dozens of ‘helped’ and ‘helped with’ instances revised, Jake had a good resume.

Lesson: If you did it, claim it.

In resume’s honesty is the best policy. But if you do the work, you can fairly claim the credit.

Recently I’ve been looking over many resumes of experienced professionals who can’t seem to get work. In these resumes the professionals commit two equally deadly and very similar sins. First, they never drop anything from their resumes. These professionals have 3 page or 4 page resumes with experience dating from day one that they started working.

Resumes cluttered with accomplishments in junior positions are hard to read and draw attention from the stellar more recent accomplishments.

Lesson: Skinny down resumes to feature the most relevant accomplishments.

Ideally, the most recent entry on the resume ought to have the most bullets, and measures should be attached to the bullets, “Increased sales 20% in 12 months,” or “Reduced defects by 21%.”

Second, these professionals litter their resumes with terms like “Responsible for” and “Expert on”. When you declare such things on a resume about yourself they have less weight. Use these phrases sparingly.

Lesson: Let your accomplishments speak for themselves.

Using metrics are great ways of illustrating expertise. Not only do they show your understanding of the important measures, but they show how you compare to other candidates.

Ideally, your most recent position (or your most relevant position) should have the most accomplishments cited and the most impressive measures.

Back up measures with independent sources or references that can speak to these accomplishments.

Like Goldie Locks, you want to neither oversell yourself nor undersell yourself.