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When a Broad and Diverse Background Can Harm More Than Help

William Mitchell -- When it comes to your resume, including "everything but the kitchen sink" can sink your candidacy. Here's why -- and how to avoid making this mistake.

A common mistake that job seekers make when trying to develop a strategy for constructing their resumes is assuming that they need to communicate the totality of their skills and experiences to every reader. This sounds like a viable plan on its surface and it is an understandable assumption from the perspective of the applicant. But the key to success, CONSISTENT success, is to always put yourself in the seat of your reader. It is always about the other side of the desk during your job search. Does the hiring manager really need to know the “whole” story right up front? The answer is usually no.

Hiring managers don’t really care about everything you’ve ever done in your career. When there are 100+ resumes and cover letters that need to be cut to 20 by the end of the day, this simply is not realistic. The employer has a specific set of problems that need to be solved at the end of this process. Your resume’s job is to quickly explain how you are the ideal solution to their unique problem. Now of course, if your background is consistent with the needs of the current position, you really don’t have that issue. But if you are an applicant submitting a resume that has expertise in three or four areas, you need to beware.

Stressing a diverse background with no focus may communicate to the reader that you lack focus and dedication to use of the skills they are looking for. It will also confuse a reader during a brief review because they will not search through the entire resume for the skills and experiences they need to see. After all, the resume before and after yours told them everything they need. The only times a the broad brush stroke approach actually works for your resume is when you are seeking consulting positions or perhaps applying to grad school, where knowing a little of everything may be just what the reader wants to know. But that is likely it.

Be sure to make the focus the relevant experience and skills of each position, even if not in the standard job description. For example, if your last job title was a Database Analyst but you are seeking a position as a Project Manager, address all of the project management related duties and projects you worked on first, even if they were secondary in priority. After all, they will be top priority for your reader. Ensure your profile/summary section communicates focus on the target positions. Research the keywords related to your new target to ensure the database has something to hold onto and your reader.

Your chief concern is creating a “perception” where the reader sees and feels you as the type of professional you’re trying to become. In 15 seconds, so in our example above, the reader should get the sense they are reading the resume of a Project Manager, not a “Database Analyst who has a little project management experience”. See the difference?

William Mitchell, CPRW is a certified professional resume writer and Owner/Lead Writer of the Resume Clinic, serving clients in the United States and Canada with highly targeted and effective resume and cover letter packages since 1995. Connect with William and The Resume Clinic on Facebook, LinkedIn, or via email.

© 2014 William Mitchell

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