The Pinnacle of a Messed Up Resume

I'm celebrating my 10th anniversary this year as founder and owner of New Leaf Resumes. Not at all sure how to commemorate the year (I am open to ideas!), the milestone has prompted me to reflect on many aspects of small business ownership and on how recruitment has evolved.

And of course I've thought about how many resumes I have written or how many have crossed my desk for free assessments. A conservative estimate would be around 3,000.

I thought I had seen it all.

And then last week I saw a resume that was sooooo messed up it boggled my mind. Almost every resume rule was broken. (There are rules that can be broken, but some should not.)

Actually, it's not only resume rules that were stretched until they snapped, it was graphic design and document creation norms that were ignored to the point of folly.

Here is a list of what I found - and be sure to check yours against this list as this resume is by no means unique in its lack of attention to detail.

1. Font sizes: I counted eight font sizes, from too small to read to overly large.

2. Inconsistency: A complete lack of consistency in capitablizations, bolding, sizes of font for headings (I counted three different sizes in the headings) vs. the body of content (five sizes in the body), and the inexplicable use of two font colours. There were also  haphazard uses of underlining, tables, and italics, as well as small cap style vs regular font style. Finally, the margins were not equal.

3. Formatting: Here's a rule NOT to break as it relates to the ability of applicant tracking systems (ATS) to read, evaluate, and score your resume. This resume had tables within tables and a text box. All continue to be "no-no's."

4. Proofreading: I found the numbers 1 to 3 in the left hand margin, serving no purpose. I found verbs in first person (promote) and the third person (develops). Some bullets ended with periods and others did not.

(Surprisingly the grammatical strucutre and spelling, where most people have a few errors, were excellent.)

I think that this job hunter would have noticed the details derailing his/her resume if s/he had printed the pages. Things just look different on the screen vs in print.

Without fail, I print out each client's resume for this reason. What looks great on the screen sometimes does not translate well on the printed page. Had the job hunter taken this step, s/he may not have noticed every fault, but surely the many fonts sizes, which created such a visual confusion. would have popped out.

Job hunters take note: give either the ATS or recruiter a reason to throw you out of the race and you will be! Today's job search is a serious competition. Put forward anything less than your best and you are wasting your time.

I'm glad to say that this job hunter is choosing to work with a professional.

Regretfully, I do not have fail-proof answers

In today's internet world, where easy answers run amok, people really want fail-proof, step-by-step answers to a broad range of problems, careers included (think 10 easy steps to the perfect - and insert your demon - resume, interview answer, networking, job search strategy, and so on).

I wish life were that easy, but those 10 easy steps to weight loss may work for one out of 10, but not for those nine who also try it. Life, all aspects of it, is not made in a one size fits all.

When it comes to careers and job searches, the variations, customizations, and perplexities are numerous. Beyond how individuals differ, which is enormous, you have to add in how industries differ, cultures vary, and job descriptions and expectations conflict.


For example, one client, an HR Senior Manager, emailed in a conundrum: a finalist for a job she really wanted, she was asked for references. Upon providing these she was told that one of her references HAD to be her current Director. In a confidential job search, and afraid of losing her job if her job search were known, she turned to me. I had no easy, perfect answer. Her choices were these:

  • include her Director's name as a reference and hope she a) landed a job offer OR b) didn't lose her current job if she didn't land the job offer; OR,
  • inform the HR recruiter that she is in a confidential job search, unable to provide her current Director as a reference and hope that a fellow HR staff would understand her inability to comply.

Neither answer is a sure thing.

Trouble with a New Manager

I've had dozens of clients who loved their jobs, had great accomplishments to share, and envisioned remaining in their positions until retirement UNTIL a new manager came on board, immediately displayed dislike of my client and quickly demonstrated that my client's job security was in jeopardy. Many get let go, without real cause, but the labour laws don't help. (I know this from personal experience. After I was let go from a job that I really needed, I called the labour office only to be told that I can even be let go for refusing to dye my hair back to a more acceptable hue.)

This situation is devastating. It can demoralize, throw a career in upheaval, and cause financial strain on top of the emotional angst. Is there a reliable answer?

I'd say not really. Yes, you could try speaking to HR, you could even approach the manager him/herself to discuss. But in my experience the outcome is rarely satisfactory. It's likely worth a try as what do you have to lose? (And if you plan to take a pro-active step, consider getting coaching first. (Lianne Krakauer, career coach can help.) But while trying, I recommend doubling up on networking outreach and getting your resume up to date.


I've said it before and this won't be the last time either: there is no one, perfect, suit everyone everywhere all the time resume. It's an impossibility. Just from perusing the internet you can read conflicting advice: one page resume only vs take as many pages as you need; write a reverse chronological vs submit a functional. Other advice includes don't use these words, don't use the first-person "I" in your resume, don't use these fonts, etc.

I have two rules: write only the truth and write to reflect the authentic you. All else? Guidelines only.

One of my award-winning resumes, which has served my client very well indeed, uses "I" in the resume's profile. Yup!

One of my cover letters uses the closing salutation "Namaste" and again, landed my client a great position.

Although I have no fail-proof, guaranteed-to-work answers for all career puzzles, I do offer seasoned and reasoned insights and perspective, which I offer all of my resume clients. In fact, today I received this email from a repeat client:

Your explanations make sense to me.
I am comfortable with your reasoning and will leave things as they are. No further changes needed.
I received good feedback regarding my resume, last time we did this, so I will adhere to your wisdom this time.
I shall go fishing and see what I catch. Wish me luck.
Thanks for your help. I’ll keep in touch


Strategies for a C-suite resume

Recently I seem to have been working with more "C" level clients than usual - CEO, COO, CIO, CTO, and so on. Although the photo shows a male professional, these recent clients have been of the female persuasion - patterns seem to take turns appearing in my line of work! (For the record, I love working with entry level clients, trades, teachers, those in manufacturing, industry, retail - helping a variety of Canadians makes my work rewarding.)

A recent client, for example, had had her resume professionally written four years ago. Things change so quickly these days that I cannot even recall what specific standards were like four years ago! But if this resume was "state of the art," standards have changed.

My inclination is to say that her resume didn't meet C-suite standards even then. Its appearance is kind of plain, super-plain, and rather than a reverse chronological format, it is a functional format. There is no attempt to "brand" this candidate, nor is the profile written in a fluid, compelling manner. The sentences don't evolve; they are jarring. The message doesn't flow; it hiccups along.

Even so, some of the content is excellent as it incorporates quantified results, such as increasing revenues by 200% over a 4-year time span, pulling a key client's satisfaction rating from a dismal 17th place to an amazing 2nd place, and so on.The client is effective at her work!

I love this type of challenge - how do I take a fairly decent resume and transform it to a document worthy of an accomplished executive? A portfolio-level presentation?

I start with the layout and format. The overly small name is now proudly front and centre, with three credential acronyms added, immediately conveying the candidate's qualifications, proactively addressing the recruiter's next question.

Her profile has been given a title and the title supported with a branding statement, which communicates how she excels in driving growth, efficiency, and profitability (it's almost always about "the money"; after all, it's business!). The short, 4-line profile succinctly states years of experience, and budget, headcount environment, and accountability details.

Page one, in fact, is entirely devoted to branding this client with sections that are titled Snapshot of Results, C-Suite Proficiencies, and Testimonials. Her experience begins on page two, and yes, it's a three page resume, quite acceptable for this level of applicant.

(FYI: Some of the resume "rules" we read about on the internet do not apply to Canadian job hunters! Our recruiters do not have pervasive, strong opinions on one or two page resumes, nor do they exclude the unemployed from interviews, to their credit.)

I can't wait to share this resume with the client (it's not yet edited twice, which is my norm). I am absolutely certain that this resume will gain attention from the best employers, land more interviews, AND, lead to better offers and/or negotiation power. No doubt at all. I know this because I've seen it happen over and over with previous clients.

Even if you're not a C-Suite, and if, like me, you have no aspiration to join that group, your resume will still benefit from the same level of attention - crisp layout, appropriate format, strong content, and maybe even an atypical section that helps to differentiate you. The only resume rules, as I've written previously, are truth and authenticity.


Recently I have seen a few resumes that I would class as "resu-letters." Submitted by potential clients, these are written in paragraph style and use the pronoun "I." Traditionally resumes contain neither paragraphs nor the personal pronoun.

(I'm not saying that you musn't use these at all in resumes, just that usually these are not used.)

There's a use for resu-letters. As the word suggests, the document is a hybrid; more detailed that the typical cover letter and thus longer too at two pages. This is a great self-marketing tool to use when introducing yourself to unadvertised opportunities.

But is it the best format for a resume used to apply to a job? Probably not. The text is dense and will put off the harried recruiter. He has plenty of applicants to choose from these days and is quite likely to set a dense resume aside in favour of a quick read.

Another good use would be if you have made contact with the hiring manager and can send your resume directly to her, skipping the HR resume cull. A resu-letter could potentially capture the hiring manager's interst - if it's well-written and relates what you did to the bottom line. Such a letter cannot list your accountabilities; if it does it risks putting the reader to sleep!

To attract attention the content must develop your brand or reputation while sharing examples of what your employment meant to past employers. If you haven't included info on how you saved money or time, enhanced reputation, built partnerships, brought revenue-generating ideas to the table and so on, your resu-letter will end up ruining a valuable chance to advance to the head of the recruitment line.

- setting the stage with masterful resumes, and yes, resu-letters, cover letters, LinkedIn profiles etc!