In speaking to a large group of professionals at the University of Washington the other night (as part of their Professional & Continuing Education school — a great bunch of folks!) I was staring out at a few hundred eager faces in the audience when the thought suddenly struck me “Why am I sitting here telling THESE people about what to put on a resume?  Most of these people look like they might have held management roles in the past — and as a result, they’ve probably hired far more people than I have over the years!”

Kind of a weird thing to say, I realize, for somebody who purports to write resumes for a living.  But here’s my point.  At one level, EVERYBODY is a resume expert.  If you’ve ever been in a job role where you’ve been (at any level) involved in hiring people, or plan to be in such a role again, then you’re going to be holding the reins — and will be responsible, whether you like it or not, for deciding which lucky few people will be granted an interview, based solely on what they’ve put on their piece of paper.

If everybody were to embrace this fact, I think we’d add a lot more sanity to the discussion about resumes.  And people would be a lot less stressed out and confused about how to put these documents together.  Simply put, the vast majority of things that go into a resume are either purely factual (e.g. job titles, educational credentials, other things you can’t change) or highly subjective (e.g. whether to include hobbies, use humor, go with a shorter or longer resume, etc.)  where there truly isn’t a right or wrong answer.  It’s just a matter of taste, judgment, and personal preference.

Some hiring managers like Times font.  Others like Arial.  Some like resumes that use color.  Others think this is tacky.  Some like to see outside interests and community involvement on a resume, while others think this non-business stuff makes a person seem unprofessional.  Some will respond favorably to any mention of church activities, while others will penalize the person who does this for wearing their faith on their sleeve.  Some will only want to see your last 10-15 years of experience, while others will think you’re intentionally doing this to hide your age, and will penalize you even more for trying to trick them.  And so on, and so forth.

Get my drift?  Everybody’s a resume expert — at least when THEY’RE they ones in charge of making the hiring decision!  So it does little good to quest for universal consensus in terms of how you should handle many aspects of your own piece.  You won’t even come close to finding such agreement and it will simply inhibit the progress of your other self-marketing efforts.  Even those of us who have been writing resumes professionally for a great many years argue all the time about what should go into these presentations.  At the end of the day, most of your choices will be based on your own subjective preferences and the type of corporate culture you want to attract.

In fact, to emphasize this point in a very stark way, I often ask groups of my clients whether they’d respond positively or negatively to somebody (a former client of mine) who stated on her resume that she was “great at meeting with pissed-off customers and calming them down.”  The vote tally so far?  Around 40% of us would be highly intrigued to meet this individual, while the other 60% wouldn’t interview her in a million years!  So what’s the right answer?  It all depends.  If you want to play defense on your resume and be non-objectionable, go that route.  If you’d rather play offense, play offense.  Say something bold that will attract you to the right people, even if you alienate the closed-minded sensibilities of certain audiences.  For some people, who have been out there looking for work for quite some time, what do you really have to lose?

At any rate, just felt I had to raise this point since I come across so many experienced professionals and managers out there who act like they know NOTHING about resumes and don’t have a right to their own opinion about them.  That’s just nonsense.  Sure, a resume professional can perhaps bring some much-needed objectivity to the process and help with some of the trickier formatting steps.  And they also should be able to help you assess what approaches might be most well-received by the majority of hiring managers and recruiters out there, helping you play the odds in that respect.  But it’s not like we’re in possession of some ancient tablets, handed down from the ages, containing a magic formula for foolproof resume success.  At least nobody’s told ME about such tablets, if they exist…