I had an interesting insight yesterday strike me during the process of teaching a class on resume-writing methodology.

At this event, I was chatting with around 30 or so job seekers about the topic of resume “best practices” and asking them, many of whom are former hiring managers, to share their particular preferences in terms of what they liked (or didn’t like) to see on a candidate’s resume presentation.  What became instantly clear was that job hunters today can abandon any hope of ever putting together a resume that will universally please everyone.

While we all agreed on a few general guidelines, like guarding against typos and including all the keywords pertinent to one’s field, virtually everything else in terms of resume development — including format, length, tone, punctuation style and such — turned out to be highly subjective in nature, with very little consensus on these issues displayed around the room.  Some people really like short resumes.  Some like long, dense ones packed with information.  Some hiring managers enjoy reading about a person’s hobbies and outside interests.  Others feel such things are unprofessional.  Certain recruiters will tell you that you should explictly explain any gaps in your work history and the reasons you left each of your past organizations.  But ask the next so-called expert, and they’ll tell you this merely draws attention to these issues and positions you as a potential job hopper.

Perhaps most interesting of all was when I pulled up two samples of professionally-written resumes, one that a former client paid a service $150 to have written and another that cost an individual (gulp) $2,500 to have assembled!  Without telling the people at my event which one was which, the entire room voted for resume #1 (the cheap one) as the document they liked best.  So even if you outsource the development of your piece, it seems you can’t even really measure effectiveness from a “you get what you pay for” standpoint!

So what is one to do?  How do you know when your resume is “good enough” and it’s time to move on to all the other essential steps of the job hunting process?

The moment of truth I’ve learned to watch for doesn’t relate all that much to the feedback one gets from other people, but centers instead on the moment in time when a client reports — wait for it — that the resume they’ve put together pleases THEMSELVES!

To me, you, yourself, are the most important audience for your resume.  Since it’s seems bloody well impossible to achieve “universal acclaim” from those around you, and you’ll never know the specific personal preferences of the audience you’re targeting with your submissions, I’d suggest you focus on going to whatever amount of effort it takes to reach the point when YOU can say with confidence:

“You know what?  I’m pretty happy with this document — and feel it does a good job capturing my key career contributions, personal strengths, and professional capabilities.” 

Reach that moment in time and we’re in great shape — since you can then set the resume aside, lose the psychic baggage, and move on to the other parts of the process (e.g. lead generation) that are ultimately far more important to getting hired than the resume itself.

So despite what you may hear out there, don’t let somebody bully you into believing that there are a ton of black-and-white rules about what hiring managers and recruiters might — or might not — want to see in terms of a person’s resume presentation.  Just make sure you pass the agreed-upon basics (which I’ve described here) and then, from there, focus on developing a document that’s consistent with your own tastes and personality.  You’re going to be the most important audience you need to please, in the long run!

P.S.  Another frustrating-slash-comical example related to resume preparation?  One of my clients recently sat through a workshop related to getting hired at Boeing, where she was informed that it’s absolutely critical to make sure you have all the right keywords on your resume if you want to make it through the Boeing scanning system.  But just a few minutes later, the presenter said that if you have TOO many of the terms from the job advertisement listed on your piece, your resume will be flagged for suspected fraud and get booted out of the system!  What’s the magic line between having “too many” and “not enough” of the right keywords?  Unfortunately, the speaker wasn’t able to say.  How’s that for a catch-22?