My parents are going through this phase where they’ve suddenly decided to clean out the house of clutter. This means that every time they visit they bring me more and more mementos from my childhood including notebooks, papers, and embarrassing photos.

One such pile included a file folder of my early resumes. You had to print them in those days either for mailing, hand delivering, or faxing to potential employers. (Yes, I grew up before the Internet was a thing.)

I found looking at my old resumes (often for some reason titled in a bold historic font Curriculum Vitae) more cringe-worthy than the long-haired photos from my long-gone wannabe rock star youth. Perhaps this is because I do this for a living now, but the resumes really were quite bad.

And here’s the thing: they were bad precisely because I had followed all of the resume rules I was told use at the time. And from the resumes I often see here at Workopolis, many people are still following those same outdated instructions.

The traditional resume pattern

Literally thousands of resumes have the title Resume, C.V., or Curriculum Vitae. Employers already know what a resume is, so labelling it as such is a waste of valuable real-estate. This is your headline, the first thing anyone will read on the document that is their first impression of you. Make it count. Your resume should be titled the name of the job that you are applying for – or how you best describe your career.

Next off, too many traditional resumes start out with the candidate’s objective statement about what they are looking for in a next employment opportunity.

There’s also usually a few self-descriptive sentences about how you’re a hard-working team player who is results oriented and customer focused.

Then they go on to detail what you’ve been up to in your professional life so far, what you studied in school, and what it is you’re good at. Sometime they even list your interests and hobbies.

In short, the resume provides a detailed portrait of who you are and what you’re looking for as a professional.

But how is that interesting to your audience?

You’ll be sending your resume to potential employers who don’t know you and don’t yet care what you’re looking for. Why should they? When reading resumes, employers care about whether or not the person it describes can step into the role they need filled. Do you have the skills to do the job? Can you make their lives easier by filling the vacancy in their team?

Employers aren’t asking, “What has this candidate done, and what are their objectives?”

No, they’re asking, “What can this candidate do for me? Does this resume indicate that they can do it better than the other candidates whose resumes I’m reading?”

Your resume isn’t about you, it is about what you can do for the employer

This is the key message that your resume needs to deliver: I understand what needs to be done (in this role, at this company), and here’s why I would be great at it.

And that’s what most resumes still get wrong. They’re focused on the candidate – the author, when they should be entirely focused on the employer – the audience.

Saying that you’re ‘results oriented’ is useless. Listing the actual results that you achieved is powerful. (Similarly, being a hard worker isn’t particularly interesting unless you manage to accomplish something through all that exertion you put in.) In the real world there are no marks for effort or intent. Results matter.

Describe your past work accomplishments to show that you have the people skills, work ethic, and technical ability to succeed and excel at the job that needs filling.

This is why you must update your resume for each job that you apply for. And updating your resume doesn’t mean simply adding your latest job to the top. You need to read through every word and make sure that every skill included and accomplishment listed are described in a way that makes them relevant to the targeted job. That’s the first rule of successful marketing: focus on the customer needs, not the product specs. (Yes, in this case, you’re the product.)

The one bit of targeting that I had done in the archive or my early resumes was for service-industry jobs I held while in high school and CEGEP. I learned early on in the suburbs of Montreal that no one was interviewing Peter Harris to work in their shops or restaurants. My alter ego, Pierre Harris, however, had far less trouble getting the call.