The 9 Circles of Résumé Purgatory
by Dr. Sandy Marcus
Dante, in his famous "Inferno," described the 9 circles of the netherworld in great detail. But there were no résumés in Dante's time. Had there been, he undoubtedly would have reserved a special version of Hades, as follows:
Like Dante's Inferno, Résumé Purgatory is a funnel-shaped structure that extends down, down, down to the very center of the earth. The funnel is like a winding staircase of circles, each getting smaller and smaller until we reach the very bottom, where we find Résumé Devil (who has actually been guiding us all the way down).
1st Circle: The Self-Reliant. This outer level is reserved for those who do not know what to do, but who have been convinced by the Résumé Devil that they have to do it all by themselves. They have never had to look for a job before. Or, sometimes, they haven't had to write a résumé in 10 years. They are bewildered about how to go about it. If you in the 1st Circle, you truly believe that writing a résumé should be easy. You think it is a sign of weakness to ask for help. How can you escape this level of Résumé Purgatory? Read everything you can get your hands on, and ask for help.
2nd Circle: The Misinformed. At this level, the Résumé Devil has convinced you that there is only one way to write a résumé, and this was given in a certain book. So you simply follow the guidelines and sample résumés in the book. You are totally unaware that writing a résumé is like writing a sonnet, in that it is an incredibly constricted format in which you have to make clear your uniqueness as an individual. How to escape this level of Purgatory? Read more than one book.
3rd Circle: The Protégés. This next level is reserved for those who realize that they answer is not in a book. The Résumé Devil tells you to ask your friend, Fred, who works in a Human Resources department and who has read 5,000 résumés. Fred critiques your résumé, but of course reads it differently than the 5,000 he has taken only seconds to skim, and has no idea how to write a résumé for a skimmer. Fred takes a half hour and goes over your résumé with a level of detail he has never done for anyone else. You end up with a complicated mess that a skimmer would throw away. How to escape this level of purgatory? Ask Fred to take only 30 seconds to scan your résumé, and tell you what he has learned about you from that brief glimpse. THEN let him attack it with his red pencil.
4th Circle: The Copiers. At this level of Résumé Purgatory, the Résumé Devil puts a model résumé in front of you, and you are convinced that all you need to do is copy the wording and the format. So that is what you do. Your résumé is a model that the author of the book you read would be proud to include. There's only one problem: You can't figure out how to word the things about your experience and skills that are the most important. And, your résumé looks just like everyone else's. How to escape this level of purgatory? Copy what fits who you are and what makes sense to you. But do not follow the model exactly.
5th Circle: The Verbed. This is a special level of Résumé Purgatory reserved specifically for those who believe that verbs -- action words -- are impressive and highly desirable to a résumé reader, and are therefore a prime necessity as the beginning word for each descriptive item in your job list. This is such a strong belief, that the Résumé Devil tells you about the lists that are published of the best "action words" and "strongest verbs" to use in a résumé. However, there is no company on earth that concludes, "We've simply GOT to hire the person with the best verbs." And, if all that is visible as your reader skims his or her way through your résumé is one verb after another, all they'll read is "developed, initiated, worked on, assisted, managed, served as, planned," etc. It's like reading a thesaurus, and it says little about you. How to escape this level of purgatory? Think ‘key words,' NOT ‘verbs.' You want your reader to see the key words that really paint a picture of you. If it's a verb, fine; but it doesn't have to be.
6th Circle: The Readers. Here we have that special Circle of Résumé Purgatory reserved for those who hope that any potential employer is actually going to read every word of their résumé. Oh, sure, everyone knows that most résumé readers don't really read, they skim or scan your résumé for a few seconds. But when it comes to actually writing a résumé, the Résumé Devil tells you to emphasize this, emphasize that, and of course emphasize these ten other things. Your résumé ends up with a dozen different fonts, unsystematic underlining and bold-facing, columns in some places and not in others, and in general a disorganized mess. You now have NO control over a skimmer's eye. How to escape this level of purgatory? You have to set ruthless priorities: What is your reader going to want to see FIRST? What do you want your reader to find FIRST? That's what should be emphasized, and in a graphical way that your reader's skimming eye will not be drawn away to somewhere else on the page.
7th Circle: The Internetted: This level is reserved for those who have finally constructed a résumé they have faith in and are ready to launch into the job search world. And how, pray tell, do they do that? If you are like most people, you will rely primarily on the Internet, and send off hundreds (if not thousands) of résumés to the many wonderful job search websites that are getting bigger and more important every day. The Résumé Devil tells you that it is not only a great strategy, it is the ONLY strategy. So, at the 7th Circle of Résumé Purgatory, this is the ONLY job search method you rely on. Yet the Internet accounts for a very small percentage (perhaps lower than 10%) of the jobs people obtain. Guess what accounts for about 70%? Some form of personal contact (personal networking, recruiters, referrals, and the like). Why spend 95% of your time on the Internet (which has a 10% yield) and less than 5% on personal networking (which has a 70% yield)? It's a lot easier and less stressful. How to escape this level of purgatory? Learn to network. Take a course on networking, read books, get advice from others. And there are other strategies (looking up old want-ads, job fairs, and cold-calling, for example).
8th Circle: The Inactive: We're almost at the lowest level of Résumé Purgatory. You have now sent off your résumé like the proverbial note in the bottle that is tossed into the ocean. At this level, you wait for something to happen. And you wait, and wait, and wait, and wait. Usually, not much happens. No one calls you back. The Résumé Devil whispers in your ear that it must be a problem with your résumé. In reality, no company is in a hurry to hire. They can wait; it's you who is in a hurry. How to escape this level of purgatory? Two words: FOLLOW UP. Call, send an email, write a letter, but do SOMETHING. But, the Inactive do not follow up, figuring that they do not want to make a "pest" out of themselves. The reality is, if you do not follow up, it is a sure thing that the company will conclude that you are not interested in the job. So, follow up.
9th Circle: The Discouraged. Now you are face-to-face with the Résumé Devil. You are at the bottom of Résumé Purgatory, the last stop before oblivion. Nothing has happened, and you have become totally discouraged. You no longer have any faith in your abilities. You dwell on your weaknesses. You become convinced that nobody wants you and that you have no value to anyone. You stop doing anything about your situation and sit and watch cable TV all day. The Résumé Devil has you in his clutches. You now believe that the only way out is to cleanse yourself of your weaknesses. Then, maybe, you will be acceptable in the eyes of others. How to escape this level of purgatory? You have to make a concerted effort to focus on your strengths, get a good job counselor, an expert résumé writer, and professional guidance in all phases of job search, give it maximum effort, and surround yourself with people who are in your corner and who give you nothing but support and practical advice.
Oh, and one more thing: Tell the Résumé Devil to go jump in the lake.
Dr. Sandy Marcus may be contacted at http://www.center.iit.edu
Sander Marcus, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Certified Professional Resume Writer in Chicago. He has over 3 decades of experience in providing career counseling, aptitude testing, job search coaching, and resume writing to tens of thousands of individuals. He is the co-author of 2 books on academic underachievement, various tests, and numerous articles. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, 312-567-3358. www.center.iit.edu