10 Tips to Writing a Resume Better Than Yahoo’s CEO

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Two weeks ago, Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson got busted for having a fake computer science degree on his resume. Yesterday, he announced he’s leaving for “personal reasons.” Patti Hart, who led the team that hired him, is also leaving.

Thompson told employees last week he “wanted to apologize” for the “distraction,” but he showed no intention of resigning until now. The fake degree apparently dates back until at least when he was being hired for “a job at eBay in the mid-2000 timeframe.”

Moral of the story: Don’t lie about your credentials, because you’ll get caught eventually. Probably by someone who doesn’t like you very much.

But the lesson hiring managers are going to take from this episode is probably a bit different: “I could get fired for your stupidity.” So here’s some advice for tuning up your own resume without getting turned out, starting with the obvious…

1. Don’t lie

Incidents like this are likely to make employers vet candidates more thoroughly in the short term, but it’s not a risk worth taking even under normal scrutiny. Lies can cost you a job, and if they’re publicized, possibly your career in the field.

2. Don’t exaggerate your skills

While it’s not as bad as inventing a degree you never earned, don’t leave an employer thinking you’re an expert at a computer program you can barely operate. If it’s a necessary skill you don’t actually have, you’re going to get caught eventually.

If you want to include skills you “sort of” know but haven’t mastered, no problem: Just be clear about it by separating your skills into “expert” and “knowledgeable” categories. If you’re a whiz and can efficiently do anything from scratch, put it in the former. Anything where you can get by with a refresher goes in the latter.

3. Your resume isn’t your Facebook profile, or even LinkedIn

Bosses don’t look for much in a resume – besides, you know, honesty and real qualifications – and research suggests they spend an average of six seconds looking at one. (But we assume more time on high-profile positions. Or maybe that’s how this happened?)

So just hit the highlights. This isn’t your biography. You can share your interests and hobbies when you make it to the interview, when they’ll want to know more about you.

4. Skip the objective

Odds are an objective isn’t going to make you stand out from the crowd. At best, it’s probably a space waster. At worst, it says something vague (“To gain experience and knowledge in a field I am interested in pursuing for a career”) or lame (“To work ethically in a professional environment”) that a manager might actually laugh at. So look objectively at your objective, and if it isn’t compelling, delete it.

5. Got a college degree? Forget high school

The only reason to include high school on a resume is if you didn’t go to college. High school didn’t matter once you got to college, and it certainly doesn’t matter now. If you have a college degree, just list that – an obvious indicator that you made it through high school.

6. Always include references

Think of references as celebrity endorsements. Saying references are “available upon request” does nothing for you – it’s a wasted opportunity, usually coming from a fear the employer might try to ambush them. But employers aren’t going to call your references before they call you. Bosses are busy people, and it’s a waste of time to ask someone else about you until they ask you about you. So if your bosses from previous jobs think you did well, include them – but ask first, of course.

7. Highlight accomplishments

A job title and work dates don’t tell a whole lot – just that you were a warm body collecting a paycheck. The best resumes include bullets of their major contributions in previous positions: Did you win awards? Boost productivity or profit by a measurable margin? Start a new program or run one better than anyone before you?

8. Tailor the resume to the job

If you’re applying for a different position than the last time you sent in a resume, update it. Your experience may not have changed, but you may want to reword or rearrange things to highlight relevant skills. And if it’s not relevant, trim it or push it down. Remember: six seconds.

9. Make it readable

No matter how much experience you have, few resumes need to be more than two pages, and most don’t need that much. (You only need to go back 10 to 15 years.) Don’t try to cram everything in, using tiny fonts and leaving no space. Summarize, cut unnecessary words, and don’t fear white space. A resume with breathing room will stand out more than a dense one that requires squinting.

10. Proofread (twice)

Hiring managers are just looking for excuses to shrink that stack of resumes on their desk, and a spelling mistake is an easy reason to toss one away. You’re not likely to catch all your typos right after editing, so leave yourself some time to review it later. Then send it to a friend or family member, who will probably catch things you missed.

Don’t be afraid to follow up about a week after you send in a resume – most employers actually encourage it. Sending a cover page in too? Check out 5 Tips for Writing a Terrific Cover Letter.

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