How Can You Deploy a “Less Is More” Approach to Your Career?

"Less is more" sounds like bad news at first, but you'll be happy with the results.

“Less is more?!” It sounds like bad news at first, but you’ll be happy with the results.

Most of the work I do for clients involves shortening:

  • Getting a four-page resume onto one page.
  • Getting a rambling three-minute answer to a job interview question down to a concise one-minute answer.
  • Getting a 10,000-word article down to the 8,000 maximum accepted by the target journal.

How do I do this?  Well, for one I am not wedded to all the details of your professional life like you are.  I am the “second pair of eyes” that can see the documents from the perspective of an outsider.

But there is a lot you can do to adopt the necessary outsider perspective.  Try to always step back and think from the perspective of the other person in your professional transaction. Then answer the following questions as honestly as you can:

1- “Do I come across as someone who is ‘all over the place’?”

This is the classic problem with a four-page resume.  The reason it is four pages is because you’ve worked in four distinctly different fields and you really need four separate resumes:  one for retail, one for administrative, one for training, etc.

If you’re worried about leaving gaps in your work history, include a single line that shows you were employed during the time period in question.
 
2- “Does my resume make it look like I’m applying to be a student?”

This is mostly a problem with a) recent grads and b) people with lots of certifications, multiple degrees, or coursework toward a graduate degree.

Here’s the rule of thumb:  education should take up less that one-quarter of a page, especially if it’s at the top of the first page.  Ideally, I suggest two lines for education–three maximum.

What do you  need to include in the “Education” section?  Degree. Institution. Year.

I know that’s heartbreaking if you’ve spent your entire life being the best student you can be.  But that’s all anybody needs to see–that you checked the box & got the degree.

What can you leave off? Courses. Any campus-specific awards, programs or organizations.  The semesters you made Dean’s list. GPA (unless you know your industry wants to see that; everyone has a high GPA these days).

If anything currently listed under “Education” is related directly to the work you’re applying for, it should be highlighted elsewhere on the resume as professional experience.

Remember, those reading resumes spend six to ten seconds per resume–and most of that time their eyes are focused on the top of the first page.

You need to highlight the skills and experiences directly related to what you are applying for at the top of the first page.

3- “If I received this document (or answer to an interview question), why in the world would I want to follow-up with this person?”

Remember, you’re not you when you answer this question–you are the person who receives it. You’re the sucker who has to review all the documents that come in. You’ll just feel crabby and annoyed with candidates who make things too long.  You hate when candidates:

  • waste your time by turning in things that are not directly related to the position.  See item 1 above–you’ll look all over the place.
  • don’t follow specific instructions.  If the ad says to send a resume and cover letter, be sure to send both.  If it’s for a position for which you are woefully under-qualified (or simply lack the requisite experience, even though you’d be great at it if they’d just give you a chance), don’t submit anything unless you’ve been specifically asked to by someone in a position of power within the organization.  Academics, when it comes to following instructions, I’m talking word limits on journal article submissions here–reviewers don’t want to read an extra 2,000 words!
  • take short cuts: for example, don’t use 10-point font or smaller to squeeze more words onto a single page, don’t make margins smaller than one-inch all around.  You’re not fooling anyone and such tricks just make it harder on the tired eyes of the poor person charged with reading hundreds or thousands of documents.

Your answers to this question will help you decide what to eliminate.  If you ask yourself ‘what does this bit of information have to do with the job?’ and the answer is “not much,” take it out.

4- “Is everything I’ve prepared a ‘reduction’?”

To use a cooking metaphor, your job search documents and interview answers should be “reductions”–strong and rich, but as concentrated as possible, with all excess “water” boiled off.

To accomplish this, avoid repetition.  Don’t use the same words repeatedly on your one-page resume.  Don’t document the same content on both the resume and the cover letter–the whole point of having both is that you have more room to present yourself than in a single document–one shorter form (resume) and one longer form (cover letter).

As soon as you can, remove your campus word-study job. You may need that on your resume for your first job after graduation, but by the time you’ve accrued that “3 to 5 years experience” in the workplace, take off any work that’s not directly related to your current professional life and/or the actual jobs you are applying for.  

Academics: as you write, start to cut-and-paste extra content into a second document that can later serve as notes, an outline or fully-written parts of your next article.  As yourself, “is this core content for my current article or is this really too much and needs to be the subject of its own separate piece?”  Working on two articles–one primary polished one and one secondary rough one–means you don’t wind up writing one excessively long article that then has to be cut back by the length of an entire second article.

Remember: less is more when it comes to career advancement, whether that means resume & cover letter, answers to interview questions or publications toward tenure.


2009 Head ShotDarcy Lear is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. To schedule a campus workshop or for help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy: darcylear@gmail.com
 
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