THE BLOG

Resume Soufflé

02/12/2012 04:02 pm ET | Updated Apr 13, 2012

When people approach me these days, it's almost as if they are treating me like I'm in bereavement. They shake my hand, pat my back, tilt the head, soften the voice, and ask the following questions:

How are you doing?

What have you been doing?

Who have you been doing it with?

OK, maybe not so much the last question.

I'll tell you what I tell everyone who asks: "I've been busy, working." I then get the blank look that suggests, "You're unemployed, I don't get what you mean by working."

Yes, I've been working. Hard. Not a full-time employment-type situation with full salary, benefits, a commute, and a filthy microwave in the office's pantry kitchen -- but working. I've been crafting my screenplay; taking on freelance editing and writing gigs; helping out with the kids and the house; and, yes, even exercising.

Oh, and three far more important things: networking, applying for jobs, and polishing my resume.

I have to admit, I was pretty cocky when I first dusted off my resume. I updated and tweaked a couple of things, dubbed it as perfect with a smack of the lips like chef putting a soufflé in the oven, and sent it off to several industry contacts. Against my better judgment, I also dashed it off to an author friend; not just any author -- a gentleman widely regarded as one of the world's foremost resume experts.

A couple of weeks later, I received an email from this authority in which he wrote: "Now how do I say this diplomatically? Your resume really sucks."

The comment didn't just sting. I felt like one of the victims on an episode of CSI TV show -- the guy blasted in the face with a racoon's fangs attached to his nose.

After I settled down a bit, I looked at a fresh print out of the resume (always a good idea, rather than just reading on screen). Ugh, I thought, my expert friend was absolutely right: It really did suck. What was wrong with it? Everything. I'd even broken my own two-page rule about length; the resume was somewhere between short story and novella.

I wasn't sure where to begin, so I tried a few things: solicited advice from a professional career outplacement coach; surfed some web sites; and plowed through quite a few print books.

The outplacement coach was wonderful and encouraging right out of the gate: "I've seen worse. It's salvageable." "Thanks, I guess," I said.

Right off the bat she gave some sharp advice on reducing white space and widening the margins. Then she gave me the "So what?" test. If a bullet on the resume can't answer the question "So what?," then it needs to be rewritten with a powerhouse result or it should removed entirely.

I also went online, doing the first thing 99% of people probably do: Google the word "resume." I got back 438 million hits from the search. It goes without saying that I didn't investigate them all. In fact, after several clicks and reviews, I found myself annoyed looking at resume template software offers on screen; they all struck me as gimmicky and untrustworthy.

The resume site at About.com had some useful information and offers free templates, samples, and links to a few of the resume software sites that had turned me off. I found that the samples online -- from About.com and other sites -- were unappealing and didn't fill up the whole screen like a real resume. The options were overwhelming, and I couldn't tell which one was right for my needs.

One random website -- "Resume Tutor," affiliated with the University of Minnesota -- offered surprisingly useful straightforward tips and advice without any hype or links.

I next moved onto books -- well, now we're hitting my bailiwick. Call me a dinosaur, but I feel that holding a book open lay flat and searching for options and solutions works far better for me than toggling back and forth from site to site on a computer screen. As publisher of so many resume books for different companies, I had to objectively scale back my professional opinions -- about the publishers and authors, whether I knew them or not -- and look at the books from the perspective of someone who is, well, unemployed.

I reviewed about a dozen books -- bestsellers and lesser-known titles--and narrowed them down what I found to be the most beneficial:

Unbeatable Resumes (AMACOM, 2011, by Tony Bashera): has a good overall message, "Keep it simple." Offers excellent samples, as well as top 10 mistakes, and information based on a survey.

Knock 'em Dead Resumes (Adams Media, 2010, by Martin Yate): The book cuts right to the chase with examples and a solid 12-step process that "speaks to the needs of the customer." The author's voice is at once charming and blunt, though not everyone will be charmed by the "Garbage In, Garbage Out" tone in some sections.

Resumes for Dummies (Wiley, 2011, by Joyce Lain Kennedy): This is remarkably good. It's the most techno-savvy of the books I used, offering insightful material on social networking and digital submissions (something I could have used a while ago when I was doing the "Online Application Tango").

After completing my research, I went back and overhauled my resume using the advice from the aforementioned sources, taking the best bits and pieces from each. I chopped the resume down to two pages and, on the outplacement coach's advice, created a separate addendum of publishing and media credits. I sent it over to the outplacement coach for another quick review to which she replied, "It looks good."

I emailed the new resume to industry contacts and recruiters with a brief note explaining that I had refreshed the document. Everyone gave polite, enthusiastic replies, although thus far I haven't received any job leads from it. As we all know, the retail book trade has been undergoing cataclysmic changes (poor Borders!) and has been in serious peril -- much like what happened in the music industry -- so I can't say I'm surprised. The jobs aren't there. Yet.

This leads me to mentioning one last book -- ironically, an ebook-only publication: The Resume Is Dead, by Nelson Wang, in which the author says we are all "zombies," following outmoded rules that have no validity today. "Mass is boring," he writes. "Mass is typical. Mass is average. Guess what. It pays to be different.... The era of the resume is officially over."

My resume soufflé sank. No one reads resumes anymore, what's the point? Why bother? It's all about networking, linking and friending on social media, getting connected... it's who you know. Right?

Well, let's get real. No one will consider you at all if you don't have a resume -- and everyone asks for one, even if he or she has no intention of reading it -- so the darn thing better be good. It can only hurt your chances if it's flawed, even if it doesn't specifically get your foot in the door...

Clicking through the screens of Mr. Wang's ebook -- my how strange that sounds compared to just "flipping the pages" -- the author continues: "If you want to land your dream job, you've got to think outside the box. How about writing a blog that's so compelling that readers pass it onto their friends?"

Ah, a blog -- now we're talking!

Best of success to all job seekers in 2012. My thoughts are with you.

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