Recently, I was contacted by a job hunter who wanted an update to his existing resume, a service I offer to former clients in my practice.
The resume looked strikingly familiar on some level, but the name didn't resonate.
Then it hit me: I HAD written it—but for someone else.
Professional resume writers encounter this scenario all the time, and for the most part, it's flattering to think our work is compelling enough to be copied (at least if we can ignore the obvious part pertaining to copyright law).
However, here's what worries me when I spot a copied rendition of a professional resume (mine or anyone else's): the copier rarely grasps the branding and building process that went behind it in the first place.
Therefore, he's doing himself a grave disservice by borrowing the format, writing style, and tone, then pasting his career story in between that of someone else.
The worst part? The "borrower" often fails to understand this context, and goes right on using it as if it were a coherent and targeted document.
So, if you're determined to make your resume look like the masterpieces that you see on sites like mine, here are 6 likely problems that you'll encounter in doing so:
1. You can easily unravel the original brand strategy… and be left with nothing.
So… you think you have the same career path and can therefore just "tweak" a word or two? Not so fast.
For a resume to be effective, the strategy is set (prior to any writing) based on how well the candidate fits the desired role and the potential for screen-out factors based on his or her personal career path, age, industry preferences, and a host of other factors.
I often compare a client's career path and achievements to others in the industry, pulling out any areas of strength or weakness in credentials (including education and former jobs) to make decisions about word choice and emphasis.
The writing process itself only starts after lengthy data mining and analysis of the job goal. Then, content is wrapped around and woven through the strategy, along with personality traits, resulting in a total picture and unique value proposition.
Given this process, any changes to the resume by someone who doesn't understand the candidate will create problems in the message…and while these nuances may go unnoticed by you, they are all key factors in whether a resume gets read or dismissed.
2. You might slide into generalizations that blur the message.
Here's what one candidate did with my power summary that described market-leading achievements (including a 70% rise in revenue over 2 years, a totally restructured team and profitable turnaround effort, plus a total obliteration of the competition):
"Dedicated and hard working professional with over 12 years of experience in the food service sales and marketing industry, Successful experience in strategic planning, analysis of results, and international media relations."
Now, if you haven't read lists of overused words for resumes, it might be time to do so.
Words like "hard-working" or "successful experience" are both no-brainers and would not be taken seriously by employers… plus, they're a dead giveaway the writer doesn't know what he is doing when trying to describe himself.
3. You could repeat yourself.
And put words like "created," "spearheaded," and "developed" in the document so many times that they'll lose their meaning.
Hopefully, you'll refrain from describing all your achievements as "successful" and reference a thesaurus to avoid using the same word four times in one sentence (as I recently saw in a copied document).
Here's where training in power verbs can really save the day.
Not convinced? Most professional writers count word occurrences (yes, really) and tend to scan documents for our favorite words, just to ensure employers remain fully engaged in your resume.
4. Your changes can mess up the formatting.
Professional resume writers are masters of presentation and formatting, to the point that they'll incorporate tricks and nuances into a resume that escape your untrained eye.
In fact, just moving a sentence or two will often throw an entire page into disarray, because you'll be challenged by figuring out how to adjust headings or change point sizes for spacer lines.
Worse yet, you might feel the need to shrink the font below 11 points. This should only be done for certain sans serif fonts, and then reviewed on different monitors to verify that the over-40 crowd of employers can read your document.
5. Your writing might suck up space (or not make sense).
Professional resume writers specialize in something your English teacher never approved of: sentence fragments. That's right – we boil ideas and full sentences down to the most minute of details in order to avoid that font problem that I just described.
Best practices in journalism (you didn't know that resume writers use the Associated Press Stylebook, now did you?) dictate that sentences must be short, conveying meaning in the first 5 to 10 words. (25-word sentences are held up as the holy grail.)
So, with minimal practice in tight writing, your sentences might be as long as the one I just reviewed in a copied resume: 79 words!
It's close to impossible for your resume to pass a 10-second scan with a dense paragraph like this.
In addition, lack of parallel sentence structure is a dead giveaway that your resume wasn't professionally written. Parallel structure means that your sentences are written in alignment with each other (such as fragments that all begin with nouns, or verb forms that consistently appear in past tense).
6. There won't be any way to update your "work" professionally.
Your personal work style and energy will rarely (if ever) show up in someone else's document. So, you're already operating at a severe brand disadvantage before even trying to have someone update the resume for you.
Think about it: you started with someone else's strategy, brand message, tone, and presentation, and tried to plop a mixed bag of verbiage over the original text.
Now, it really doesn't represent you, and this will make it difficult for a professional resume writer to make sense of it without starting fresh (which would have been my advice in the first place).
In summary, you can certainly TRY to adopt a professionally written resume as your own, but the pitfalls that can trip you up along the way can actually hurt your job search results.
You're better off pulling in some formatting styles that appeal to you, and writing about your own career history—from scratch.
Laura Smith-Proulx, founder of An Expert Resume, is a resume expert & former recruiter who wins interviews for C-Suite leaders using powerful personal branding and resume strategies.
Thanks to Laura Smith-Proulx / Careerealism