Your Resume Isn’t About You

Woman taking a selfie wearing a narcissist tshirt

I know, click-bait title, but it’s true. Your resume isn’t about you; it’s about what problems your future boss needs solved.

This takes a mindset shift on your part, but once you take the leap, writing a resume gets easier and shorter. So, here are six things to help you with your resume.

It Only Has One Purpose

That’s right, your resume only has one purpose. Think about that for a second, do you even know what it is? Most people would say ‘highlight my skills and achievements’ or some such.

They’re wrong. You’re wrong. I have been wrong for many years. It has one purpose: to get you an interview. That’s it.

Once you get over yourself and stop thinking about your resume as the total of your brilliance, achievements, education, status and self-worth and start to realise that no one cares, you’ll write better resumes.

Jobs exist because a problem needs solving. Maybe that ‘problem’ is that someone invented the Jesus Phone and needed more software architects or maybe it’s because a star employee just stole all the clients, no matter, a problem exists and you need to solve it. Or for this article, your resume needs to solve it.

A problem-solving resume will be shorter, designed to show that you can solve the problems that your future boss wants solved and it will stand out from the other problem solvers out there.

Getting Past The ATS

You’re now on board with dropping the narcissism and embracing the problem-solving mentality for your resume, but first, you need to get past the ATS. ATS is Applicant Tracking System/Software.


ATS is not technically search engine optimisation, but it is close. If your professional expertise uses certain words, use them in your resume. If the job ad uses certain words, use them.

Maybe it’s project management, social media strategy, systems implementation. You excel at something that is in the job ad; that is a problem that needs solving, but if you don’t use those words in your resume enough, the ATS robots will rank you lower than someone who uses them.

Is this fair? Is this a good way to see what kind of special butterfly you are? No and no. But it is efficient. If HR or a recruiter get hundreds or even thousands of applicants for one position some sorting needs to be done and automating it is a necessary evil.

If you’ve ever applied for a job at a major company or through a recruiter, then an ATS has been used.

ATS Bugs: No PDF

ATS is not perfect even at the best of times; it has bugs you should be aware of. Yes, you can game the system with SEO. But in the negative version, some of them don’t like PDF resumes. Not all of them, but some. Who’s to say which one. Don’t risk it.

True Story: I used one of those cool online resume services that pull in data from your LinkedIn profile to build a custom resume. Yay! Not so fast. The ATS for one recruiter couldn’t read it. They called asking for a Word version. Which I didn’t have. After compiling it and spending hours formatting, finally I was done. Lesson learned.


So, no PDF, but what about all those red underlines in my document? Read-only. Turn off all nonprinting characters and make your document read-only and it will look just like a PDF but be readable by the ATS. Problem solved.

Six Seconds

Studies have shown that your resume only gets six seconds of reviewing on the first go around by a recruiter/HR manager. Subsequent counter studies have shown more time, but we’re still talking seconds, not the half hour that your mum would give it.

Six seconds means your resume needs to be visually scannable, well spaced out, normal font size, bold company names or job titles (pick one) and with the most important information clearly visible on page one and or at the top of each job.

If you’ve thought about how to game the ATS above and now you’re thinking about this, there’s a conflict. Loading your resume with keywords could have had you reducing the font size to add more words per page.

There’s no silver bullet (point) here, you have to do both. Your resume must contain keywords for the ATS, and it must be easily readable by a human who reads thousands of them a day.

Six seconds also means no fancy fonts, layouts or colours. It will distract the reader. Remember, six seconds.

One Resume Per Application?

So many resume tips tell you to write an individual resume for each role. I think this is insane. It makes total sense but is at the same time unrealistic. My solution: reordered dot points.

For each role I have had, on my resume I have a long list of dot point achievements. But they don’t all need to be there for each new role I am applying for. Remember you’re trying to solve a problem, not validate your ego. So for each role I apply for, I reorder the dot points and delete from the bottom so that only the relevant ones are at the top. Voila! Individual resumes with little effort.

Dot Points You Say?

Yes, dot points. Back again to problem-solving. There have been lots of articles about this methodology, so I don’t know who to credit, but Laszlo Bock is in there, so he’ll do.

The impact is what you want to show. Impact over time. “Increased revenue by 40% over 18 months.” “Saved company $100k per year with a new contract I negotiated.” But remember problem-solving, so keep them relevant and remember ATS so use the right words.

Here’s my formula: each job has a blurb listing in a sentence or two my responsibilities and then I list in dot point form my achievements. Dot points are short, contain numbers and are concrete.

LinkedIn: The New Hidden Job Market

I’ve written a lot about LinkedIn over the years, here, here and here, and there are many reasons for you to be there, but the main one is that’s where the recruiters are.

Recruiters have powerful LinkedIn tools that let them search for people who haven’t thought about or even know about a new role.

Why wait for people to hopefully see a job ad when you can search LinkedIn for 100s of people with exactly the right skills, experience and networks that you’re looking for. That’s the attraction of LinkedIn to recruiters and employers.

That means you need to be there. And more importantly, your resume and your LinkedIn profile need to match.

So Much More

There’s lots more, but as long as you look at your resume as solving a problem for your future employer, you’ll be on the right path.

  • Photos: Don’t put them on your resume. In Australia at least. They take up space, age poorly and open you up to discrimination.
  • Addresses: Not needed as email is fine, and again, opens you up to discrimination.
  • References: Everyone needs them, but they don’t need to be on your resume. When they ask for your references, give them.