Why You Don’t Have to Explain Everything on your Resume

One of the most common mistakes people make when writing a resume is to try and explain everything. Every detail, every situation, every technology used, every job held no matter how short – everything.

But this is a mistake. The job of your resume is not to tell the clearest story of what happened – it’s to show your experience in the best light.

The Spotlight Analogy

Imagine watching a play at the theater. At certain points, a spotlight shines on two characters having a conversation while, behind them, shadowy figures run on and off stage rearranging the scenery.

The light tells us where to look. It sends the signal that the stuff happening in the shadows isn’t important so we can ignore it.

And that’s how you need to think about your resume. You must shine a light on the details that are important and push the unimportant information back into the shadows.

I once left a job for what I thought was a better one. Two months in, I realized the job was all wrong for me. I didn’t like the industry, I didn’t like the work, and I didn’t like the location. Luckily my old job was still vacant and they took me back. Phew!

I never included that short-term job on my resume nor did I show there was a break in my employment at the company I went back to. Why bother? It would only complicate the story and it wouldn’t add anything of value.

Your Resume Isn’t an Application Form

Unlike an application form, a resume is not a legal document. You are not signing to say that it is a full and accurate representation of every detail of your career history and therefore, it’s OK to be selective about what you say.

When and if you are asked to complete an application form, you must include everything because you are signing to confirm that you have included every detail. People have been fired for omitting information from their application form and you do not want to be one of them.

Being Selective is OK. Making Stuff Up is Not

Being selective about what to include on your resume isn’t the same as lying. Never fabricate experiences you didn’t have and never lie if asked about experiences you haven’t included on your resume. Lies will always catch up to you one way or another.

But How Do I Decide What to Include?

That’s easy. Put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes and ask yourself what will matter to him. Then shine the spotlight on the things he will care most about. If you have skills and experiences that don’t relate to his needs or concerns, push them into the wings. You can always pull them out another time if they are needed.

Your resume is a marketing document. Just as an advertiser can’t include every feature of his product in a 30-second TV ad, you have to be selective about what you include in your resume. Neither of you are lying as long as the stuff you do say is absolutely true.

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