I’m a Generic.

February 21, 2011 at 10:18 pm (By Amba)

I’ve led a sheltered (work) life.  Most of my jobs have come through personal connections.  Now that I’m looking for work every which way, I’ve been warned that my resume is lame and drab and poorly represents me as a copy editor.  I’m sure this is true.  I know how to edit an article, but I haven’t got a clue how to write a resume, or where to look for proper examples.  (There are a lot of trashy ones on the web.)

I thought I’d post without further comment a resume assessment that I received from one of the job-hunting websites.  The fact that the writer has an ulterior motive, to sell me an expensive resume-writing service, doesn’t invalidate his critique.  I don’t doubt it.  What fascinates me, though, is how all-important the resume has become.  It says something about the ascendancy of marketing and advertising that the assessment of our skills is now supposedly based on the gloss and graphics of our personal billboard, more than the strength of our references or work samples.  (Red highlighting added by me.)

Dear Annie,

I’m the Jobfox resume expert who was assigned to evaluate your resume. I reviewed your resume with the goal of giving you an honest, straightforward assessment of your current resume, and not a judgment of your skills and qualifications. I should warn you about my style: I’m direct and to the point, so I hope you won’t be offended by my comments. My goal is to help you present yourself to potential employers in the best possible light, increasing your odds of landing a job you want.

So, let’s get started on reviewing your resume:

Here’s the good news: My first impression of you is that you have an impressive array of skills and experiences. You’re a qualified Senior Copy Editor with a lot to offer an employer. Now, here’s the bad news: Your resume does not pass the 30-second test, and the content is not up to the standards one would expect from a candidate like you. Countless studies have proven that resume quality is the key determinant as to whether a candidate is selected to be interviewed. Your resume needs a boost from a visual, content, and overall writing standpoint to engage the reader. It needs to make them want to learn more about you. I didn’t find it to be exciting, and it didn’t make me want to run to the phone to call you. In short, your resume is effectively sabotaging your job search.

Annie, your resume is missing key elements that we see on the best resumes at your level of experience. Here are the major issues I see on your resume:

Your resume’s visual presentation

We’ve all been told that looks don’t matter as much as substance, but in the case of your resume this just isn’t true. I found your design to be visually uneven and simplistic. The appearance is not polished, and it doesn’t say “high potential Senior Copy Editor.” Remember that your resume is your marketing tool. It’s the first impression a potential employer has of you. Now – think about how generic brands are marketed versus the name brand. The packaging, advertising and branding are all carefully selected to attract attention and convince you to buy. Your resume should do the same thing- you want to be the brand name product. I’m concerned that your resume is selling you like a generic, and that it’s not likely to get picked among those of other candidates. The ideal resume design is airy, clean, and uncluttered, with the effective and strategic use of white space.

The content of your resume

As I was reading your resume, I was trying to imagine myself as a hiring executive, looking for that ideal Senior Copy Editor. When I reviewed your resume, I asked myself if I could easily pick out your key attributes, experience, skills and accomplishments. A recruiter will do this to quickly decide if you’ll be successful in the job they have open. When I read your resume, the answer to that question was “no.” Here is one of the reasons why:

Your resume has an objective statement instead of a career summary. An objective is more for a new college grad or someone very early in their career. A career summary is a critical element of your resume and it should be designed to compel the hiring manager to keep reading. The purpose of this section is to define you as a professional and cover those areas most relevant to your career level and job target. By not having this you are making it easier for the reviewer to say “pass” when your resume is given the customary cursory glance.

From the way the resume is worded, you come across as a “doer,” not an “achiever.” Too many of your job descriptions are task-based and not results-based. This means that they tell what you did, instead of what you achieved. This is a common mistake for non-professional resume writers. To be effective and create excitement, a great resume helps the hiring executive “envision” or “picture” you delivering similar achievements at his or her company. Here are some examples of task-based sentences in your resume:

  • Copyedit and fact check monthly articles addressed to a professional audience of scientists
  • Edit and vet all articles for clean copy, lucid style, and factual accuracy on a monthly deadline

Employers want to know about your previous contributions and specifically how you’ve made a difference. More importantly, they want to know how you are going to make a significant difference at their company.

When I read your resume, I didn’t find compelling language that brings your work to life. I saw many passive words and non-action verbs. Phrases like “evaluated” and “copyedited” add no value to your resume. Strong action verbs, used with compelling language to outline exemplary achievements, are essential parts of a well-constructed resume.

Now, let’s put it all together. Here’s a real life example taken from a former client’s resume. By changing the language, we helped improve the perception of the candidate.

  • Passive language/ Doing: Duties include dealing with difficult customer service issues
  • Action language/ Achieving: Entrusted with the most complex customer service issues as a result of exceptional ability to promptly resolve concerns and satisfy customers.

A change like this makes a dramatic improvement.  [In this specific case I disagree.  I think it sounds like puffery and hype from a professional resume writer. Employers aren’t stupid.  Are they?] I hope you can see the difference when we implement action verbs, achievements, and results.

The writing on your resume

It’s easy to overlook errors in your resume. They could be typographical errors, inconsistent verb tenses, grammatical errors, punctuation problems, or misspelled words. You’ve rewritten the resume and proofed it multiple times so you may not notice the issue. But errors can be the kiss of death for your resume. Recruiters are reading your resume with fresh eyes, and they’re experts at finding errors. A misspelled word or punctuation error may not seem like a big deal, but to an employer these errors demonstrate unprofessionalism and a lack of attention to detail. That’s not the impression you want to leave. I spotted at least one of the above-mentioned errors on your resume.

Additional Issues

• I liked your use of bullets to emphasize, but you probably want to consider limiting them in some areas to increase the impact to the employer. If they see too many bullets, they might find it difficult to zero in on the most important information. Size and type of bullets are also a consideration. Although seemingly minor, visual impact of a resume is the key to ensuring that an employer reads it thoroughly.

• When reading through your resume, I noticed that it contained several pages. And, this doesn’t even include your cover letter. Employers have a limited amount of time to scan resumes in their initial search, so you want your resume to be as concise as possible.

• Make sure that the additional pages of your resume have contact information on them. If a hiring manager prints your resume, but for some reason, the pages are accidentally separated, the manager is still able to identify the additional pages. They will not spend time trying to place a page that has been separated and will move on to the next resume.

My recommendation

Your resume is selling you short, and I recommend that you make the investment in having it professionally rewritten. Professional resume writers are skilled at writing a resume for the job you aspire to have. They are trained to help move you up the ladder in your field. They are also skilled at taking what you have done in the past and translating it to show how it is relevant to other industries or professions.

Many people ask a friend or colleague to help them write a resume. Sadly, unless they are an experienced, certified resume writer this is usually a big mistake. Companies now use electronic tools to capture, evaluate, and screen incoming resumes, so your resume must be organized with the right structure, keywords, and format to be “processed” by a resume tracking system properly. It must be designed to identify select, and track you as a qualified candidate. This is known as keyword optimization and most non-professionals are not well-versed in this technique.

Putting your best resume forward now is critical. The sooner you invest in having your resume professionally written, the faster you increase your odds of landing a job you want. Once your old resume goes into a company’s database, it stays there permanently and could affect your candidacy for other jobs at that company as well. You will be amazed when you see the difference a professionally-written resume can make in presenting your credentials.

As I’m sure you know, be certain to send a cover letter when you forward your resume directly to a recruiter or hiring executive for a specific job. A well-written cover letter can give you a valuable edge over other candidates with similar skills. It’s the best way to make a memorable appeal that grabs attention and personally links you to the job. Use it to explain why you are uniquely qualified for the specific role. Jobfox can craft a custom cover letter that distinguishes you from the crowd (and it’s free when you purchase a professionally-written and formatted resume.)

Why Have Your Resume Rewritten by Jobfox?

To encourage you to make the investment now, we are offering our best price on our resume writing services in the first 7 days after you view your resume evaluation. Save $75 off our standard price of $399. In addition, we are the only resume service that offers the option to pay for your resume in installments. We spread the cost over six months to make our service affordable for everyone.

If you purchase in the next 7 days, you have the option to make a one-time payment of $324 (a $75 savings), or six monthly payments of $59.00. Either way, you will still have your new documents back in 4-6 business days so you can improve your chances of getting hired quickly.

What’s included in the Jobfox Resume writing Service?

  • Professionally written resume in Microsoft Word format
  • Electronic version of your resume (e-resume)
  • Resume Keyword optimization
  • Professionally written reusable cover letter (if you order in the next 7 days)


  1. Randy said,

    First impression: That would’ve made a LONG letter ;-).

    Second impression: Some good points there.

    Third impression is a question for you: How many of them, shorn of today’s jargon, really are all that new to you? (No offense meant to the author, btw.)

    A thought about one of the highlighted phrases: I guess electronic analysis and “keyword optimization” aren’t all that surprising, just another example of the adoption of Google-like techniques in seemingly unrelated fields.

  2. amba12 said,

    That keyword optimization thing is right out of You Are Not a Gadget.

  3. amba12 said,

    Fun contest: come up with some action phrases that make copyediting sound exciting.

  4. pathmv said,

    Very interesting. A couple of thoughts occurred to me. One, I get a vague feeling that the overall critique was not really written by an individual, but pieced together from a variety of pre-written paragraphs (that, too, doesn’t necessarily invalidate the critique).

    Two, though, was that one part in particular resonated with me, the discussion about coming across as a “doer” rather than an “achiever.” I recently helped a good friend write a note to his boss, asking for a raise. I had previously generally advised him to focus, in a recent verbal conversation with the boss, to how his work had contributed to the company’s bottom line. His draft follow-up letter was close, but in many subtle ways, it really was saying “I’ve worked really hard” rather than “I’ve brought in $X million of business to the company.”

    For example, he referred to some work he had done keeping a relatively small client happy, and said that the client was a good reference for the company. When he added a specific reference to the amount of business the small client had done with the company, one new client resulting specifically from a reference from the small client, and 2 specific leads (by name) to potential new clients coming from the small client, the paragraph was transformed from “I work really hard” to “Here’s what I add to your bottom line.”

    Similarly, where he previously talked about how much work he put into promoting the company at technical forums (he is now asked to give presentations in several conferences) only in generic terms, I suggested he add references to specific clients and opportunities arising from contacts made at those conferences. When he made the fairly simple changes, the effect on the overall tone of the letter was dramatic. It was no longer “look how many long hours I put in for you,” it was now “you need me, and I’ve earned a raise because I’ve added this much in value to the corporate bottom line.”

    The point of my friend’s letter, and your resume, is to persuade the other person… so you have to put it in terms that THEY will appreciate. And in the end, all they care about is results, how quick they get them, and how much they have to pay for them.

    As for you, Annie, are you trying for some permanent gig, or hoping to continue free-lancing? I know nothing about the copy-editing world, but would assume that the resume needs are very different for free-lancing versus copy-editing.

    Glad to have you back in the states (and back on the blog). Let me know when you’re ready to visit Louisiana!

  5. amba12 said,

    I do sort of feel like Rip van Winkle, discovering that to reenter the world he’ll have to market himself.

  6. pathmv said,

    In serious answer to your number 3, how about some examples (shorn of identifying info of previous clients, of course)? Something like: “Kept a prominent natural history magazine from saying X when they meant Y.” Could get a couple of chuckles, at least. And you could illustrate a couple of those with photos or drawings next to them. More to the point, though, would be bland stuff like “returned 75% of assignments at least 12 hours before deadline, and 100% of assignments by deadline.” Kind of hard to quantify how many mistakes you caught, or how much qualitatively better your editing was than somebody else’s would have been.

    Hey, you know what could be fun and catch their attention (would wreak havoc on the computerized screeners, but those things are silly)? Include intentional errors in the printed copy, but show the corrections in red ink by hand. Probably wouldn’t work in this computerized age, where I would assume you make all your copyedits on the computer itself, but if there’s any hiring folks left over from the old days, they might get a kick out of it.

    When I applied to Harvard Law, I caught a copy-editing problem on the application form: they had erroneously carried forward the previous year’s application deadline to the current year’s form. I circled the error in blue ink. They were apparently not amused, as I was not admitted.

  7. mockturtle said,

    I would have said that brevity is not only the soul of wit but the essence of a good resume and this letter critiquing yours breaks all the rules. He makes some good points about resumes in general, though, not that I would know what to look for in a good copy editor. Without seeing said resume it’s hard to tell if he’s spot-on or just selling you his service.

    Why not just sharpen it up and throw in a little chutzpah? You don’t need this guy!

  8. amba12 said,

    I get a vague feeling that the overall critique was not really written by an individual, but pieced together from a variety of pre-written paragraphs (that, too, doesn’t necessarily invalidate the critique).

    I agree with both parts of that. The flaws in resumes are probably common enough that at least some prefab pieces can be plugged into a critique and be quite accurate.

    I am looking for whatever I can get, from freelance to full-time. The problem with copyediting, as with many fields, is that people stay in their positions for a long time (and that adds to their value, because they know their publication’s or company’s needs and preferences so well) AND the economy has dumped a lot of qualified people onto the job market, more than there are job openings.

    But I’m more than half serious about wondering how you make copyediting sound exciting and characterize its specific results.

    I do have some good quotes from scientists who appreciated my work on their stories. The best one is NSFW, though: “Your fact checker is quite the ball-buster. I’m very impressed.”

  9. amba12 said,

    You don’t need this guy!

    Need him or not, I can’t afford him anyway!

  10. pathmv said,

    Hey, use that! Just write it as “b***-buster.”

    I really don’t think it’s about “excitement” as just approaching it from the point of view of how hiring you meets the client’s needs. One of those is that you don’t miss much, and so the quote is very apropos. You’re right that it’s very hard to characterize the specific results, but quotes like that from clients are right on target. If you have several quotes like that, you could include them toward the top of your resume. “Former clients rave! [quotes]”

  11. mockturtle said,

    I agree about using the quote. Throw in some more if you have them.

  12. wj said,

    Like you, I’ve gotten all of my jobs (other than the very first one out of college) via personal referrals/recruitment. Of course I do have a resume — big companies’ Personnel Departments require them to file, even if they are not involved in the hiring decision.

    But I have actually paid a little attention to how to write one — because I spent some time out of work and looking. The resume didn’t end up being the source of a job, but I learned a little:

    The first thing you want is for whoever picks up your resume to acdtually read it. So

    1) If your industry has a standard, use it. (Google can be hand here.) If it’s not in a standard format, Personnel will likely toss it unread.

    2) Right at the top, put something to catch the reader’s eye, and convince him to read further. That can be an unusual skill, special experience, or anything else. I think the Marketing folks call that a “hook” — a term borrowed from novelists’ “narrative hook” I suspect.

    3) If you have seen a position announcement, make sure you include all the buzz words it used. Personnel folks typically know nothing about the jobs they are recruiting for. All they can do is check the buzz words to see if everything is there (exactly as written because they won’t recognize a synomyn either).

    43) Have someone else read it and make suggestions. You don’t have to take any of them. But just having another set of eyes read it will find things that could stand to be changed. I think it actually helps if the person reading it doesn’t know your industry, and preferably hasn’t discussed your work with you. Keeps them from letting something slide just because they “know what you meant.”

    5) In an area like yours, where you have done a lot of free-lance work, References are likely to be in short supply. So a couple of (attributed) quotes could be helpful. Especially if they are from someone the reader is likely to know of. Yes, that does mean that you have different editions of the resume, depending on where you are applying. No sense having a rave review from a Romance author if you are applying for a journal position, and vis versa.

    6) Keep it to 2 pages if possible, 3 pages max. If it’s longer than that, the hiring manager is not going to read it anyway. All you want them to do is be impressed enough to want to talk to you; anything more is a waste of your (and their) time.

    Good luck!

  13. Ron said,

    I’m waiting for the day when the web spiders can cut me check directly…that way my keyword optimization will prove my ability to perform which will prove my ability to make my organization more profitable which will allow them to get their burn rate on their angel money up, thus saving Western Civilization.

    So watch those commas….Our ability to repay the Chinese depends on it.

  14. amba12 said,

    Excellent practical advice, thank you!!

  15. Rod said,


    Welcome to the job hunt in the 21st Century. Everybody must be marketed: lawyers, doctors, teachers, and copy editors. And, there is a marketing person ready to charge you for helping you find your way.

    Screw them all. You write beautifully. If you send out resumes, somebody will recognize talent and years of training. That is the person you want to work for.

  16. Ron said,

    No Problemo! If there’s a schtick on the ground, I’ll pick it up and swing until I hit something….

  17. amba12 said,

    Thanks, Rod. That is comforting when I was feeling rusticated and superannuated. I am, of course — but you’re making me feel OK about it. :–P

  18. amba12 said,

    Thanks, wj, I actually filed that one under “Jobs.”

  19. Donna B. said,

    “Keyword optimization” is just a fancy phrase for jargon, or for terms of art, and it is both itself.

    Resumes have always been a tool for self-marketing. Terms of art have always been important. This is not new and not related to technology. The only thing new in that marketing letter is that there is such a thing as a certified resume writer now. Who is doing the certification? Isn’t certification jargon for “now I can charge more”?

    But do take seriously the admonition to check extra carefully for spelling errors. Normal grammar and punctuation don’t necessarily apply in a resume format — consistency is more important. But spelling… that’s really important.

    The last 10 years I was employed (1993-2003), one of my duties was being the first set of eyes on any resumes submitted. These were for professional positions and I guarantee that a misspelled word got the resume put on the bottom of the stack. (They were sorted by total number of misspellings… and the ones that misspelled terms of art — those keywords, ya know? — were placed at the very bottom.)

    Proofreading tip from years and years ago when I worked at a newspaper as a typesetter/proofreader: read it backwards. This shorts the brain’s natural tendency to make sense of a sentence. Plus, it’s durn near impossible to proof something you have written on a screen. Always proof a printed copy. Of course, this doesn’t apply to grammar or punctuation.

    The most valuable service this company is providing is formatting your resume for electronic submissions where a Word document won’t necessarily “translate” well. The most valuable advice is to ditch the objective statement — it’s dumb even for recent college grads IMHO.

    And here’s a ditto to what PatHMV wrote.

    But don’t downplay personal connections. Of my offspring and their significant others, only one of them has recently got a job or promotion in which personal connections did not play a huge part. This is true even of those in the military, even though signing up in the first place didn’t require connections.

  20. pathmv said,

    And of course, Annie, all of us are happy to look over your resume for you and offer our own thoughts and edits!

  21. amba12 said,

    I’m quite sure of my spelling. Maybe there’s a grammatical inconsistency, such as past tense for things I did and present tense for things I’m doing now. Note that he doesn’t say what the “error” is, to make you anxious.

  22. pathmv said,

    Yeah, that paragraph is surely one of the pre-written paragraphs; almost all of it is “should” statements which do not actually claim that any of them are in your resume; only the last sentence “I spotted at least one of these” makes a direct claim of an “error.” But the class of error is so broad, and there are sufficient differences of opinion regarding certain grammatical and typographical standards, that the claim of an error is literally true of all resumes.

  23. Ron said,

    If you are tense at present, isn’t every tense you’re in always present?

  24. A said,

    What Rod said. Far more measured than what I was going to angrily splutter.

  25. wj said,

    To your question, “Employers aren’t stupid. Are they? ” Employers, as such are not. However the Personnel folks who actually look at the resumes are, to be kind, ignorant. Which is why, even if they are not doing electronic scans for the words and phrases from the job posting, you need to put all of those in.

    Pretend that you are a 22 year old, fresh out of college with a degree in something like Ethnic Studies or Education. And you are looking for people to fill a position doing something you know nothing about (which is pretty much everything a company might do). All you can do is look for keywords — so that’s what they do. (And why electronic scans for keywords are so popular.

  26. pathmv said,

    Spam clean-up on aisle 25, spam clean-up on aisle 25…

  27. pathmv said,

    Interesting… when I marked the spam post as spam, everything else was renumbered. wj’s 9:48am comment, now labeled as #25, is not spam, of course.

  28. amba12 said,

    Thanks, Pat!!

  29. wj said,

    Thanks, Pat. (For a minute there I was thinking “What have I done?!?!?”)

  30. realpc said,

    A resume should be short (preferably one page) and focused. Leave out everything that does not apply to the type of job you are applying for. Leave out the year you graduated college to avoid age discrimination. Just keep it simple and factual and serious. If they need someone with your skills and experience, they will call. Make sure to include work you did for well-known publications with recognizable names.

    You can leave out information about whether a job was full time or part time or freelance, or how you got it. All that matters is whether the experience was relevant. You want impressive things that will jump out at the hiring person, which I’m sure you have. You edited stories for Nature — that kind of thing should be prominent because they will recognize it immediately.

    Remember that everyone is busy with a tiny attention span. Familiar names stand out, simple ideas get noticed. Everything else gets ignored or skimmed.

  31. realpc said,

    ” I think it sounds like puffery and hype from a professional resume writer. Employers aren’t stupid. Are they?”

    You are right. Maybe bragging works sometimes, but it can also backfire. And it certainly is not your style. I would just stick to facts and keep it simple.

  32. callimachus said,

    Copy editor resume:

    Never been sued. Never been late. Saved more asses than Jesus at a nudist colony.

    More than a few reporters won awards based on stories I pulled apart and rewrote for them, anonymously.

  33. callimachus said,

    Maybe also add: “Hire me, fool, or I’ll go to work for people who hate you.”

  34. Hale said,

    That was fraud. EXACTLY the same “review” I got from topresume.com. These are clearly fraudsters with thousand monkey websites working on the same scheme. They discourage you bu implementing some of your key phrases into their template, then encourage you to pay $200-300 for the cheap robot-generated form.
    The thing I got from this – it does not mean your resume is bad. But their captivating trick with the mail is simply some truism about common mistakes. So, just follow these guidelines, butt DO NOT pay a cent, because there is nothing new, or personal in that message.

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