Ask an Authority: Steve Burdan, Resume Writer

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Vladimir Popovic

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Tonight, we’re conducting an interview with Steve Burdan, a professional resume writer.

We can learn a lot from an experienced professional as Steve is. Enjoy it.

Q: Tell me something about you and your business. How did you start?

steve burdan

A: I’ve been writing resumes non-stop since 1992 and have had my own business for the last ten years. I get my own clients, as well as sub-contract to large service providers. My website is www.realclearresumes.com and my LinkedIn Profile is www.linkedin.com/in/steveburdancprw. I always provide free resume review and personalized analysis, along with project quotes and job search support.

Q: What are the three most common mistakes applicants make in their resumes?

A: 1. Too few personal achievements, 2. Unclear career narrative and 3. Lack of a strong introductory Profile area.

Q: How much time do you spend on one resume at first glance after you receive it?

A: I’m able to review and do triage on resumes very quickly, having done this kind of work for almost a quarter of a century.

Q: What is the first thing you look for in a resume?

A: First off, I check out their Profile area and second, I check out their Education section – this is an old habit from my executive recruiter days. Then I look for specific achievements and key words that relate to their general objective.

Q: What are the three main eliminating factors of resumes you review?

A: This is similar to question #2 above – though a few additional points – 1. A resume too thin or too thick – not enough info or way too much – and the wrong info – too much general job description and not enough specific achievements. 2. A resume with too many graphics, almost like a person wearing too much make-up. 3. A resume too muddy and unclear – many people just plop a lot of info onto the page with no organization or focus – there is no central narrative.

Q: What are the three main attributes in a resume of a candidate that will be called for an interview?

A: 1. Narrative packed out with key words specific to job niche. 2. Best of best achievements, usually no more than 5 per position. 3. Content that reflects back to reader as much of what job requires as possible.

Q: What do you think of graphic and video resumes?

A: I’m not a big fan of either option! Video resumes can be polarizing – people are unprepared and they can be like pictures on resumes, which I also suggest avoiding. Resumes with intensive graphics can be distracting and polarizing – like wearing too much make-up or having too many tattoos.

Q: What do you think of a functional resume format?

A: The only advantage of a Functional format is that the jobseeker can solely focus on skills, expertise or abilities. Downsides are a lack of chronological context, lack of flexibility for customizing the resume per real-time opportunity and the creation of a shadow of doubt in the employer’s mind when this format is chosen – this is the least effective of the 3 fundamental formats IMO – Chronological, Functional and Combination – this last combines the best of the other two.

Q: Can you share up to five quick tips for applicants in order to pass ATS screening?

A: In reality, there are no quick tips for getting through ATS screening – companies hold all the cards because they pick and choose the key words they are looking for. The best the jobseeker can do is pack as many key words in as a coherent fashion into the Resume. Actually, jobseekers need to focus their primary energy on networking and talking to human beings, rather than settling for the online “cattle call” with thousands of other candidates and hoping somebody picks them out of the blue.

Q: What is your position on photos on resumes?

A: I’m against photos on US-based resumes – outside the US, particularly in Europe, it is more common to put them on. But I counsel my non-US clients to not use photos, if at all possible. The main reason is to minimize negative or polarizing factors in the resume.

Q: Why is professional resume writing service worth a couple of hundreds of dollars?

A: This kind of service is well worth the initial investment since so much is at stake! Working with a professional gives my clients real peace of mind – they feel good about being engaged in the process. 99.9% people cannot produce their own resumes – they don’t do it all the time and therefore won’t be good at it. Worse, they run the risk of missing out on good opportunities because their resume is so badly done.

Q: What is your opinion regarding resume length?

A: Almost every resume can be packaged into 2 pages – sometimes I go to 3 pages if the person is a senior IT or Fortune 100 executive. Resumes longer than 3 pages are pretty much as rare as unicorns.

Q: What are the three main points undergraduates or recent graduates need to present in their resume?

A: 1. They still need a Profile and Core Competencies area to weave together the overview of their experience so far. 2. Make sure they have college or community activities listed out in detail since their work history will not be long or deep. 3. Focus on personal networking to get in the door of an opportunity – be positive, confident and perceptive – just like going on a first date!

Q: What do you advice to your clients regarding references?

A: I suggest clients gather a list of 4-5 professional references – Name, Title, Company Name and Best Contact (email or phone). This info should be stacked in a separate document to be sent as needed.

Q: And what about cover letters?

A: Cover Letters are a distant third nowadays behind the Resume and LI Profile. The Letter should be only a “film trailer” to the Resume, not the Resume itself. I encourage people to pack in a handful of key words and achievements that are relevant to the position applied for. Jobseekers should never hang their search hopes on the Cover Letter – indeed, nowadays a quick email is sufficient and a Letter not necessary.

Q: What is your advice on making employment gaps less prominent on a resume?

A: Couple of suggestions: 1. A strong introductory Profile section will go a long way toward orienting readers with the largest strategic narrative. 2. Use only Years, not Months & Years to track positions and career progression.

Q: What would you like to see in resumes more often?

A: It would be great to see resumes that are tighter and more balanced in their narrative flow. Usually resumes, even some that are professionally done, swing between too more info or too little. Plus flexibility for quick customizing is crucial!

Q: What are the most irrelevant parts of a resume for you?

A: The truth and reality is – there should be NO part of the resume that is irrelevant! Every piece should fit together and play a part in the overall narrative.

Q: Do you check online presence of a candidate exclusively through links provided on a resume or you dig deeper?

A: No single answer to the question – and there is no wrong answer… depends on a writer’s process. 

Q: In the end, please add a couple of sentences about resumes for our readers.

A: 1. Get your Resume and Profile done by professionals – don’t “nickel & dime” your job search – you won’t get your new job, with better income, by doing it on the cheap – make the investment – too much is riding on this tool! 2. Make sure the Resume is flexible for quick mods – avoid the one-size-fits-all! 3. Put together a job search campaign that will keep you on track and help modulate the ups and downs that will surely come in the transition, plus gather a good accountability group around you.


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