Ask a Professional Resume Writer: Lynda Spiegel, Rising Star Resumes

Vladimir Popovic
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Today we’re talking to Lynda Spiegel from Rising Star Resumes. As a human resources executive with over 14 years’ experience, she has personally recruited and hired thousands of talented individuals. That experience has afforded her the best understanding you can find about which resumes will get read and which will be by-passed.

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

Rising Star Resumes

A: My background not only includes 14 years as a Human Resources practitioner, but also experience writing marketing communications. I left the corporate world in 2013 to work for a HR consultancy practice, but the “aha!” moment came in 2014, when I realized that all those years recruiting, interviewing and hiring people meant that I have greater-than-average insight into how headhunters and recruiters read resumes. Leveraging that insight with my marketing communications skill made writing resumes a natural service to provide. While I had always written resumes for friends and family, I started Rising Star Resumes last year to focus on it full time. My website URL is, and potential clients can view samples of resumes I’ve written for various industries as well as read my many posts on the art and science of resume writing.

Rising Star Resumes

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

A: Only three? The most egregious mistake is using meaningless phrases, such as “team player,” or “self-motivated.” Really? Isn’t everyone? And would you admit it if you weren’t? Another common mistake is to make unsubstantiated claims, such as “highly successful in closing new business.” I always counsel my clients to SHOW, not TELL. How much new business did you close? Quantify it, and then I know how successful you actually are. The third mistake is to treat the resume as though it were your autobiography. No one wants to read through a lengthy bullet list of everything you did at every job you ever had.

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

A: 3-6 seconds. If it succeeds in grabbing my attention, then I’ll put in a folder to read thoroughly.

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

A: I’m looking for a candidate who meets most of the criteria listed in the job description, but who has a background that suggests to me that he/she is adaptable and flexible.

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

A: Typos, spelling mistakes and a busy format that includes a tiny font size

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

A: The ability to present his/herself concisely and clearly. A level of achievement appropriate to where the candidate is career-wise. Entry-level candidates aren’t expected to show as many accomplishments as a mid-to-late career executive.

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

A: I’ve never received one, actually. They seem kind of trendy and not especially professional.

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

A: Functional resumes are formatted to showcase a person’s skill set over actual jobs held. No one is fooled by this approach, but I believe it’s a good way for career changers to explain their value proposition.

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

A: Don’t send a PDF file Select as many keywords from the job description as you can honestly include in your resume, and use them judiciously. Always have a human backup at the company. This is where LinkedIn is a blessing. I can’t tell you how many times people get rejected by ATS, but someone in their network gets their resume in front of the right person, and viola! The evil ATS is thwarted.

Q: What is your position on photos on resumes?

A: In the U.S., they are not allowed – too much potential for discrimination.

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

A: Why? Because it’s so hard for most people to write about themselves objectively. Some people are too modest and others too smug. Also, not everyone is a good writer! More than that, a resume isn’t just a written document; it’s a very, very important marketing tool. You need it to sell yourself to your next employer. Isn’t that worth a couple of hundred dollars?

Q: What is your opinion regarding resume length?

A: Many people are told that their resume MUST fit on one page. That’s fine if you are a recent graduate. Otherwise, how can you explain your value proposition and your professional brand AND list your employment and education on one page? No way – unless you use a tiny font, and recruiters hate that. On the other hand, three pages is too much, although I’ve seen some excellent IT resumes that long. For most candidates, two pages is optimal.

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

A: What have they been doing when they were not studying? Internships are great, but even working at Starbucks tells me something positive about them. Why did their choice of a major delight them? I’ve always preferred hiring people who are passionate about something, so I’d rather hire a smart, willing-to-learn English major who took that route because he/she had a passion for Shakespeare than a business major who was in it as a career stepping stone. What courses did they take? Are they well-rounded people?

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

A: I don’t put “References available upon request” on the resumes I write because obviously I expect candidates to provide them because I will ask.

Q: And what about cover letters?

A: Target your cover letter to respond to each job you are responding to. Don’t write a template and just change some of the wording. Identify one or two experiences you’ve had that specifically relate to bullets in the job requirements. Keep it short!

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

A: How about explaining them honestly? No one is fooled by seeing gaps presented as the person working as a consultant, or for themselves, unless, of course, the person actually did. Family businesses are also a dead give-away.

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

A: Quantifiable, legitimate evidence that the candidate is good at what I need him/her to do.

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

A: I don’t want to hear about the person’s hobbies. When and if we become colleagues, I will care about your personal interests. Right now, I need a qualified candidate who is a good cultural fit. Also, in the U.S., it isn’t legal to ask about someone’s children, marital status, or sexual orientation, so Americans don’t put that type of information on their resumes – or at least they shouldn’t.

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

A: I don’t dig deeper; I use a background checking service.

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

A: Your resume needs to work as hard as you do! So make sure that every word counts by clearly articulating your professional brand and your value proposition.

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