Let’s Not Get Personal

Recently, I had a client who was questioning an elimination of information we made on his resume. The old resume he had presented to us for an overhaul was over ten years old and included a section called Personal. In the section, he had listed his hobbies, details about his health, his marital status, how many children he had, and other tidbits of information that he felt was vital to the job search.

When we inquired about the efficacy of his old resume years before he reported that results had been quite poor but he attributed that to his attempt to change career fields at the time. In the end, he had taken a position working for a family friend managing a large, retail business and in the ten years since, had done quite well. Now he was ready to change jobs but needed a new resume. Seeing that he was rather emotionally attached to the Personal section of his resume we decided that the best choice was to educate him on the cons of such information being on a resume.

Personal sections no longer appear on resumes for two main reasons: it takes up too much space with impotent information and it can also get you completely eliminated as a candidate.

First, let’s tackle the space issue. On a two page resume, you have a finite amount of space in which you can get your message across. Start with a sheet of paper that is 8.5”x11” – that gives you 93.5” of space to use on a resume. Subtract the average size margins of 1” and you have 58.5” of space left. About two-thirds of that will be text which is 39 square inches of space to work with – a little over one-third of the entire space of a one-page resume. To waste that precious resume space on information that will not directly lead to an interview is ridiculous.

I can already hear you saying “But, what if…” No buts. Your hobbies, interests, intramural sports record, golf handicap, etc. have nothing to do with how you will perform as an employee for a prospective employer (unless, of course, you want a job as a golf pro and that is a whole other situation). The information that is in your resume must have direct relevance to your career target. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

The second issue is how a Personal section on a resume can get you eliminated from the game altogether. Employers must follow federally mandated hiring laws. Those hiring laws state that employers cannot discriminate based on age, marital status, gender, ethnicity, etc. If a resume has any information on it that could later be judged to have caused discrimination in the hiring process, most employers will eliminate it from consideration altogether just to be on the safe side.

Some of these factors are obvious on a resume. For example, if your name is Elizabeth, there is a good chance you are a woman and that will be inferred from your resume. The same goes for age; if you list thirty years’ work experience on your resume, it can be inferred that you are an older worker. Avoiding discrimination based on such factors is almost not possible. If an employer is going to not hire you based on your gender, the employer is running a great risk and should be reported to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Placing other information such as marital status in a Personal section on a resume just makes it more risky for the employer. Employers do not like risk and rather than possibly face a lawsuit down the road, they will simply eliminate the questionable resumes from the consideration pile.

A Personal section on a resume is a bad idea all the way around. Don’t waste resume space on one and don’t risk elimination of your resume for the sake of showcasing your long-distance marathon record. Brag through your employment accomplishments instead.

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