red apples on tree
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Proper pruning for a good harvest

A friend shared this on Twitter: “I pruned our apple tree last year for the first time and thought I might have overdone it. It was quite overgrown, but after my work it looked shrunken and sad. [My husband] just texted me: BEST apple harvest yet in size, number, and taste.”

red apples on tree
Photo by Tom Swinnen on

She’s clergy, and remarked that there’s a sermon in there ripe for the picking. But my mind went straight to – you guessed it – writing resumes.

In the past year I have worked on over 50 resumes. Often, my starting point is a lengthy chronology of the client’s entire work history that reads like an itemized receipt, listing every area they have been responsible for. Like a detailed job description.

When I get to work, I do some pruning: I review that list, look for recurring themes, focus in on the most important nuggets. Sometimes, I run the text through a “word cloud” generator to identify frequently-used words. I strive to economize with words, ensuring each word is meaningful and deleting fluff. And, I prune away the detail from work you did more than 15 or so years ago.

But here’s the thing: What’s more important than what a client was responsible for is how they actually contributed to the employer.

What resulted from your labor?

To continue with an apple metaphor, the “responsible for” items are the seeds, and maybe the tree… but the accomplishments are the results from your efforts: The fragrant apple blossoms, and the sweet fruit. These are the proof of your labor. They are the product of HOW you do what you do.

To put it another way: No pain, no gain.

For those who haven’t ever engaged a professional writer, the edited version of your old resume might appear at first to be over-pruned. After all, you had a LOT of responsibility at that job ten years ago! The place practically fell apart after you left! And remember that amazing project you worked so hard on, the one you lost sleep over? Well, the longer ago it was, the less it matters today in the scope of your entire work history. Ouch, right?

It’s hard to let go of that stuff, but after a bunch of years, it needs only the briefest mention. Why? Because in the years since, you’ve accomplished so much more, and your more recent work experience carries more weight than the things you did 15-20 or more years ago.

Your next employer is most interested in what you accomplished, and how your employers benefited from your presence.

The other important “fruit” in this metaphor is the number of interviews your resume gets you. And a well-pruned, carefully-written resume is likely to produce more fruit for you.

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