I’m reading a book on career management that dismisses resumes as “historical.” While it’s true that resumes summarize work history, their more important function is forward looking – to show why you are qualified for the kind of job you want, not the one you are leaving.
Many of the clients that ask me to review resumes fall into the historical trap. They focus on their most recent jobs and are very detailed in discussing that job. Being overly specific often makes it hard for an employer to see how a candidate fits their needs. This problem is even worse when a job seeker uses the language of her old company, language that only someone who works for that company would understand.
I frequently recommend that clients find 5-10 job posts and send them to me. I review them to understand the requirements and skills employers are looking for. I also track the repeated “key words” that are so important. By looking at these documents, I am able to focus the resume on the jobs my clients will apply for.
The key to a successful job search is to keep looking forward. You should only discuss your past to the degree that it shows how you are qualified for your next job or career move. In writing your resume and interviewing for jobs, keep your focus on what your next employer needs. It’s all about the future – and finding a better job.
A client was recently reviewing a resume with me. She asked if we could edit the document to make it more specific. Her request would seem to make sense. Listing achievements would seem to be a good way to impress an employer. There’s one problem with that kind of thinking: job posts.
Read the description and requirement sections of any job post. Employers request information that is general. They want to know that an applicant meets the minimum standards needed to perform day-to-day tasks. General descriptions address those points. They also feature the keywords that scanning software uses to identify qualified candidates.
Should you included achievements that list specific facts? Absolutely. A good list of achievements sets one candidate apart from another and can be the starting point for a good interview. Effective resumes blend both general statements that show qualifications and specific examples of accomplishments that demonstrate how you have gone above and beyond in your previous jobs.
Huffington Post offers a useful list of clichéd words that should be avoided in business communication, including resumes and job interviews. Overall, I like the list. However, at least two of the words have some value. Scalable is frequently used to discuss a level and type of IT projects. Similarly, value-added can refer to a transaction which includes intangible benefits. These words, like the others on the list, should not be used just because they are “buzz words.” Know what you want to say and why you want to say. That’s the best formula for effective communication.
This is a follow up on my last post. Just as we need to think about key words when writing resumes, we also need to consider what other elements recruiters and applicant tracking scanners look for in screening candidates. In two different presentations, I’ve heard recruiters talk about using addresses and zip codes to limit their candidate searches. Here’s the rub. It’s becoming more common for job seekers to leave those elements off of their resumes. Simple solution: Put them back.
Other than including address, city and zip, what other elements should you consider? First, do not put your contact information in a header. Some applicant scanning software systems cannot reader headers. Second, if you are relocating, find some way to let employers know that you are moving. I usually include a bulleting in the objective that says: “To relocate to (city),” which the client will fill in. I may start to supplement this to include zip codes since that is a screening element. Don’t let a simple element like a city or zip code make you invisible to potential employers. Let them know where you live.
Clients frequently express concern about having their resumes scanned by applicant tracking software. They worry about having the right key words that will let their resumes filter to a human reader. My advice is to base your resume (and interview presentations) on market research. Build a market profile by collecting 5-10 job posts for positions you would apply to. As you review all of the posts, the key words will be the ones you see repeated from post to post or repeated within a single posting. Find ways to repeat key words in your resume without making it sound clumsy or artificial. One way I do this is to list 6-9 key words as part of the profile at the top of each resume. If a specific job posting emphasizes different words, you can adapt your resume for that application.
While it’s important to have key words on your resume, remember that you still need to demonstrate your ability to perform duties. I also recommend that every resume highlight achievements and success stories. All of these elements are needed to create a resume that will make prospective employers call you to schedule interviews.
When I first meet clients, they often present themselves in terms of what they lack: “I don’t have a college degree.” “I just graduated, so I don’t really have experience.” “I don’t know how to use Excel.”
My answer is simple: Sell what you have. Market your strengths. When we think in positive terms, we are able to present ourselves with confidence. The language we use is stronger and more convincing. Most importantly, we are giving employers good reasons to make a job offer. I’m not saying that we should ignore gaps in our resumes and careers. If an employer needs something we don’t have, we need to be able to offer some alternative selling point. Be ready when an employer brings up what you don’t have. Show why what you have is more important than what you lack.
This morning a radio news report said there was no white or black smoke coming from the White House during the president’s meeting with congressional leader. The person who wrote the news report was trying to be cute. Black and white smoke are the signals the Vatican uses to announce voting on a new pope, which is another issue currently in the news. However, by mixing these details the news writer’s attempt to be cute resulted in confusion.
We can fall into the same trap in writing resumes and cover letters. Heavy use of jargon or specialized language often does more to confuse than enlighten. Some people also try to sound impressive and rely on multi-syllabic words that make reading difficult. For example, most words ending in -ize are nouns or adjectives pretending to be verbs. Another word trap is using the language used by former employers. Companies often develop their own language, which is meaningless to anyone who does not work at that company.
Test everything you write by asking these two questions: Would a perspective employer understand this? Would she care? These questions will keep your resume and cover letter focused on what the employer needs, which is all that matters. When it comes to words, cute does not sell. Usually, it just leads to confusion.
There are two ways to think about writing a sales resume: general and specific. A general sales resume positions a job seeker to apply across industries. At the same time, it doesn’t claim that the applicant can sell anything. Some general resumes will emphasize inside or outside sales skills. Others will emphasize territory sales or account management.
A specific resume will focus on a type of product or technology. For example, I recently worked with a client who sells IT systems to hospitals and large medical clinics. In this type of resume, the job seeker chooses to limit her opportunities, but she does so for a strategic purpose. By appealing to a specific type of industry or product, a job seeker is leveraging a special knowledge. If there are enough employers in that area or if the job seeker has strong network connections, a specific sales resume can be a great tool in landing interviews and offers, often with higher earning potential.
Applicants seeking a position in sales need to think about how specific or general their resume should be. They might also consider having two versions if they are going to seek jobs that fit a specific type of knowledge and general skills. When it comes to sales resumes, there are few one size fits all solutions. Think about what strategy fits you best.
I was working with a client the other day who kept telling me that she wanted to get the details “absolutely correct” in her resume. To do this, she was using company jargon and a level of detail that no prospective employer would care about or understand. In essence, she wanted to write a resume that qualified her for the job she was leaving.
The objective of a good resume is to speak to your next employer, not the last one. Often this means describing duties in a way that is transferable to what the employer needs, not exactly what you did at your last job. It is important to be specific and show how you are qualified to fill a position. To do this, the best communication strategy is to look through the eyes of the boss you want to hire you. That’s the target for writing an effective resume.
Internet experts will frequently say that education should always be positioned at the beginning or end of a resume. Beware of such one-size-fits-all answers. Education is a very important selling point, but sometimes it is not the most important selling point. If a client’s work experience is more important, I put that element before education. In the case of new graduates or clients who have completed graduate degrees that are important to career change or promotion, I put education first.
If I put education first, it’s not enough to simply list a school, degree, and graduation date. What does the employer want to see? Some people list classes and extracurricular activities. I think this strategy is a mistake because it presents a job seeker as a student, not as someone who is ready to work. My strategy is to list relevant skills or projects that show the client performing activities that are related to what she would be doing on the job. I want to underscore whatever the client is taking away from school that would bring value to the employer.
Where you position education on a resume is like all other aspects of resume writing: a matter of strategy. For me, the starting point is to put a job seeker’s best selling point early in the document. Sometimes that means education is up front; sometimes it’s in the back. Always start with what the employer wants to see.