A client brought me a resume that had been written by a professional service. She was seeking a role as an administrative assistant, and she was especially troubled by two job descriptions that were each one sentence long:
1. Effectively performed a variety of duties within office settings at several organizations; consistently demonstrated a strong work ethic and capability to adapt new environments.
2. Conducted numerous daily responsibilities entailing optimal organization, coordination, scheduling, and issue resolution for a fast-paced department compromised of 205 personnel.
Both of these sentences suffer from the same problem. They are packed with generalities that do not address an employer’s needs. We do not know what skills or experience the job seeker is offering an employer. Compare these two examples:
1. Supervised business operations for an electrical contracting firm. Processed a payroll for as many as 20 employees. Managed accounts payable and accounts receivable. Wrote correspondence, and took dictation from the owner. Coordinated transfer of documents needed to close contracts. Maintained office supply inventory and ordered new stock. Answered phones, routed calls, and took messages. Kept the office clean and organized.
2. Supported 4 executives, working proactively to address each individual’s needs. Maintained and updated each executive’s calendar. Screened calls, took messages, and set up meetings. Scheduled travel and lodging. Set up and managed expenses accounts. Created presentation materials, including PowerPoint files.
Keep the language of your resume simple and clear. Make sure that it speaks to the employer’s needs. If a sentence feels too thick, break it down so it is easy to read. Employers receive hundreds of resumes for most positions. If you’re language is foggy, one thing is guaranteed: you will not be called for an interview.
In writing a resume, it is important to show how you are qualified. In recent posts, I’ve talked about reviewing job postings and speaking to the employers’ needs. At the same time, a good resume will show what makes you better than other qualified candidates. To do that, you need to include relevant achievements and success stories. How do you define these elements? My simple method is to think about what you’ve done that goes beyond the normal job duties and has a positive impact on the company.
Here are some verbs that might help you identify achievements and tell your success stories:
This is the only question that matters when you’re writing a resume or interviewing for a job.
Too often, job seekers talk about what they did on their last job. They use the language of that company and discuss their duties in specific details that only apply to that job/company. Prospective employers do not care about all of this information. It is not relevant to their business problem. Your challenge is to show how your previous experience and education will be a benefit to your next employer, not the last one.
I recommend that you start your job search by studying job posts for the positions that interest you most. Review 5-10 job posts. Identify common requirements and repeated “key” words. If you build your resume and prepare for interviews by focusing on what employers need, you will find that you have more interviews and faster job offers. It’s not about what you did in the past. It’s all about what you have to offer you next employer.
Every day clients bring me resumes and ask me what’s wrong with them. Over half the time, the biggest problem is that they are written for the last job the client had, not the one she wants. Often descriptions of jobs on resume are based on the company’s job description and are filled with jargon that would only be clear to someone working at the company. It’s important to test your resume with this simple question: Would someone who doesn’t work at this company understand what I am saying?
While it’s important to be honest in your resume, you do not have to speak the language of your former employer. I’ve had clients tell me, “That’s how we say it,” I inform them that prospective employers won’t understand it, and that’s all that matters. Employers hire based on what you can do for their companies. Think about what your next employer wants to know and use the kind of language you find in job descriptions, especially when you see a word or phrase repeated in several job posts.
Jargon kills. Unless your applying for an internal promotion, cut it from your resume.
A client told me that she wanted he potential employer to know about work she did early in her career when she was a teacher. She is especially proud of having been named Teacher of the Year in 1999. The problem is that she changed careers and moved to sales in 2003. Her new employer needs to see what makes her a good sales professional, not that she was once named the best teacher in the state. What we want to tell employers is not as important as what they want to know. Let that be your first question in writing a resume and preparing for an interview: What does the employer want to know?
I frequently work with clients who have just completed an undergraduate or graduate degree. They usually list only the degree. Some will note organizations they belonged to or scholarships that helped them pay for schools. There is a problem with this information: Employers do not care about it.
I work with new graduates to identify areas of knowledge and skill that they will take from school to the workplace. Rather than list classes, which only tell the employer that you are a student, review 5-10 job posts for positions that interest you. Note job requirements and skills that you can take from your time in school and include these elements in your resume.
For example I’m currently working with a client who received an MBA with a concentration in Human Resources. After reviewing job posts, we identified the following items for his resume: HR & Labor Law, Compensation, and Strategic Planning. Be sure that you only list areas of skill and knowledge that you could use on the job. Do not list any item that you could not discuss well in an interview or any skill you could not perform on the job.
If you are a new graduate, take full advantage of the knowledge and skill you offer an employer because of your education. Demonstrate the value of your degree in a way that will be relevant to the employer’s needs. Most importantly, don’t present yourself as a student. Play up what you learned in school that a potential employer will care about. That’s the way to get a job even if you lack professional experience.
Has a supervisor or client gone out of her way to say that you’ve done a good job? Did you include that success story on your resume? Too often, my clients only think of achievements as something that can be quantified. However, it’s just as impressive to hear that a boss or customer is impressed with our work.
Here are some examples:
• Recognized by a national account for solving a problem that enabled a new system roll out at 1,000 locations.
• Praised by a supervisor for taking on added duties after a company reorganization.
• Ranked by industry peers at a national conference as a “Top 10% Leader.”
Where can you find such testimonials? Check emails from your boss and clients. Review annual reviews. Look over any recommendations you’ve received from peers on LinkedIn.
I’m not recommending that you fill your resume with these mini-testimonials. One or two are usually enough. If you cite any type of achievement too often, the reader starts to yawn. Think about those situations where you have received some outstanding praise. That’s something you want potential employers to know. Highlight it in your resume.
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.