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.
I’m working with a client who is making a big career change. After 25 years as a financial analyst, trader, and manager, he has completed a second bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management with a focus on culinary arts. He wants to work in a position where he will be hands on in cooking or a related field. Therefore, very little of what he did in his previous career will matter to his new employer. Instead, we will show that my client has a solid work history and play up some transferable skills related to management and communication. Otherwise, we are focusing on food and the food industry. Keep your resume focused on what matters to your next employer, not the last one.
Everyone wants to describe themselves in resumes and job interviews by using general terms like “hard working” and “team player.” There’s nothing wrong with these phrases, but you can go deeper in telling an employer why you are the kind of person she is looking for.
Here are some examples::
Word/phrase: Took initiative to
An assistant retail manager might say: I noticed that the store manager was spending too much time doing inventory. I took initiative to learn an inventory control system, which let my manager focus on other duties.
Word/phrase: Volunteer to
A nurse might put on her resume: Volunteered to work extra shifts and be on call for holidays.
A sales professional could say in an interviewer: I have always been elf-motivated in following up with clients and solving problems in a timely manner.
A hotel employees might write in her resume: Worked proactively to identify and prevent customer service issues.
Some looking to move up from an entry level job might say during an interview: My supervisor always called me reliable because I never missed a shift, and I’m always on time.
These are just a few examples of how you can present your personal qualities in a way that will make an employer want to hire you. Think about how you go above and beyond what is expected and make sure that you communicate those qualities on your resume and during interviews. Find the right language to show what makes you an ideal employee.
Why should I care?
Every element of a good resume should put itself under the microscope of this question. If you’re including information that the employer doesn’t care about, you’re wasting that person’s time, which means your resume will quickly end up in the recycling bin.
How can you know what an employer is looking for? Start with some good old fashioned research. Put together a market profile by collecting 5-10 job posts for positions that interest you (I recommend 10 if possible). Note what elements are repeated from post to post. Those are your keywords. Pay attention to aspects like skills, certification, and education. Taking a little time up front will let you know what the employer wants, which should be the first step in writing a resume that gets you noticed.
Most jobs require communication skills. It’s not enough to speak in general terms. A good resume will inform prospective employers about specific ways you communication on the job. Here are some verbs that indicate communication skills:
Present (lead presentations)
Ask in-depth questions
This list is not complete. My purpose in providing this list is to help you think about ways to describe your communication skills in the most powerful way.
I recently asked a client what MS Office programs she used at work. My client asked me, “Won’t they know that? Everybody uses Office now.” There are two problems with her statement. First, not everyone knows the software or uses the same program. The second problem is that it ignores the employer’s message. I’d estimate that more than 50% of job postings ask for specific examples of software. If we as job seekers don’t include a list of software, the employer is likely to assume that we don’t know software needed to do the job. Don’t let your assumptions lead employers to make incorrect assumptions about you. Know what the employer needs and spell out your qualifications.
A cover letter should introduce your resume. It should be clear and concise without going into the kind of detail used in the resume. At the same time, it should give employers a little meat to chew on. One way I do this is to include a sentence that highlights skills that will interest the employer.
Here are a few examples followed by the kind of job sought in parenthesis.
My duties have included maintaining schedules/calendars, travel arrangements, correspondence, and meeting planning. (Executive Assistant)
My duties included vendor management, negotiation, inventory control, and coordination of delivery and special orders. (Purchasing)
My duties have included store operations, event sales, recruiting, and training. (Retail Manager)
My duties have included all aspects of classroom instruction as well as extracurricular activities that encourage academic and personal development. (Teacher)
These are just a few examples of how a set of skills can be packaged in one sentence. Using this kind of sentence is one way you can keep you cover letter specific and concise.
There is only one rule in writing a resume: Don’t lie. Everything else is strategy. For example, when a client has good work experience, I put education near the bottom of the resume. However, if a client has obtained a recent degree or certification that an employer will care about, education will move to the top of the document.
Here are two more complicated examples. A client is trying to get a position in clinical research. Her education is recent, so I put it first on the resume. Most people would say that professional experience should be the next element. The problem is that this client’s experience is not as relevant as volunteer work she has done for more than six years. In this case, I put volunteer experience before professional work because it was more relevant to what potential employers need to know.
Similarly, another client wants to return to the type of work he did 15 years ago. Rather than discuss this client’s work history in a simple most recent to least recent format, I put the work that matters most first even if it is 15 years old. It is this person’s best claim to be able to perform the kind of work he wants to do. Some employers might say that this experience is dated. Others, however, might see it as relevant to the position they need to fill.
Everyone agrees that employers don’t have time to read resumes carefully and figure out what you want to do. Make it easy for them. Put the elements first that show why you are qualified. Don’t hide your selling points.
Clients frequently worry about whether their resume will be found by “robo-screeners,” software that screens resumes for key words. I tell them that the real concern should be knowing what the employer wants. If you do that, the key words will take care of themselves.
How can you know what employers want? My advice is to do what companies do: market research. In the job search world that means putting together a market profile. Collect 8-10 postings for the kind of jobs you will apply for. What qualification and requirements are repeated? Those are your key words.
A market profile will also give you a great guide for writing your resume. Rather than just presenting a summary of your experience, a resume based on a market profile will present yourself as some who is qualified for the job you want, not the jobs you are leaving behind. By focusing on what the employer needs, you will be creating a resume that is relevant. You will also be preparing for interviews because you will be better prepared to speak to what the employer needs.
This part of the job search is not a mystery. It’s about the hard work of research and analysis. If you want to get a good job, start with a market profile.