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.
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.
I don’t know how to use Access. (But I am an expert with Excel and PowerPoint.)
I’ve never managed people. (But I have managed contractors who supervise large teams.)
I did not complete my undergraduate degree. (But I have been my company’s leading sales manager for the last eight years.)
Over the 10 years I’ve been interviewing clients and writing their resumes, one constant I’ve noticed is that most people focus on the wrong thing. They talk about what they haven’t done or what they don’t know. Instead, the key to success is knowing your selling points and then finding an employer who needs them.
While this information is important for resume writing, it’s equally important during interviews. Your goal should always be to make the employer confident in your ability to do the job. Negative thinking doesn’t help that effort. Whenever you find yourself talking about what you don’t have, stop and turn it around. What do you have that an employer wants? What qualities will make you an excellent employee?