7 Elements of a Best-Selling Resume

By Malia Keirsey

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Most people do not describe a resume as “best-selling.” They may term it as “solid,” “exceptional,” or even “stellar.” But “best-selling?” That sounds like a description of a novel or a car. But “best-selling” may be a pretty good term, actually. Any job applicant who creates a resume is selling his/her brand, just like any product is sold. And to think in those terms is pretty important – the applicant has to successfully compete in a sales environment and come out on top.

With this in mind, what exactly makes a resume a “best-seller?” Here are seven elements of one.

Think in Terms of a Brochure – Value and Benefit

If you have ever seen a brochure of a product or service, a car for example, then you have an idea of the concept. That brochure points out all of the great features of the car and what value and benefit that car can bring to you if you choose to buy it. You must think in those same terms.

You want to describe all of your best features; however, this resume is not really about you so much as it is about what value and benefit you can bring to the organization. What are the organization’s needs and how can you meet those needs?

Once you think in these terms, you will realize that a “Career Objective” is out of place on a contemporary resume. A hiring manager doesn’t want to know where you want to go in your career. He wants to know what you can do for him right now.

The better option is a “Professional Summary” at the top of your resume. And that summary must be specifically targeted to the skills that are found in the position posting. Include keywords from that posting, and focus on your skills that relate.

Your professional summary may have to change with each resume you write, depending upon the details of the position.

Quantify Your Achievements

Rather than just listing “task responsibilities” of a position you hold or have held, focus on what you achieved. Did you develop a software “fix” for an issue? Did you take over the sales department and increase sales revenues by 30%? Did you produce a new employee manual?

A hiring manager wants to see what you actually accomplished in previous positions and what value you brought to those organizations. As you think about each position you have held, come up with at least one achievement that stands out. It may only be that you received an award for something. List those achievements first and then move down to very short statements about other task responsibilities you had. It is quite likely that a reader of your resume may only read the first few lines anyway.

List Interests and Hobbies – Maybe

If you have only a small amount of work experience, you will probably have space to include these. Be a bit discerning here and choose those that are more impressive. Chances are a hiring manager will not be interested in what fraternity or sorority you joined and remain a member of. On the other hand, if you volunteer for worthy organizations, this is of interest. It demonstrates that you have a sense of social responsibility and a desire to “give back.”

Listing organizations to which you belong may also be appropriate if they are well-known and/or related to your career. Perhaps you are on the board of the local ASPCA; maybe you belong to professional organizations that relate to your career.

Always Include a Cover Letter

Now that resumes are usually submitted in digital form, many applicants believe that the cover letter can be eliminated. This is absolutely not the case. You must compose a unique cover letter for each resume you submit.

Cover letters and resumes are scanned for keywords. Your cover letter and resume must include some of these keywords, and they come from the job posting. Without them, your documents will not make it through the initial screening.

The other thing about cover letters is this: You have a chance to briefly summarize what you have and have done that relates directly to the position. If you don't know how to properly write a cover letter, you can get academic help.

It’s a Story

Think of your resume as a story of who you are and all that you do and have done – professionally, that is.  It should flow in a logical and cohesive way. Once you have completed your resume, let someone else read it. After reading it, can they give a synopsis of you, hitting the highlights of your career and achievements? If so, you have accomplished “readability.”

A resume story should not include personal information other than you name and contact information.

Formatting/Design and Other Decisions

Hiring managers get some pretty outrageous resumes. Some are outrageous because they are just bizarre; others are considered “outrageous” because they are not in “alignment” with the culture of the organization. In their effort to be noticed, some applicants think that color, graphics, and other design features should be added.

If you are applying for a position with a bank, and your resume has an unusual script font, a patterned background, and in infographic or timeline to present your employment background, that’s creative, of course. The resume, however, will find a new home in the recycle bin. A bank is a conservative institution, as are many other corporations. They expect standard fonts and formats, plain paper, and maybe a border in a subdued color.

If on the other hand, you are shooting that resume off to a new tech startup, and the position posting has been on the “wild and crazy” side, then your creativity of format and style will probably be appreciated.

The point is this: Before you start experimenting with design, do your research. Get online, find out all you can about the company; check out the language style of the text; view photos of employees and the workplace; get a “feel” for the culture. These things will guide your design and format.

No Walls of Text: Other than your professional summary at the top, the rest of your statements should be in shorter phrases. Use bold headings and bullet points so your document is scannable to the human eye. This you should already know.

White Space: Make certain that there is white space in between your entries, that bulleted points are indented, and that margins are one inch. It’s easier on the eyes. A resume that appears to be “cluttered” will probably not be read.

Don’t Hide or Lie, but Don’t Go to Confession Either

  • There may be gaps in your employment history. You don’t have to advertise them with entries such as “Unemployed, 2012-2013.” Just be honest about dates of employment. The time to discuss why you were unemployed for a period is the interview if you are asked.
  • It is best to leave out a common phrase at the end of each employment entry: “Reason for Leaving.” Just don’t put those in at all, particularly if you happened to have been terminated from a position. Again, the interviewer will ask if s/he wants to know, and you will have a prepared response.
  • Never “upgrade” a position title. And never put previous salaries in your resume.

You now have seven things to think about as you review your current resume or craft a new one. Remember, you are selling yourself in a very competitive market. Focus on the employer’s needs, highlight those skills and qualifications that directly relate to the position and embrace the fact that one size never fits all.

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