As last week's post focused on advice for employers, this week I would like to turn my attention to advice for job seekers. There is a ton of advice out there related to resume writing; some more practical than others. However, I have noticed a noticeable lack of advice related to how job seekers should systematically review and improve their resume on a line by line basis, as part of a broader strategy to assist them in their interviews. Your first interview is actually your resume being submitted to an employer. Nothing else matters if an employer does not like you or understand you on paper. Now that we have addressed the general way in which one may approach writing one's resume, I present ten specific rules to live by for resume writing.
1) Telling Ain't Selling
Don't tell the readers of your resume what you did; show them what you achieved. A resume is a sales pitch and you are the product. The overwhelming majority of people use their very limited resume space essentially to restate their job responsibilities. While there is nothing wrong with this approach to resume writing, it also does not help to differentiate you from other prospective candidates out there with similar jobs, job responsibilities, and job history as you. Your resume, as much as possible, should in essence be an outline of what you would ideally get the opportunity to say about yourself in the course of an interview. In the course of highlighting your achievements, you implicitly also show your experiences, but do so in a much sexier way. To that end, make sure to avoid vague words like assisted, planned, developed, and other similar words you might use to describe your achievements. For every action word you use make sure to ask yourself “how precisely did I?”; as in “how precisely did I assist?”, “how precisely did I plan?”, or “how precisely did I develop?”. In the course of completing this exercise, you will probably find there are many ways to spruce up your resume and make it more descriptive and appealing for your audience.
2) Resumes Are Intended to Answer Basic Questions About You. They Do Not Create More of Them
A resume is a snapshot into your career history, your qualifications and achievements. The reader should come away with absolutely no doubt as to who you worked for, when you worked there, what the company did and where (geographically) you worked. The why and the how of your jobs can be explained in a cover letter if you are uncomfortable stating the circumstances of your job changes on your resume. Put yourself in the mindset of someone that might not possibly have any knowledge of your current or previous employers, your industries, or your company’s/industry’s unique jargon and/or acronyms. After completing this exercise, you will probably find at least one to two examples where a more universal (rather than company or industry specific) word can be used.
3) You Can Eliminate the Objective Section on Your Resume
Your objective is to get whatever job you are applying for. Objectives needlessly take up valuable real estate on your resume and provide no assistance to you, as they are at best redundant and at worst can be costly if you forget to update your objective when applying to a job that may not be consistent with your stated objective. You have 6 to 20 seconds max to make a good initial impression on your resume. Therefore, you should use the first words after your name and contact info at the top of your resume to make as much impact as possible.
4) Your Resume Does Not Need to be One Page
It is not the length of your resume that's important (within reason). What is very important is how you use whatever space you take up on your resume. If your career history is long enough and you have enough relevant bullet points, then there is no reason to artificially limit your resume to one page. However, if you have less than 3-5 years work experience, you can probably find a way to keep your resume under one page. Many people get caught up in trying to get every achievement and every detail of every job into their resume. As a general rule, the longer ago the job and/or the less relevant the job is to your current or desired career, the fewer bullet points you need for that section of your resume.
5) You do Not Have to be Mr. Personality to Show Your Personality
Employers want a sense of what you are really like in person. Make sure to include at least one bullet point for each job that demonstrates the type of person you are, how you think and/or what you value. Anything that demonstrates how you are unique from the many other candidates with similar bios to you. For example, if you did things that were not part of your job description or daily responsibilities, you should find a way to add that to your resume as it indicates how you take initiative, take ownership of tasks assigned to the group, are a great teammate that helps others out, or simply a great corporate citizen.
6) The Truth Will Set You Free. It is Important to be Clear and Transparent on Your Resume
I am assuming all readers know to never under any circumstances lie on a resume. By advising you to be truthful, I am speaking to the error of omission on your resume. Do not hide from uncomfortable truths about your career story. Embrace them, address them, and get ahead of them; either on the resume or in your cover letter. As a general rule, if a hiring manager or recruiter believes you are trying to hide something (e.g. gaps in employment, etc) they likely will assume the worst. Even if the prospective employer does not assume the worst, it displays a lack of confidence to not have an easily readable and transparent resume. If you act like you have nothing to hide by being transparent, clear and honest on your resume then an employer will correspondingly act with less concern than they would if you are less forthright.
7) No Excuses. Write Like a Champion
No matter what happened in your career there is no need and there is no benefit to making excuses. State your case with confidence and without equivocation. There is no way a prospective employer will believe you are the best candidate and the best fit if you yourself do not believe you are the best candidate and the best fit. I will save you the suspense, you will not be the best candidate or the best fit for most of the jobs you apply for. However, as stated in previous posts, just as there is a right person for everyone in the dating world, there is a best fit for every job opening. Having the best resume possible, making a strong case for yourself without apologies or excuses, will position you to get the interview and ultimately job, when you find and apply to that job to which you are indeed the best fit. Even if you were overall the lowest performing person amongst your peers and even if you were terminated from your position, you probably were comparably successful in at least 1 to 2 aspects of your job. My advice is find a way to highlight these areas in which you were comparatively successful and a high achiever, as these are the strengths you can provide to prospective employers.
8) Use the Proper Tense
I have seen and heard of many otherwise highly qualified candidates removed from consideration for positions because they did not write in the proper tense. If something is presently occurring (e.g. your present job duties) then it belong in the present tense. Conversely, if something occurred in the past (e.g. your responsibilities at your previous jobs) then that belongs in the past tense. I have nothing more to add here.
9) For Each Bullet Point in Your Resume Ask Yourself “So What?” & “Why Me?”
Put yourself in the hiring manager's shoes and ask yourself "so what?" Then ask yourself does this statement help answer the question "why should we hire you?" If you struggle to answer these questions then there is room for improvement on whatever you stated. Remember, your goal throughout the application and interview process is to differentiate yourself and demonstrate that you not only are qualified for the job, but that you are the best candidate to do the job. If your bullet points do not help answer the “so what?”, “why should we choose you?” and "what makes your experience, qualifications and achievements better than anyone else?" then you are not really helping sell yourself as the best candidate; you are merely treading water. You only have one chance to make that first impression. Therefore, you might as well do everything in your power to make those 6 to 20 seconds count by making sure every single bullet point makes the strongest case possible for your qualifications and achievements.
10) You Achieved Far More Than You Realize
This goes back to rule #1 in regards to “telling ain’t selling” and making sure to include your achievements. Many people struggle to think of a single achievement or success story at their previous jobs. Remember, in a resume there is no such thing as failure. If you did not get the results you wanted then you got the experience you needed; and that in itself is an achievement. For example, if you are a recent college grad and think that your non-office jobs such as being a camp counselor, a sports coach/instructor, or a tour guide are not relevant to an office/corporate environment, you are wrong. Every job you have had offered valuable experience and helped you develop and apply valuable skills. Counselors, coaches, and tour guides for example regularly speak in front of groups and therefore must be able to speak confidently and clearly, deal with difficult people and develop and implement plans for their group. These are all helpful skills for many office/corporate positions. If you think about your experiences at all your jobs, you probably can come up with at least 2-3 skills applied, developed and/or obtained.
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