Over the course of my career in Human Resources, I’ve seen roughly 20,000 resumes. I’ve seen some really terrible resumes and I’ve seen some really great resumes. The difference between a great resume and a terrible one, surprisingly, is less about how qualified a candidate is and more about how well the resume is put together.
The more I talk to our clients and other job seekers, the more I realize that most people don’t seem to understand the purpose of a resume and how to use it most effectively. I’m not talking about the 22-year-old new college grads (although that can be true of them); I’m talking about seasoned professionals who are looking for mid and senior-level positions at well-known Fortune 500 companies. I’m talking about all of you experienced candidates who are looking for the next big break in your career.
Job seekers occasionally have the sense that their resume needs to include all of the information necessary to land them the job, but the honest truth is that your resume isn’t supposed to get you a job. Your resume is supposed to get you the interview.
In your interview you need to have a story to tell potential employers about who you are as a person and what special qualifications you bring to the table. At Catch Your Big Break, we work with our clients to identify those stories before you write your resume. Do you know why? Because your resume is NOT where you tell your story. Your resume isn’t the feature presentation. Your resume is the movie trailer. It doesn’t tell your whole story, but it gives the highlights and makes people want to hear more of your story.
Think about your resume like a grocery list. If you have 50 items on your grocery list and half an hour to get through the store, you’ll be hurrying down the aisles and might miss one or two important items, right? But, if you have 10 items on your grocery list and the same half hour you can take your time looking through the aisles, double checking your list, and going back for items you’ve missed.
That’s exactly how a recruiter’s mind works. They are scouring through piles of resumes searching out candidates who have the right 4 or 5 qualifications that are most important for the job. You have 30 seconds (or less) to help them find those 4 or 5 items on your resume. Your resume’s job is to package those items so they can be most easily identified. Here’s how you do that:
1) Seed your resume with pieces of your story
Before you write your resume, it’s important to identify your story about what makes you a unique and valuable candidate. Once you’ve identified your story, make sure that pieces of your story are woven throughout your resume. Talk about a key role you played on a team that undertook a major project; identify a skill set you gained in your current role; or tell a future employer about a project you dreamed up and ran from start to finish…but do it succinctly.
2) Use bullet points
No recruiter or hiring manager wants to read through a narrative describing what you did at your last job. What they do want to see is a succinct list of skills and experiences that demonstrates your ability to perform the key functions of the role they are hiring for. Think about the examples listed above. If you were part of a team that helped roll out a system required for federal compliance with a new law, don’t try to describe the whole process. Try something like, “Developed and implemented a firm-wide finance system to ensure firm compliance with new federal regulations.” Whatever you do, get straight to the point.
3) Delete content that doesn’t reinforce your main point
Just like a good persuasive essay for your English class in college, a good resume will have a clearly identifiable main point and sub-points, and all of the content should drive to that main point. The main point of your resume is that you are a top qualified candidate for your dream job. To identify the sub-points of your resume, ask yourself what you need to tell the hiring manager in an interview to get this particular job. There may be a particular skill set or two you need to highlight or a personality characteristic that needs to be evident throughout your work experience. Make sure your resume demonstrates those few key items, and does so clearly. You can set yourself up for a successful interview by feeding a recruiter or hiring manager food for conversation through your resume. They WILL ask you about the items on your resume, so make sure all of the content of your resume helps lead the conversation to the key skills and characteristics that will make you successful in your dream job.
If something on your resume isn’t helping drive to your main point, take it out! You don’t want a recruiter or hiring manager to be distracted by reading about other skills and experience you have and miss the information that IS relevant to the job you are trying to obtain. I know it’s a bit counterintuitive not to talk about every good experience you’ve had, but you need to understand that the more easily and clearly a recruiter or hiring manager can see the relevant skills you have, the more likely you are to get an interview. One of the ways to help them see your relevant skills is to make sure that those are the only skills listed on your resume.
So what about all that other stuff??
What about information about my “career objective” or “target job” that I’ve seen on other people’s resumes? Or how can I connect the dots between the experience I’ve gained in two different roles so that the hiring manager knows I’m a great candidate?
There’s a time and place for everything, but your resume is not the time and place to tell people what kind of job you’re looking for or to fill in the pieces so they understand your whole story. That’s exactly what cover letters and networking are for. And that’s definitely what an interview is for! Each part of the job search process has a different purpose and you need to manage each piece effectively to convey and reinforce that you are a top candidate. The timing and manner in which you should convey important information about yourself can differ from person to person and job to job. That’s what career coaching is for. If you’re struggling with figuring out how best to tell your story, or what your story even is, consider purchasing a one-on-one consultation by visiting this link and we can help you do just that.