Resume writing: it is a task that strikes fear in even the most accomplished professionals. The U.S. unemployment rate has been hovering at about 10% for many, many months. At the same time, the economy has been in the grips of one of the worst recessions in many decades. If you are currently in the job market or expect that you may be in the not-too-distant future, you are almost certainly aware that the job market is fierce. But even in the fiercest of job markets, hiring continues and jobs are being filled on a daily basis. The challenge, of course, is to get YOUR phone ringing and to get YOU in the door to interview for these positions.
Unusual times call for bold actions. Now, more than ever, you MUST find a way to stand out from your competition and to break ranks with all the other candidates in the hiring line. Your resume–your first introduction to those with the power to hire you–doesn’t merely have to be good, it has to be incredible. Otherwise – it’s the circular file graveyard.
Remember… your resume is competing against an entire horde of potential candidates. Unless your resume stands out from this crowded stampede – it will be trampled to the bottom. It’s as simple as that. In the job search, there’s no welcoming handshake for the runners-up. “Almost made it” won’t put money in your pocket or secure your future.
As a professional resume writer and the managing director of a resume writing firm, my team and I have worked with thousands and thousands of job seekers, each one an individual, yet all with one thing in common: they need a resume that will allow them to stand out from their competition in the job market, promoting themselves as THE best solution to an employer’s needs–THE person best able to meet challenges and solve the employer’s problems.
While every single one of these job seekers is unique, we have repeatedly and consistently accomplished this goal for our clients, creating attention-getting and job-winning resumes that get interviews even in the most competitive of job markets.
How do we do it? The truth is that the best resume solution and strategy is often as unique as the individual client. But, to develop those solutions, there are six steps that we carefully think through prior to tackling any new resume writing project for a client.
As you work on developing or refining your own resume — as you try to come up with ways to transform your background into a job-winning resume — it may be helpful for you to work through the same six steps.
Resume Writing Tip #1 – Know your goal
What is your current career goal? What profession? What industry? What professional level? Knowing your objective and your goals for a job search is the foundation of not just your resume, but of your entire job search.
Unless you know where you are going, you will have no idea what the focus of your resume must be and you won’t even have a clue how to begin writing it. Don’t expect a busy employer to figure it out for you. The fastest path for your resume to land in the “circular file graveyard” is to try to be all things to all people, writing your resume to give you flexibility in applying for a variety of positions.
Your resume must have a precise focus and it must convey that focus in five seconds or less. If it doesn’t, it will be discarded. It is that simple. Every word and element of your resume must support your focus.
Resume Writing Tip #2 – Know your audience
Now that you know your goal, you are in a position to begin thinking about the recipients of your resume. What are the expectations and requirements of a candidate for the job you are targeting? What are the problems that a person in your ideal position is likely to be faced with? In what way will the company profit from having an exceptional performer in the position you are targeting?
Remember that the person doing the hiring has problems that they are hoping their new-hire will solve. What are those problems? Do they need to increase sales? Reduce costs? Increase productivity? Improve efficiency? If you clearly identify the problems of your target audience, you can construct an entire resume focused on how you are the ideal candidate to solve them.
An employee is an investment, and if you can create a resume that proves you have VALUE to offer and will produce a better RETURN on that investment than the next guy, doors will swing open to you.
Resume Writing Tip #3 – Know your competition
Who is your competition in the job market? What qualifications might they have that you don’t have? What qualifications might you have that they don’t have? For most situations, I’m not referring to specific individuals. Obviously you wouldn’t want to violate the privacy of any specific person competing for the same type of job. But, there is definite value in trying to define your competition in generalities. What types of qualifications does the typical candidate have for the job you are targeting?
Knowing your competition is a key part of Step #4…
Resume Writing Tip #4 – Clearly identify any challenges or problem(s) that your resume must address
Okay. Now that you know where you are going, know what your audience is seeking, and know what your competition brings to the table, you are ready to fully define the problem or problems that your resume must overcome.
Some of those problems might be obvious. Work-history gaps, concerns about age discrimination, and multiple job changes are among the most common. But, having worked your way through the prior three steps, you may have identified others. Are there key qualifications you are lacking? Educational requirements that you don’t quite meet? Ways that your experience doesn’t quite stand up to your competition? Whatever those problems might be, make sure you define them. In the next step, we will begin to solve them.
Now, take everything you have ever read or learned about resume writing and forget it. Well, maybe not everything, but at this point you definitely do need to begin thinking creatively and strategically.
Remember that a resume is essentially an advertisement – a marketing piece – a personal sales pitch. Resumes are NOT autobiographies! They are personal marketing documents meant to sell you as the ideal candidate for a particular position. Everything about the content, the structure, and the design of your resume should be strategically and selectively included, excluded, highlighted, or de-emphasized.
Always be absolutely and meticulously honest, but be willing to think outside the box and present your background in a format and structure that will be most flattering to you in relation to the career goal you are targeting.
Do you want to be one of a kind? Or do you want to be one of many?
Your resume is meant to make you stand out and shine. You will NOT achieve this by following some rigid template and structure that doesn’t have the flexibility to showcase your unique qualifications.
Resume Writing Tip #6 Differentiate yourself
When you considered your competition in Step #3 did you also identify exacty what it is that sets you apart from your peers and competition in the job market? If not, now is the time to think about that.
Infuse your resume with your differentiating personality, passion, and expertise. This is probably THE most important factors that makes a resume stand out. So many resumes are terribly generic and cookie-cutter. They are boring, read like a job description, and all look the same.
Your resume should emphasize your differentiators and distinguishing qualifications rather than just the baseline qualifications that are common and expected in your profession. Additionally, it isn’t enough to tell a reader that you have certain abilities or traits; you must show them through examples of past achievements. Prove impact! Forget about cliches and jargon. Soft skills are often important, but even those should be backed up by specific accomplishments that illustrate them.
There is obvious competitive advantage won by a candidate who truly understands his or her value and is able to communicate the proposed ROI he or she is offering to an employer in a clear and compelling way. This is what you want to strive for with your resume.
Resume Writing Tip #7 – Reframe, reposition, reformat, and redesign
It is really all about how you frame and position your experience, your achievements, your educational background, and any other qualifications. Once you get to this step, you are ready to put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard) and begin writing your resume. Take what you know about the expectations and the desires of your target audience, combine this with your understanding of the competition, your differentiating value add, value-proving examples of your past achievements, and the problems you defined in Step #4, and start writing your resume.
Perhaps you are making a career change into a completely new profession. Much of your past experience is transferable, but this might not be immediately obvious to the resume recipient. How can you “reframe” your past experience to selectively emphasize the transferable skills and de-emphasize those that will no longer be relevant?
Is there a qualification you are lacking for the position you are targeting? Perhaps some other experience you have had has helped you to develop this qualification in a non-traditional way. How can you “reposition” that experience to illustrate the qualification in question?
Maybe you are returning to a career path that you veered away from ten years ago. Your recent experience is not as relevant as your past experience. What opportunities do you have to “reformat” your resume to bring the older skills to the forefront?
Or maybe you have a couple of big gaps in your work history. Can you think of a way to “redesign” your resume to take the visual emphasis off of the chronology/dates of your experience and place it instead on your achievements and results?
So, what problems does your resume need to solve? What issues must you face to transform your background into a job-winning resume? As you get started, remember, it is words on a piece of paper. It is easy to edit and move things around. Don’t be afraid to experiment (just do it BEFORE you use it in the job market!).
If you aren’t sure what the best resume writing strategy is, create several versions and ask your friends and family for feedback before choosing the one you use in your search. And, if you get stuck, that is what professional resume writers are here for! We can often provide solutions that you would never have thought of on your own.