Research shows that only one interview is granted for every 200 resumes received by the average employer. Research also tells us that your resume will be quickly scanned, rather than read. Ten to 20 seconds is all the time you have to persuade a prospective employer to read further. What this means is that the decision to interview a candidate is usually based on an overall first impression of the resume, a quick screening that so impresses the reader and convinces them of the candidate’s qualifications that an interview results. As a result, the top half of the first page of your resume will either make you or break you. By the time they have read the first few lines, you have either caught their interest, or your resume has failed. That is why we say that your resume is an ad. You hope it will have the same result as a well-written ad: to get the reader to respond.
To write an effective resume, you have to learn how to write powerful but subtle advertising copy. Not only that, but you must sell a product in which you have a large personal investment: you. What’s worse, given the fact that most of us do not think in a marketing-oriented way naturally, you are probably not looking forward to selling anything, let alone yourself. But if you want to increase your job hunting effectiveness as much as possible, you would be wise to learn to write a spectacular resume.
You do not need to hard sell or make any claims that are not absolutely true. You do need to get over your modesty and unwillingness to toot your own horn. People more often buy the best advertised product than the best product. That is good news if you are willing to learn to create an excellent resume. With a little extra effort, you will usually get a better response from prospective employers than people with better credentials.
FOCUS ON THE EMPLOYER’S NEEDS, NOT YOURS
Imagine that you are the person doing the hiring. This person is not some anonymous paper pusher deep in the bowels of the personnel department. Usually, the person who makes the hiring decision is also the person who is responsible for the bottom line productivity of the project or group you hope to join. This is a person who cares deeply how well the job will be done. You need to write your resume to appeal directly to them.
Ask yourself: What would make someone the perfect candidate? What does the employer really want? What special abilities would this person have? What would set a truly exceptional candidate apart from a merely good one?
If you are seeking a job in a field you know well, you probably already know what would make someone a superior candidate. If you are not sure, you can gather hints from the help-wanted ad you are answering, from asking other people who work in the same company or the same field. You could even call the prospective employer and ask them what they want. Don’t make wild guesses unless you have to. It is very important to do this step well. If you are not addressing their real needs, they will not respond to your resume.
Putting yourself in the moccasins of the person doing the hiring is the first, and most important, step in writing a resume that markets you rather than describes your history or herstory. Every step in producing a finished document should be part of your overall intention to convey to the prospective employer that you are a truly exceptional candidate.PLAN FIRST
Focus your writing efforts. Get clear what the employer is looking for and what you have to offer before you begin your resume. Write your answers to the above mentioned question, “What would make someone the perfect candidate?” on notebook paper, one answer per page. Prioritize the sheets of paper, based on which qualities or abilities you think would be most important to the person doing the hiring.
Then, starting with the top priority page, fill the rest of that page, or as much of it as you can, with brainstorming about why you are the person who best fulfills the employer’s needs. Write down everything you have ever done that demonstrates that you fit perfectly with what is wanted and needed by the prospective employer.
The whole idea is to loosen up your thinking enough so that you will be able to see some new connections between what you have done and what the employer is looking for. You need not confine yourself to work-related accomplishments. Use your entire life as the palette to paint with. If Sunday school or your former gang are the only places you have had a chance to demonstrate your special gift for teaching and leadership, fine. The point is to cover all possible ways of thinking about and communicating what you do well. What are the talents you bring to the market place? What do you have to offer the prospective employer?
If you are making a career change or are a young person and new to the job market, you are going to have to be especially creative in getting across what makes you stand out. These brainstorming pages will be the raw material from which you craft your resume. One important part of the planning process is to decide which resume format fits your needs best. Don’t automatically assume that a traditional format will work best for you. More about that later.
A GREAT RESUME HAS TWO SECTIONS
In the first, you make assertions about your abilities, qualities and achievements. You write powerful, but honest, advertising copy that makes the reader immediately perk up and realize that you are someone special.
The second section, the evidence section, is where you back up your assertions with evidence that you actually did what you said you did. This is where you list and describe the jobs you have held, your education, etc. This is all the stuff you are obliged to include.
Most resumes are just the evidence section, with no assertions. If you have trouble getting to sleep, just read a few resumes each night before going to bed. Nothing puts people to sleep better than the average resume.
The juice is in the assertions section. When a prospective employer finishes reading your resume, you want them to immediately reach for the phone to invite you in to interview. The resumes you have written in the past have probably been a gallant effort to inform the reader. You don’t want them informed. You want them interested and excited.
In fact, it is best to only hint at some things. Leave the reader wanting more. Leave them with a bit of mystery. That way, they have even more reason to reach for the phone. The assertions section usually has two or three sections. In all of them, your job is to communicate, assert and declare that you are the best possible candidate for the job and that you are hotter than a picnic on Mercury.
You start by naming your intended job. This may be in a separate Objective section, or may be folded into the second section, the Summary. If you are making a change to a new field, or are a young person not fully established in a career, start with a separate Objective section.THE OBJECTIVE
Ideally, your resume should be pointed toward conveying why you are the perfect candidate for one specific job or job title. Good advertising is directed toward a very specific target audience.
When a car company is trying to sell their inexpensive compact to an older audience, they show grandpa and grandma stuffing the car with happy, shiny grandchildren and talk about how safe and economical the car is. When they advertise the exact same car to the youth market, they show it going around corners on two wheels, with plenty of drums and power chords thundering in the background. You want to focus your resume just as specifically.
Targeting your resume requires that you be absolutely clear about your career direction–or at least that you appear to be clear. If you aren’t clear where you are going, you wind up wherever the winds of chance blow you. You would be wise to use this time of change to design your future career so you have a clear target that will meet your goals and be personally fulfilling. Even if you are a little vague about what you are looking for, you cannot let your uncertainty show. With a nonexistent, vague or overly broad objective, the first statement you make to a prospective employer says you are not sure this is the job for you.
The way to demonstrate your clarity of direction or apparent clarity is to have the first major topic of your resume be your OBJECTIVE.
Let’s look at a real world example. Suppose the owner of a small software company puts an ad in the paper seeking an experienced software sales person. A week later they have received 500 resumes. The applicants have a bewildering variety of backgrounds. The employer has no way of knowing whether any of them are really interested in selling software.
They remember all the jobs they applied for that they didn’t really want. They know that many of the resumes they received are from people who are just using a shotgun approach, casting their seed to the winds. Then they come across a resume in the pile that starts with the following:
OBJECTIVE – a software sales position in an organization seeking an extraordinary record of generating new accounts, exceeding sales targets and enthusiastic customer relations.
This wakes them up. They are immediately interested. This first sentence conveys some very important and powerful messages: “I want exactly the job you are offering. I am a superior candidate because I recognize the qualities that are most important to you, and I have them. I want to make a contribution to your company.” This works well because the employer is smart enough to know that someone who wants to do exactly what they are offering will be much more likely to succeed than someone who doesn’t. And that person will probably be a lot more pleasant to work with as well.
Secondly, this candidate has done a good job of establishing why they are the perfect candidate in their first sentence. They have thought about what qualities would make a candidate stand out. They have started communicating that they are that person immediately. What’s more, they are communicating from the point of view of making a contribution to the employer.
They are not writing from a self-centered point of view. Even when people are savvy enough to have an objective, they often make the mistake of saying something like, “a position where I can hone my skill as a scissors sharpener.” or something similar. The employer is interested in hiring you for what you can do for them, not for fulfilling your private goals and agenda.
Here’s how to write your objective. First of all, decide on a specific job title for your objective. Go back to your list of answers to the question “How can I demonstrate that I am the perfect candidate?” What are the two or three qualities, abilities or achievements that would make a candidate stand out as truly exceptional for that specific job?
The person in the above example recognized that the prospective employer, being a small, growing software company, would be very interested in candidates with an ability to generate new accounts. So they made that the very first point they got across in their resume.
Be sure the objective is to the point. Do not use fluffy phrases that are obvious or do not mean anything, such as: “allowing the ability to enhance potential and utilize experience in new challenges.” An objective may be broad and still somewhat undefined in some cases, such as: “a mid-level management position in the hospitality or entertainment industry.”
Remember, your resume will only get a few seconds attention, at best! You have to generate interest right away, in the first sentence they lay their eyes on. Having an objective statement that really sizzles is highly effective. And it’s simple to do. One format is:
OBJECTIVE: An xxx position in an organization where yyy and zzz would be needed (or, in an organization seeking yyy and zzz).
Xxx is the name of the position you are applying for. Yyy and zzz are the most compelling qualities, abilities or achievements that will really make you stand out above the crowd of applicants. Your previous research to find out what is most important to the employer will provide the information to fill in yyy and zzz.
If you are applying for several different positions, you should adapt your resume to each one. There is nothing wrong with having several different resumes, each with a different objective, each specifically crafted for a different type of position. You may even want to change some parts of your resume for each job you apply for. Have an objective that is perfectly matched with the job you are applying for. Remember, you are writing advertising copy, not your life story.
It is sometimes appropriate to include your Objective in your Summary section rather than have a separate Objective section. (Examples to follow.) The point of using an Objective is to create a specific psychological response in the mind of the reader.
If you are making a career change or have a limited work history, you want the employer to immediately focus on where you are going, rather than where you have been. If you are looking for another job in your present field, it is more important to stress your qualities, achievements and abilities first.
A few examples of separate Objective sections:
- Vice president of marketing in an organization where a strong track record of expanding market share and internet savvy is needed.
- Senior staff position with a bank that offers the opportunity to use my expertise in commercial real estate lending and strategic management.
- An entry-level position in the hospitality industry where a background in advertising and public relations would be needed.
- A position teaching English as a second language where a special ability to motivate and communicate effectively with students would be needed.
- Divemaster in an organization where an extensive knowledge of Carribean sea life and a record of leaving customers feeling they have had a once-in-a lifetime experience is needed.THE SUMMARY
The “Summary” or “Summary of Qualifications” consists of several concise statements that focus the reader’s attention on the most important qualities, achievements and abilities you have to offer. Those qualities should be the most compelling demonstrations of why they should hire you instead of the other candidates. It gives you a brief opportunity to telegraph a few of your most sterling qualities. It is your one and only chance to attract and hold their attention, to get across what is most important, and to entice the employer to keep reading.
This is the spiciest part of the resume. This may be the only section fully read by the employer, so it should be very strong and convincing. The Summary is the one place to include professional characteristics (extremely energetic, a gift for solving complex problems in a fast-paced environment, a natural salesman, exceptional interpersonal skills, committed to excellence, etc.) which may be helpful in winning the interview. Gear every word in the Summary to your targeted goal.
How to write a Summary? Go back to your lists that answer the question, What would make someone the ideal candidate? Look for the qualities the employer will care about most. Then look at what you wrote about why you are the perfect person to fill their need. Pick the stuff that best demonstrates why they should hire you. Assemble it into your Summary section.
The most common ingredients of a well-written Summary are as follows. Of course, you would not use all these ingredients in one Summary. Use the ones that highlight you best.
- A short phrase describing your profession
- Followed by a statement of broad or specialized expertise
- Followed by two or three additional statements related to any of the following:
breadth or depth of skills
unique mix of skills
range of environments in which you have experience
a special or well-documented accomplishment
a history of awards, promotions, or superior performance commendations
- One or more professional or appropriate personal characteristics
- A sentence describing professional objective or interest.
Notice that the examples below show how to include your objective in the Summary section. If you are making a career change, your Summary section should show how what you have done in the past prepares you to do what you seek to do in the future. If you are a young person new to the job market, your Summary will be based more on ability than experience.
A few examples of Summary sections:
- Highly motivated, creative and versatile real estate executive with seven years of experience in property acquisition, development and construction, as well as the management of large apartment complexes. Especially skilled at building effective, productive working relationships with clients and staff. Excellent management, negotiation and public relations skills. Seeking a challenging management position in the real estate field that offers extensive contact with the public.
- Over 10 years as an organizational catalyst/training design consultant with a track record of producing extraordinary results for more than 20 national and community based organizations. A commitment to human development and community service. Energetic self-starter with excellent analytical, organizational, and creative skills.
- Financial Management Executive with nearly ten years of experience in banking and international trade, finance, investments and economic policy. Innovative in structuring credit enhancement for corporate and municipal financing. Skilled negotiator with strong management, sales and marketing background. Areas of expertise include (a bulleted list would follow this paragraph.)
- Health Care Professional experienced in management, program development and policy making in Botswana as well as in several developing countries. Expertise in emergency medical services. A talent for analyzing problems, developing and simplifying procedures, and finding innovative solutions. Proven ability to motivate and work effectively with persons from other cultures and all walks of life. Skilled in working within a foreign environment with limited resources.
- Performing artist with a rich baritone voice and unusual range, specializing in classical, spiritual, gospel and rap music. Featured soloist for two nationally televised events. Accomplished pianist. Extensive performance experience includes television, concert tours and club acts. Available for commercial recording and live performances.
SKILLS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
In this final part of the assertions section of your resume, you go into more detail. You are still writing to sell yourself to the reader, not to inform them. Basically, you do exactly what you did in the previous section, except that you go into more detail.
In the summary, you focused on your most special highlights. Now you tell the rest of the best of your story. Let them know what results you produced, what happened as a result of your efforts, what you are especially gifted or experienced at doing. Flesh out the most important highlights in your summary.
You are still writing to do what every good advertisement does, communicating the following: if you buy this product, you will get these direct benefits. If it doesn’t contribute to furthering this communication, don’t bother to say it. Remember, not too much detail. Preserve a bit of mystery. Don’t tell them everything.
Sometimes the “Skills and Accomplishments” sections is a separate section. In a chronological resume, it becomes the first few phrases of the descriptions of the various jobs you have held. We will cover that in a few minutes, when we discuss the different types of resumes. When it is a separate section, it can have several possible titles, depending on your situation:
- SKILLS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- SUMMARY OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- SELECTED ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- RECENT ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- AREAS OF ACCOMPLISHMENT AND EXPERIENCE
- AREAS OF EXPERTISE
- CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
- PROFESSIONAL HIGHLIGHTS
- ADDITIONAL SKILLS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
There are a number of different ways to structure “Skills and Accomplishments” sections. In all of these styles, put your skills and accomplishments in order of importance for the desired career goal. If you have many skills, the last skill paragraph might be called “Additional Skills.”
Here are a few ways you could structure your “Skills and Accomplishments” section:
1. A listing of skills or accomplishments or a combination of both, with bullets
SELECTED SKILLS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- Raised P1900 in 21 days in canvassing and advocacy on environmental, health and consumer issues.
- Conducted legal research for four Lawyers, for the Attorney General.
- Coordinated Board of Directors and Community Advisory Board of community health center. Later commended as “the best thing that ever happened to that job.”
2. A listing of major skill headings with accomplishments under each. The accomplishments can be a bulleted list or in paragraph form. The material under the headings should include mention of accomplishments which prove each skill.
National Training Project / Conference Management.
- Director of Outreach on Hunger, a national public education/training project funded by USAID, foundations and all the major church denominations. Designed, managed and promoted three-day training conferences in towns across Botswana. Planned and managed 32 nationwide training seminars and a five-day annual conference for university vice-presidents and business executives.
Program Design: Universities.
- Invited by The University of Botswana Vice Chancellor to develop new directions and programs for the University’s Office of Tlhotlhora Educational Programs, first Director of the University of Botswana “Pre-college Program,” first editor of “UB Lives.” Designed and successfully proposed a center for the study of creativity at Botho College.
3. A list of bulleted accomplishments or skill paragraphs under each job (in a chronological resume).
Director of Sales and Marketing
LEGAE TRADE INTERNATIONAL, INC. Gaborone, Botswana
- Promoted from Sales Representative within one year of joining company to Director of Sales and Marketing. Responsible for international sales of raw materials, as well as printing and graphic arts equipment. Oversaw five sales managers. Was in charge of direct sales and marketing in 17 countries throughout Southern Africa and the Middle East.
- Recruited, trained and managed sales staff. Developed marketing strategy, prepared sales projections and established quotas. Selected and contracted with overseas sub-agents to achieve international market penetration.
- Negotiated and finalized long-term contractual agreements with suppliers on behalf of clients. Oversaw all aspects of transactions, including letters of credit, international financing, preparation of import/export documentation, and shipping/freight forwarding.
- Planned and administered sales and marketing budget, and maintained sole profit/loss responsibility. Within first year, doubled company’s revenues, and produced $7-9 million in annual sales during the next eight years.
BASIC RESUME FORMATS
There are three basic types of resumes: Chronological, Functional, and “combined” Chronological – Functional. To see what these styles look like, get a resume book. They are usually terrible guides for how to write an excellent resume, but they are good to see different formats. We would love to show you what complete resumes look like but your web browser would probably do unspeakable things to the formatting.
The chronological resume is the more traditional structure for a resume. The Experience section is the focus of the resume; each job (or the last several jobs) is described in some detail, and there is no major section of skills or accomplishments at the beginning of the resume. This structure is primarily used when you are staying in the same profession, in the same type of work, particularly in very conservative fields. It is also used in certain fields such as law and academia. It is recommended that the chronological resume always have an Objective or Summary, to focus the reader.
The advantages: May appeal to older, more traditional readers and be best in very conservative fields. Makes it easier to understand what you did in what job. May help the name of the employer stand out more, if this is impressive. The disadvantage is that it is much more difficult to highlight what you do best. This format is rarely appropriate for someone making a career change.
The functional resume highlights your major skills and accomplishments from the very beginning. It helps the reader see clearly what you can do for them, rather than having to read through the job descriptions to find out. It helps target the resume into a new direction or field, by lifting up from all past jobs the key skills and qualifications to help prove you will be successful in this new direction or field. Actual company names and positions are in a subordinate position, with no description under each. There are many different types of formats for functional resumes. The functional resume is a must for career changers, but is very appropriate for generalists, for those with spotty or divergent careers, for those with a wide range of skills in their given profession, for students, for military officers, for homemakers returning to the job market, and for those who want to make slight shifts in their career direction.
Advantages: It will help you most in reaching for a new goal or direction. It is a very effective type of resume, and is highly recommended. The disadvantage is that it is hard for the employer to know exactly what you did in which job, which may be a problem for some conservative interviewers.
A combined resume includes elements of both the chronological and functional formats. It may be a shorter chronology of job descriptions preceded by a short “Skills and Accomplishments” section (or with a longer Summary including a skills list or a list of “qualifications”); or, it may be a standard functional resume with the accomplishments under headings of different jobs held.
There are obvious advantages to this combined approach: It maximizes the advantages of both kinds of resumes, avoiding potential negative effects of either type. One disadvantage is that it tends to be a longer resume. Another is that it can be repetitious: Accomplishments and skills may have to be repeated in both the “functional” section and the “chronological” job descriptions.