When the average person writes a resume, they often forget what its ultimate purpose is. In fact, some people start and complete their resume without giving its true purpose a thought. Maybe, that’s why so many resumes don’t even get read. If you don’t begin with the end in mind, your resume won’t have much impact.
The real purpose of a resume is to grab someones attention and make them want to talk to you in a face-to-face interview. If you tell the prospective employer everything or don’t grab their attention in the first thirty seconds, your resume will almost certainly end up in the round file or be lost in a black hole with a lot of other mediocre resumes.
Another way to express this point is that your resume is a sales tool and the reason why people buy one thing rather than another is because of how it makes them feel. If you consider advertising, you will notice that the seller is always trying to connect a feeling to their product. If your resume does not evoke a feeling from the prospective employer within 30-45 seconds, they almost certainly won’t continue reading.
When I was a youngster, I used to go fishing a lot. If you did the same, did you put something on the hook that would appeal to you or the fish? Of course, you put a worm on the hook and not a piece of chocolate cupcake. So, why do so many of us write a resume from our perspective rather than the employer’s?. If you are fishing for a job, use bait that will catch the recruiters and decision makers. Put yourself in their place and make every word count. Don’t leave anything up to chance.
Try this experiment. Look through a book on resumes and find 10 of 20 that you think are very good or excellent. Add your current resume to the middle of the stack and then put them all face down. Have someone get a timer and go through each one including yours for thirty seconds and only thirty seconds. After you have completed reviewing the entire pile ask yourself these questions:
- What resumes do you remember? What made them stand out?
- What do you remember about each candidate including you?
- Do you have a sense of wanting to go back to any? Why?
- Do your favorite resumes have anything in common? What are those elements?
- Were there any that really made you want to keep reading?
If you really made an effort at this exercise, you will realize that people don’t get a whole lot more from scanning a resume than an initial impression and a felt sense. If you send an unsolicited resume, that’s about what happens when it reaches a recruiter’s desk. Therefore, you need to take this fact into consideration when you are designing your layout and make best use of your resume real estate.
You want the employer to remember the most important things, don’t leave it up to chance they will ever get to the important details somewhere down below. If you grab the reader’s attention quickly, they will keep reading for the answers to the questions they formulated in their mind from your very well thought out top half page. The elements at the top of the resume have to capture what you are about and your intention in as few words as possible. Keep writing and rewriting this section so it will have maximum impact. Thing meaningful and specific vs. vague and general.
I used to hire a lot of people and participate in interviews and hiring decisions in many different types of companies and settings. I have looked at and seen a lot of resumes and honestly, I have for the most part been “underwhelmed.” That is good news for you because you can take your resume from good to great by putting it together in a conscious manner. If you bait the hook right and crystallize your most important long-term and short-term achievements in the right kind of package, you will differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack.
While a resume is a relatively short document, it ought to be a crystallization of your values, experiences and define what you as unique. It should grab the employer right away and to do this it must appeal emotionally to them by tacitly addressing the business problems they most want to solve. It needs to do this very quickly because people just don’t go searching through the text for your bottom line. What I recommend to make your resume stand out from the crowd includes the following:
- Some sort of career highlights section, crystal clear objective or summary that captures the essence of what you would like to do, what you have done and your most important values. Don’t make the reader look around for these things, get them at the top and communicate them in a coherent fashion.
- Don’t just list facts that may or may not be important. Tie your achievements to concrete problems with measurable outcomes. In other words, liberally use what is called the CAR approach – statements that contain a business challenge, actions YOU took to solve the problem and results expressed in measurable terms. I will give you an example of how to do this below.
- Make all the CAR statements or stories, which is really what they are, point back to the overall business problem you think you can solve for the employer. You may not even know what that is if you haven’t consciously mined your past experience for what types of problems you most enjoy solving, why and in what context. This is partly why when someone reads your resume it doesn’t land or resonate on any deep level. That’s a topic for another day, but you need to know these things.
If your resume doesn’t land on a deep level with you and you’re not enthusiastic about it, I suspect it won’t have a large impact on the target audience either. In my next article on this topic, I will offer you some suggestions on how to mine your peak work experiences, and life in general for the gem descriptive words, defining stories, priorities and values that will resonate with you and any hiring manager or company culture where there is a mutual fit.
With respect to CAR statements, you want to construct a series of success stories under the category of each job expressed in your own words. From these stories, extract what the business challenge was, the action your took to address it and the measurable results. If you get 5-10 of these written under every job you had in the past, you can pick specific ones on a tailored resume to whatever job you are applying for. Even better, get at least 10 written under each job title and keep growing this as you think of more.
For example, say one of my initial stories goes something like this…. I worked as a manager in a small fast growing company and we had to do a lot of different things. However, at the end of the year we accomplished all of our goals and our customers were happy.
Here is a CAR statement version broken down into the three key points to focus on:
CHALLENGE: Lead a team in a chaotic environment with rapid growth, scale the area to double size and increase revenue by 30%
ACTION: Defined a strategy, implemented a project management methodology and continuous quality improvement.
RESULTS: Exceeded growth expectations by 10%, improved quality 25% and retained all original members of the team.
Now… reassembling these elements into a flowing CAR statement:
Agreed to take on the challenge of scaling a department to double in size while increasing net revenue 30% revenue. Provided leadership, implemented a new project management methodology and business processes that supported continuous quality improvement. At the end of the year, the department more than doubled in size with a 40% increase in net profit and a 20% higher quality rating. At the same time, we had zero turnover and increased customer and employee satisfaction by more than 25%
While this was a rather lengthy hypothetical example, the point is that you need success stories to talk about in an interview. By writing stories and then analyzing them in terms of what the underlying challenge was, the action you took and the measurable results you got, you shift out of listing skills to telling success stories grab employers attention by connecting your experience to their problems.
Does it really work? Try it….. and let me know. Every hour you spend preparing and refining your message will increase your leverage and confidence in the market place exponentially. If you reach out to friends and professionals then you will be even further ahead. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to your career prospects in a touch market.