Without exaggeration, I can honestly say that at least once per day, I am approached by a client who isn’t familiar with the concept of targeting their resume to a single job opportunity. The scene is repeated over and over again where a person either comes up to me, or I start the conversation myself as I see them working on their resume in the Resource Centre I work in.
Usually I’ll go right up to someone I don’t know and start off a conversation with a comment like, “Ah working on the dreaded resume I see”. Using a sympathetic phrase like this often gets a response like, “Yeah, what do you think?” Perfect. Now that I’ve been asked, I start in with the feedback. If it’s not bad at all or I sense very little room for criticism, I’ll pick one or two of the most glaring mistakes and point out alternatives and the reason behind them. Fortunately, most people really want the feedback, and I’ll rip the whole thing…I mean of course…I’ll make extensive revisions, explaining each to the point where the client can fully understand WHY the recommendations improve their chances of landing an interview. My goal in providing this help isn’t to provide a better resume only, but rather to give the knowledge to the client so they can modify future resumes on their own, and have a consistently better resume each and every time.
So at the risk of repeating tips and ideas for resumes I’ve covered before, I offer up some ideas. Whether these are new to you or you are seeing them again for review, I hope these are helpful. Take what you want or not as is your choice.
Don’t actually start with the resume, please start by getting a job posting you want to apply to beforehand. Look at all those skills, educational requirements, description of work setting, qualifications etc. Get out your highlighter and highlight every single one. Employers are telling you in black and white, “THIS IS WHAT I’M LOOKING FOR!”. So if your resume uses the same words, and has most of those same things on it, you’ll match up well and increase your chance of getting an interview. So if a posting say, “Must be able to lift 50 pounds”, you might type, “Capable of lifting 50 pounds or more without physical strain on a repetitive basis”. You match up perfectly and basically say to the employer that you are in good shape and can do this not once, but again and again.
Consider what you make BOLD on your resume. I’d suggest these things be bold: your name, the job title you are competing for, your past job titles, any volunteer titles, your degrees, diploma’s and actual names of courses you’ve taken. Don’t in my opinion, bold names of employers – this is after all your personal marketing tool, not free advertising for them. AN employer is considering you, so what was your job, not who did you work for. Include the employer for sure, but in regular font. With respect to the Headings themselves, they are just generic headings after all, why bold them? You’ve got 8 to 20 seconds to make a strong first impression. What do want a fresh pair of eyes to pick up in that time?
If you have a section near the top called, ‘Qualifications’, this is where you should cram in the things that qualify you for the job you are applying for. How do you know what to write? Look at what you highlighted earlier. Under “Work History” or a similar title, use bullets under each job you’ve had to say what you did or accomplished. As you write these down, make sure you’re thinking about the job you are applying for, not just the jobs you’ve had. Draw the connections for the employer and make no assumptions. A Waitress at a fine dining restaurant has a completely different set of responsibilities than a Waitress at a fast-food diner. Spell out what you did. For example the fast-food Waitress doesn’t have to recommend which wine would compliment steak or seafood.
Throw in numbers as often as you can that quantify your level of expertise. Don’t just say, “Managed a caseload of clients” when you could say, “Productively managed a caseload of 350 accounts using sound organizational skills”. If you don’t state it otherwise, the employer could assume your caseload was any number; maybe only 10 or 20!
Another suggestion is to remove months from the dates of employment on your resume. Months make a job look shorter on first glance. So for example, instead of, “February 2009 – May 2011”, just say, “2009 – 2011”. You may need this information at an interview…BUT YOU GOT THE INTERVIEW RIGHT? Otherwise, in the example it may look like you were in the job for 4 months instead of 2 years and 4 months. And by the way, don’t bold the dates; dates are just numbers. Do ensure the dates all line up under each other for easy reference and stick them as far to the right on the page as they’ll go.
I’m going to advise you that these suggestions are just MY suggestions. If you are sitting down with an Employment Counsellor or Resume Professional, generally speaking take their advice if it appears to conflict with what you read here. This is because they have an advantage in knowing what you are looking for, you frequency of jobs, the skills you have to offer and what an employer is looking for based on a posting. In short, take the advice of the professional you are sitting down with. Sure you can take along this blog and see if some of my thoughts would be helpful; but trust in the person helping you and give them credit.
When you get conflicting resume advice, who do you believe? Good logical question. There is no single way to make the perfect resume and should anyone tell you, “Do it my way or you’ll never get an interview”, well, that’s the one person to thank for their time and walk away. All us other professionals generally agree that while we have preferences on resume formats, there are choices out there. We’ll always suggest what we think will work best for you personally based on what we see working for others.
Targeting your resume to a single specific job instead of photocopying 20 and handing them out all over will generally be more productive; see if your Resume Professional agrees on that much!