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The Right Stuff for Resumes

3/12/2007 4:12:23 PM

By Peter Weddle -- Most of us view writing a resume as just slightly more pleasurable than doing our taxes. And, nothing could be further from the truth. While your tax filing indicates what the Government is going to take from you, your resume describes what you have brought to your career. It details the skills you’ve acquired, the responsibilities you’ve accepted, and the accomplishments you have achieved. In truth, your resume is a socially acceptable form of bragging, that most of us never practice.

That lack of practice, however, is what gets us into trouble. Most of us don’t write a resume until we’re in transition and often under pressure to find a new or better job fast. Building a complete and compelling history of your career is always a challenge, but doing it from scratch and/or under a deadline is what gives writing a resume a bad name. It’s all too easy to leave important details out, to include inaccurate information by mistake and to emphasize the wrong points for the opportunities you seek. In today’s workplace, you just never know when your dream job will come along or your employer will announce a staff reduction without warning. It’s absolutely essential, therefore, that you have an up-to-date resume all of the time and that it brags accurately, but persuasively about your value as an employee.

Even the best written resume that’s submitted at just the right time, however, will not guarantee you’ll be properly considered in today’s job market. Consider these findings from a recent survey by

  • Better than one-out-of-four (27%) Human Resource managers receive an average of 50 resumes for every one of their open positions;

  • Better than one-out-of-ten (13%) actually receive more than 100 resumes for each of their job openings; and

  • Almost half (41%) say they are put off when candidates submit generic resumes for an opening with specific requirements.

    To put it another way, the competition for the best jobs is fierce, and you must assume that you’ll have to be better than at least 50 and often 100 or more other applicants in order to get an offer. How can you do that? Here are some suggestions:

    Never submit a generic resume. Employers and recruiters know that your resume was written on a word processor so they believe that tailoring it to a specific opening is not only easy but a measure of your desire. From their point of view, if you aren’t willing to invest the time to focus your resume on a given position’s requirements, you are unlikely to have the commitment necessary to succeed in the position. Certainly, you should still write a cover letter or message to point out certain key aspects of your record, but that communication should repeat and reinforce the factors that make you a dream candidate, not introduce them for the first time or point them out in a resume that’s cluttered with extraneous information.

    Use the vocabulary of employers. While there are many ways in the English language to articulate your capabilities and accomplishments, there is only one way that information will be recognized by an employer. You must speak their language or rather the language they use with their resume management system. A large and growing number of employers now store applicant resumes in the databases of these computer-based systems. Their recruiters then search these databases using keywords to identify qualified candidates for each of their openings. Unlike humans, however, the computers cannot extrapolate or make inferences. They look only for exact matches between the recruiter’s keywords and the vocabulary on your resume. When tailoring that document, therefore, don’t search for just the right word, but instead, adopt the words the employer uses to search. Where can you find them? Look at the nouns and phrases the employer uses in its job postings and recruitment ads.

    Make sure your resume is database friendly. In order to avoid having to maintain two different inventories of resumes—the computerized database for those received online and file cabinets for those received on paper—most employers are now scanning paper resumes into their resume management system. The technology involved, however, is often finicky. If it "sees" something it doesn’t like in your resume, it will transform the information into an unintelligible jumble that will prevent you from ever being identified as a qualified candidate. To avoid that situation, use a resume format that the scanner will like. Use black ink on white paper, a font size of eleven points or larger, and a font without a serif (e.g., Arial rather than Times New Roman). In addition, since most scanners do not read the front and back of a document, it’s important to produce each page of your resume on a separate sheet of paper.

    No resume is perfect because no document can fully capture the personal qualities of a person. Words are simply unable to describe the right stuff you offer an employer. Until someone comes along with a better alternative, however, we’re stuck with these records. To be considered for your dream job, therefore, your resume has to work as hard as you do. And, for it to do that, your resume has to have the right stuff too.

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