A few thoughts on resumes

If you are looking for a job, everyone knows you need a resume, commonly defined as follows:

résumé (noun): A brief account of a person’s education, qualifications, and previous experience, typically sent in with a job application.

While that is indeed what a resume *is*, it leaves out the part of what a resume is *for*.

And for most jobs, the primary objective of having a resume is to get an interview. To put it in context, I’ve never seen anyone hired on the resume alone, without interviews. I have seen people hired based a reference and an interview, without so much as a glance at the resume.

Which brings us to the ultimate question that a hiring manager is trying to answer: “If I hire you, will you be successful at delivering the value I need?”

Using that lens, the resume should not be a history of what you did. Rather it is a story, in a slightly unique format, designed to answer the question of what you will bring to the job if hired.

Which means you need to think differently when writing it.

To get into the nuts and bolts of it, let’s talk about the 3 typical gauntlets your resume needs to pass through:

1. The screening algorithm (Strategy: Use the right keywords)

For any jobs with lots of applicants (which is most jobs these day), the first filter will most likely be done by searching for keywords. The objective is to get rid of most of the resumes so the recruiter has a “reasonable” pile to actually read through.

To make sure you can get past this filter, look at 5 or more job postings that are in your field. Find the words that appear on most or all of them and make sure those words appear somewhere in your resume

2. The Recruiter (Strategy: Cover all “qualifications”)

If you make it past the keyword screens, your resume is then typically read by a human being, although one who is a professional recruiter or HR person, not a direct hiring manager. Their objective is to make sure the resume is “qualified” for the role and worth the time of the hiring manager.

To get past this one, look at the specific job requirements (years of experience, subject matter expertise, and scope of responsibilities) and make sure they are easily identifiable on your resume. This is where you can start to tailor your resume for a specific job opening. 

3. The Hiring Manger and other interviewers (Strategy: Demonstrate the impact you’ve had and how that applies to the company’s need)

Now you are getting to the actual decision makers. They are trying to figure out if you have the skills and experience to succeed in the role. If there are multiple applicants who have the basics (which is most of the time), it leads to the next question: “Why you?”

This is where your story needs to come out. Your resume should be a narrative that says why you are great at what you do *and* shows why you are unique and someone they want on their team. Your objective is to lay the foundation for which you can build on in the interview.

So how do you show you are great at what you do?

Resume 101: make sure paragraphs and bullets of your resume all talk to the impact you had in your previous roles. Here’s a simple example of how to see the difference:

  • What I did (standard):  Provided production support to system X
  • What I did, with some impact (better): Provided production support which helped improve quality of system X
  • Impact, based on what I did (even better): Reduced production defects by implementing a quality improvement program for system X
  • Business impact, based on what I did (now you’ve got my attention): Improved customer retention from 84% to 94% by conceiving and executing a quality improvement program which reduced production incidents by 90% over a 3-month period

There are a lot of other tips and tricks on resumes, but hopefully this will get you started. 

The unique part of the story is yours alone and is hard to give generic advice, so if you want some 1-on-1 feedback or guidance, please reach out and I would be happy to help.

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