(Yes, you still need one!)
By Danielle Savage / Created 2009_12_15
You’re looking for a new job, and networking like crazy. A friend of a former colleague has agreed to meet you for coffee to talk about openings in her industry. “Can I see your resume?” she asks casually, as she reaches for the brown sugar.
Despite the advent of online applications and social networking, a resume remains the cornerstone of just about any job hunt, no matter what the level of the position. A resume that reflects your unique set of strengths, whether it is submitted electronically or in person, remains a crucial way to make yourself stand out from the crowd.
Like everything else, resumes go through trends. Check to see if your resume fits the following key points:
• Does it focus on accomplishments? In the past, listing previous tasks and responsibilities sufficed. Now, it’s important to display what you actually achieved; whenever possible through real numbers or percentages (for example, in terms of increased business or savings). You can also talk about carrying out assignments in a time-efficient manner (completing a project in two months rather than three, for example) or increasing client satisfaction or decreasing employee turnover. If numbers are not appropriate, try to reflect on what your personal contribution was. If you were an intern or had an administrative role, were you assigned tasks that others in similar roles were not? If so, what were they? If you’re having trouble with this, you can try pulling out past job evaluations or calling a former colleague. What were your unique contributions?
• Does it provide some context? It’s not enough to recount goals achieved; you need to indicate what challenges were involved. The idea is not to make your past roles sound overly-difficult, but to show what your skills really are. For instance, keeping a team together that has been working together for many years is not as challenging as doing so in an industry where rampant employee turnover is the norm. When telling the story of your accomplishments, think of the acronym CAR – challenge, actions, results. Providing the narrative of how you managed to accomplish your goals is the key to showcasing your unique value-added.
• Does it indicate scope? What were the departments and functions you were collaborating with in your previous positions? How many people were on your team? How big were your projects? What were the resources used? Did you coordinate across departments, industries, or organizations? Without going into painstaking detail, let the reader know the range and extent of your endeavors.
• Is the content relevant? In tough times, it’s tempting to want to cast as wide a net as possible and make it sound like you can do anything. Unfortunately, this will usually backfire. Employers know that they have a large pool of candidates to choose from and they are more likely to select someone who can really answer a specific need. Hence the importance of tailoring each resume to the particular position. Sometimes less is more – extraneous information may cause the reader to tune out.
• Does it include appropriate keywords? Make sure you are incorporating buzzwords and industry terms that demonstrate your insider knowledge of your field. You will find these words in job advertisements, corporate websites, trade media, and related resources. You can weave them into your job descriptions, academic coursework, and even provide a keyword summary within your document. This is all the more crucial when applying online; if you don’t have the sought-after terms on your resume, it will sit in the organization’s database instead of garnering attention.
• Might it need to be scaled back? In this economy, you may not find the opening for your dream job requiring a PhD right away. In the meantime, you want a job. It may make sense for you to omit your higher degree from that particular resume, and focus on how you have the skills to do the target position. Otherwise, you risk coming across as overqualified, which, believe it or not, is as bad as being under qualified. There’s no right answer here – it’s a personal decision – but it may be a useful short-term strategy.
• Is it culturally appropriate? For globe-hoppers such as AUP grads, it’s imperative to understand the resume norms in your target country. For example, you should not be including your birthday, marital status, or photo on a resume sent to US-based employers. Make sure you know what is expected so that you don’t screen yourself out before you even get started.
• Does it avoid tired generalities? The old objective “seeking challenging position where I can utilize my strong people skills…” is yesterday’s news. Consider using a summary of qualifications and a list of industry keywords to make it instantly clear to the potential employer what, specifically, you bring to the table.
• Is it visually appealing and easy to read? What your categories are called and how they are arranged may be less important than whether the document has its own internal logic which is simple to grasp. Fancy formatting that looks nice can help your resume stand out, but if it takes effort to figure out the basic information, you have probably lost your reader.
It may seem overwhelming to have to tailor your resume to each specific organization and position. Be aware that professional resume writers exist to help job seekers create the most compelling document possible. But no matter how you do it, spending time on a well-tailored document will make you that much more prepared for the interview – another key piece of the process that has not been replaced by technology.
Danielle Savage is Career Counselor at AUP. She holds a Masters degree in Organizational Psychology from the University of London, a maîtrise from the Université de Paris 3 la Sorbonne Nouvelle and a BA in English Literature from the University of Toronto. A French-American national by birth, she is a member of the National Résumé Writers’ Association, the National Career Development Association, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, and the European Professional Women’s Network.