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Resume Rules Meant To Be Broken

Apr 17, 2008
Have you ever wondered what happens to your resume after a prospective employer receives it? It used to be that someone - a human - would sift through all the resumes, scanning for keywords and relevant experience. In today's job hunting world, that human has, in many cases, been replaced by a computer. That's right. The finely crafted resume you worked so hard to make impressive, is casually dismissed by....a software package. The fact that human eyes never actually read your resume or the cover letter you agonized over is simply the reality of the digital era.

So, what's a job hunter need to do to get noticed? Well, it's important to let go of old "rules" that will do you a disservice in today's job hunting world. The first of these is...

"Your resume should be no longer than two pages."

This is probably the hardest rule to overcome, because it's been ingrained in our psyches for decades. Yet, distilling your work life history down to two pages or less means you may be leaving out important details that could garner you a coveted interview.

"Dan" had been the Vice President of Corporate Affairs at a large multibillion-dollar manufacturing company with operations in several states. Unfortunately for Dan, a larger company acquired his, and he's now looking for new employment. He has emailed his resume to several promising opportunities but hasn't gotten anywhere close to the response he'd been hoping for. And now he's beginning to think there's a problem with his less than two-page long resume.

A quick glance at his resume is enough to spot the problem. It looks like an airline itinerary with titles, dates and locations of previous jobs - but scarce information on the increasing value he brought to each position. As he resisted the suggestion that a longer resume might help his job hunting chances, he invoked an all-too familiar lament, "I talked to a headhunter...." Headhunters, who prefer to be called Executive Recruiters, do live in a world where shorter is better in terms of resumes. This is because the recruiter acts as your personal sales force, pitching you to potential employers. A full-blown resume would get in the way of their sales pitch. So, by all means, have a Cliff Notes version of your career available for recruiters, but also have a fully developed resume handy for everyone else.

The second "rule" to break is...

"Just the Facts, Ma'am."

By all means, your resume should be factual and not fanciful. But sticking to only the dates, locations, titles and tasks of your previous positions won't sell you as a well-rounded employee. The key to a successful resume is Value. What Value did you bring to each of your jobs? A compelling resume must include this all-important ingredient other wise you won't stand out among the field of candidates any better than a needle in a haystack. Here are four ways to demonstrate the value you brought to past employers and, more importantly, will bring to a potential new employer.

First Impression:

Most hiring managers will give the first page a quick scan and either decide to read it or discard it. The first page must identify you as a valuable business resource or they're on to the next resume. Position your responsibilities in terms of Value not tasks.

What They Need versus What You Want:

Have you ever included a "Professional Objective" at the top of your resume? This is all about you and what you hope to find in your next work experience. But hiring managers care a lot more about what they need, not what you want. An easy way to address this is by providing a "Professional Summary," which highlights exactly what you bring to the table. Determine what makes you valuable and put it first!

It's Called Capitalism:

Focus on how your hard work has profited your company. What did you do to make or save money, improve customer service, streamline processes, generate or retain customers? Limit the discussion of your daily responsibilities to a sentence or two and focus on your achievements.

Show Me the Money:

Support your professional accomplishments with facts, figures and percentages. This is the surest way to be noticed. For example:

- Generated a 7.9% annual increase in plant productivity not oversaw plant operations
- Managed $1.3 million in key accounts not Account Manager
- Decreased departmental turnover by 79% not good interpersonal skills

By highlighting your value to a prospective employer, you stand a much better chance of being noticed by humans and pre-screening software and considered as a viable candidate. In today's job market, breaking the rules may be exactly what you need to do to land the job of your dreams!

Copyright 2008, Pat Faber-Garey.
About the Author
Pat Faber-Garey brings two decades of workforce transition management to bear in helping business leaders take advantage of change. A published author, Faber-Garey's 2006 book GREAT JOBS FOR GRADUATES: 90 Days to the Career of a Lifetime, is used as a university textbook. She is a regular speaker and industry source on workforce management and human resource development topics. Extreme Agility, LLC
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