When looking for work, resume writing is one of the first things on the “to do” list. But for many job seekers, it’s often one of the hardest parts! A strong resume is critical to standing out in today’s competitive labour market so it’s important that your resume is working for you!
How can you tell if your resume is working?
Very simply, it’s the response rate that the resume brings. If you are diligently sending out your resume and have not received any invitations for interviews in several months, it’s time to re-evaluate if your resume is doing the job that it’s supposed to.
A good resume will clearly share work and education history. It will be well laid-out and easy-to-read. But beyond that there are 4 important tasks that a resume should also be doing for you:
Answer the Question the Job Posting is Asking
Think of a job posting as being a question that the employer is posing to anyone who is interested in working for their company. They are saying, “This is what we want…do you fit?” Your job is to thoughtfully answer the employer’s question, using your resume as a written way to evidence the qualifications that the employer is asking for.
Sometimes job seekers will resist changing their resume, believing that it’s the employer’s job to sift through their resume to figure out if they are a viable candidate or not. The challenge is that employers simply do not have time for this. They may be reviewing hundreds of resumes so the responsibility is on you to make this process as easy as possible.
Yes, targeting your resume is more work and will take more time. But remember that there is a human being on the other side who is actually reading your resume at some point along the way. And that person wants to find someone who wants to work for their company, not just someone who wants any job.
Highlight What You Bring
What is that unique combination of skills, experience, education and personality that you would bring to the job? One way to identify what makes you marketable is to ask yourself, “If I could have a face-to-face meeting with this employer and I had one minute to convince her to hire me, what would I say?” Once you have identified what makes you unique, prominently highlight it at the top on the first page of your resume. This will create a sense of branding that will follow the reader as they review the rest of your resume.
The key here is to again make sure that the marketable skills that you have match the job that you are applying for. Take a look at the job posting again and try thinking about your resume as a business proposal to work for the company. Of the skills, abilities and attributes that you identified, what skills do you think would be most attractive to the company?
Reassure the Reviewer
Beyond skills, experience and education, employers also use your resume to get clues about your consistency and commitment to work. Therefore, having dates on your resume is important. If you do have a gap in your work history (like I do), you need to be thinking about how you will address that in your resume. For me, that looks like a bullet point in my work history that explains that I have taken time off for maternity leave and to live abroad.
Though you may have a gap, think about what else you were doing during that time. Did you volunteer, take care of a family member, work for a family business, blog, complete any training, travel or education or engage in any self-development? If so, note it down on your resume.
One of my clients suffered an illness that took him out of the workforce for several years. But during that time, he provided some administrative support to his partner in her home-based business. Even though he was not paid for this work, it was still work and we used it to fill in the gap period in his resume. Another client took several years away from the workforce to support her child with a disability. Based on her experience, the client decided to find paid work supporting individuals with disabilities and we built her resume to outline the skills that she gained through caring for her own child.
Tell the Right Story
Everyone comes with history, but you do not need to put everything that you have ever done on your resume. Use your resume to share the part of your story that will help employers understand why you are applying to work at their company and how you fit their needs.
If you have something on your resume that is non-essential, evaluate if it’s necessary to keep based on the job you are applying for. It is best if you can demonstrate a consistent timeline so don’t take anything off your resume that will leave big gaps. But at the same time, there should be a reason for everything that you do choose to keep on your resume. Did you do a one-day course in 1997 or take a 3-month contract in 2008? It might be time to kick those off your resume so you can use the space for other more important things!
One example where telling the right story becomes important, is when you may have tried several different careers, resulting in a seemingly disjointed work history. How do you tell the right story then? The first key is to identify common threads between the jobs that you were doing. And secondly, think about what all those experiences taught you. How are you going to be better at your job because of your past experience? Then find a way to represent that in your resume!
To determine if your resume is telling the right story, try reading it from the perspective of an HR professional. Remember, they want to see:
- Do you have the skills, experience and education to do the job?
- Is your personality a good fit for the company?
- Are you committed and dependable?
When you have been pouring over your resume for hours and hours, it can be hard to see if you have a consistent story. This might be the right time for you to have someone else to read through it and provide some unbiased feedback.
Though writing a resume can be difficult at times, it can be a useful process to clarify what you have to offer while getting well-acquainted with what the employer is looking for. By making sure that your resume is working for you, you will actually find work more quickly!
Kristin Vandegriend is a Career Coach and Resume Writer at Career Story. With over 10+ years of experience in HR and career development, she has successfully worked with hundreds of clients to find meaningful and sustainable work. Her passion is helping clients identify career paths and creative job search strategies that leverage and market their personal strengths and resilience. Connect with her on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.