Creating a Successful Resume
A good resume is about presenting yourself and your accomplishments in the most positive light. You need to be able to market yourself in a manner that makes you attractive to a prospective employer. In fact, it is helpful to think about the preparation of a resume as the first step in a personal marketing strategy.
Building a resume that reflects your accomplishments and presents you in the most favourable manner takes some careful thought and wording. Your resume should draw the reader’s attention to the important aspects of your career and highlight your key accomplishments. A good way of thinking about your resume is to think about it as a self-portrait. That is, it must be true to the subject while at the same time being as flattering as possible.
Your resume is the first thing a prospective employer will see and it will, to a great extent, determine whether you will be considered for the next step: an interview. Thus, it must fit into a larger self-marketing strategy. This strategy should be the context for your resume, and you should be looking for positions that will further your personal career strategy.
Once you view your job search from this perspective, you need:
- A personal strategy – a general idea of where you want to go in your career and a plan for getting there.
- Market needs – a clear understanding of the buyer’s interests and needs.
- An inventory of skills, accomplishments, and competencies – a forceful presentation of your unique value proposition as a candidate.
Step 1: Define Your Personal Marketing Strategy
Defining a personal marketing strategy is the first step in preparing your resume. Are you going after your first job, attempting to move up within your organization, or making a run at the executive level? Each of these situations requires a different type of marketing strategy, and hence a different type of resume. That is, the earlier you are in your career, the more necessary will be for you to utilize a broadcast strategy that gets as many resumes out to as many potential opportunities/situations as possible. If you are moving up within your company, or if you are focused on a key executive role at another organization, you need a more targeted strategy that gears the resume to the specifics of the role you are pursuing. In any case, it is important that you view the resume as one piece in your total marketing strategy.
Step 2: Develop a Clear Idea of the Buyer’s Needs
It is important to your personal marketing program that you understand the needs of the person or organization to whom you are trying to sell yourself. At times, during a job hunt, it is very easy to be concerned with our own needs. You want to move forward, or get out of a problematic situation. Even though your needs are what drives you to look at new opportunities, keep them in check.
Understand their needs. It is important that you understand the needs of the organization to which you are applying so that you can present yourself in the best possible light. Remember that you want to be seen as just the answer to their need, the person they have been looking for who will help them to be successful. In order to do this well means that you will have to do some homework and preparation.
Prior to sending out your resume, the following will help you understand the companies to whom you are applying:
- Read a copy of their annual report.
- Look up market analysts’ reviews of the companies.
- Talk to people who know them or work for them.
- Pay particular attention to any corporate-wide initiatives being undertaken.
- Where possible, try their products or services, if you are not already a customer.
After you’ve done these things, you will have a better idea of what the companies you are interested in are all about and how you might fit into their plans and needs. Pay particular attention to key initiatives. Companies generally take these on because they want to change something so as to make themselves better. Change is always a good thing for the incoming person. It means that the old ways are not cutting it any longer and the company is open to doing things differently. If you can figure out these initiatives, and position yourself as someone with the competencies or experience to add to making them successful, you will immediately be seen as valuable. You will be just the sort of new blood that the organization needs to help it move on to the next level.
Matching yourself with a company should never be forced. You should try to understand the organization’s culture and their way of doing things. While you will get some idea of a company’s culture during subsequent interviews and through the people you will meet, you can also get some idea from the above research. Look at the way the company describes itself and its people. Note how they position themselves in their industry. Pay attention to the way they look to the average person on the street. This information should start to give you some idea of the company’s culture. Make sure that corresponds with the way you like to work and the environment that will make you the most successful. Do not force yourself to fit into an environment that is foreign to your working style. It will come back to haunt you in the future and limit your ability to be successful.
Step 3: Present Your Unique Capabilities
Now it is time to talk about the format of the resume. While there are many different ways to present a resume, there are some salient facts that emerge as best practices among people who review resumes on a regular basis.
Keep it concise. Too many resumes end up small versions of the Manhattan Phone Directory. That is, they say way too much and are overly detailed in their response and presentation. People who review resumes get bored with this type of presentation and conclude that the presenter is too detailed-oriented, or simply too impressed with themselves. It is important to present the facts and to keep things concise. Length will vary with your experience and position. Generally, you should try to limit your resume to a maximum of three pages. Resumes that are longer tend to put off the reader.
Present accomplishments, not tasks. Too often, resumes list every task a person has ever completed and say nothing about what was accomplished, what results were achieved, and how it helped the business. Obviously, wild claims must be avoided. However, the key issue is to present what you have done in terms of the value that it added to your employer, their business, and operations.
Always be honest. While this is the number-one issue that should guide everything you place in your resume, it is worth noting at this point as a quality control check. Do not claim things that are not true or describe events in a manner that overstates your accomplishment. Companies these days check everything. Showing that you would lie on a resume will lead them to believe that you would lie about other things as well. Falsifying resume content has sidelined many a career; you will never even make the cut.
The format preferred by many resume reviewers includes these five sections:
- Career Objective
- Specific Accomplishments
- Education and Special Skills
These sections form the heart of the resume and will keep your presentation concise and to the point. Let’s look at each section:
Career Objective. This is your statement, in two to three sentences, regarding the type of position and area of responsibility you are looking for at present. Focus on what you want to do and what you want to contribute in this next career move. Avoid talking about where you want to end up or how you want to run the company some day. Stay focused on the next career objective. This is an area that you should refresh with each career move so that you are always looking ahead and thinking about the next move.
Specific Accomplishments. This is the listing of your various jobs, promotions, and accomplishments. Present this section in sequential order, starting with your current position and working backwards. Do not leave any holes in your timeline. These will stand out to the experienced resume reader. If there are specific times when you were not working, say so, and note what you were doing. The format for each entry in this section look like this:
Job Title, Company Name, Inclusive Dates in which you held that role. Key Accomplishments: (List those things that resulted from your holding of this position and/or the key things that were accomplished. Try to relate to business results, such as increasing sales, decreasing cost, improving quality, enhancing the customer experience, reducing cycle time, etc.) Avoid “empire-building” types of comments like numbers supervised or the size of your budget. This can create an image that you are more interested in the size of your empire than what value you created. These accomplishments form the basis of your value proposition to a prospective employer and they should show increasing impact as you move toward your current position.
Education and Specific Skills. List your education, starting with your undergraduate education. (If you only graduated from high school, start with this listing.) List the years of attendance, major area of study, and degree(s) received. Continue on with graduate school, and finally any relevant continuing professional education courses. Be sure to be specific about the degree received. If you received it and the school can verify it, claim it. If you did not, indicate, for example, how much course work was actually completed and that you were working toward an MBA or other degree. Do not make up degrees that do not exist, such as “ABD” (all but dissertation for doctoral candidates). This only looks bad and shows how you are shading the truth. Degrees are the easiest part of your resume to verify. Given the recent rash of embarrassing revelations, it seems that this is becoming standard practice at most companies.
Honours or Special Recognition. This is the section in which you can list key honours, certificates, recognition and professional awards. They should be listed in chronological order, starting with the most recent. This list should include notable events, such as recognition as earning an employee-of-the-year award, becoming the top sales person, serving as a team leader, involvement in key civic activities, professional society honours and certificates, etc. Your list should show that you are accomplished, someone who continues to add value, and who is a well-rounded individual. Showing that you are active in civic or community activities that demonstrate leadership is very important to list in this section as well. Even including that fact that you, for example, coach the local little league, is important.
References. References are always a tricky matter. When you are going for your first position or those next moves early in your career, listing a couple of solid references is a good move. This shows the reader that you have some good references that will support your claims and from whom they can get information. Make sure these references are work-related and that the people can speak about the characteristics that will make you valuable to a prospective employer. Your Uncle Ted, while a great guy, cannot add to you image as employable. Even people who have worked with you on a part-time basis are better than someone whose opinions will immediately be seen as biased.
For higher-level positions or those moves later in your career, it is best to indicate that references are available upon request. At this point in your career, you should have amassed a number of references from your network and you can choose from them based upon the interviewer’s interests and needs. Have these references ready to give to the interviewer. List the name, title, address, and phone number of the person you are using as a reference. Also, indicate the nature of the relationship, such as former employer, client, customer, team member, working associate, etc. Once you have given the name to a prospective employer, you should call the person named as a reference to let them know to expect a call on your behalf. It goes without saying that you should have also confirmed with the person in advance that they would be willing to be a reference for you.
Once you have prepared your resume in draft form, put it aside for a day or two, then critically review it.
Now look at it again and pretend this resume belongs to a person you are considering for your own company. Ask yourself:
- What does the resume tell me about this person – positive and negative?
- Is it presented in a concise and factual manner, or is it full of inflated statements, claims and stretched truths?
- Is it neat and professional looking, or does it show a lack of logical thinking and inability to be clear?
- What else would you like to know about this person? (The resume should make you want to interview the person in order to learn more.)
If your answers to these questions lead you to doubts, now is the time to clarify, revise, and modify your resume. The product of the resume is you. Make sure that it conveys your value in the most positive manner. The résumé’s purpose is to get you to the interview ,where you can show your stuff and make a positive impression.
Prepare your resume. You should prepare your resume on 25lb. bond paper with matching stock envelopes. Such paper is available at most office supply or stationary stores. If mailing your resume, the correct postage should be determined in advance (nothing kills an opportunity like postage due). In addition, you should determine the correct spelling of the receiver’s name and title. Last, check on the specifics of the address. Sometimes there are special codes, mailboxes or identifiers that must be listed in order that the materials get to the right person in a timely manner.
Make sure that your name, address, phone number(s), and e-mail address are prominently displayed on the resume. They should be at the top of the resume and presented clearly and in letterhead format. If you are listing your home phone, make sure you have an answering machine to get the calls since most will come during business hours when you are at work.
Sending your resume to the targeted company, search firms, and posting it on the Internet are all good ways to get your marketing message out. Don’t forget your personal network. Make sure your friends and associates know about your search. Ask them for ideas and to keep you apprised of anything they hear about that may sound interesting. The more senior the position, the more discrete you will have to be and the more focused your contacts. But nonetheless, make sure everyone who can help and who is not a direct business associate, knows about your search. In more senior roles, you will more than likely be working with an executive recruiter. The recruiter should handle the distribution of your resume only to the specific opportunities that are engaged in the search.
Step 4: Structure Your Resume
Title, Company, Inclusive Dates
Title, Company, Inclusive Dates
Title. Company, Inclusive Dates
Education and Specific Skill
Degree Earned. Year Granted, Institution, Major course of study (note any honours or academic awards)
Special Course Work, Date and Title
Professional Licenses, Certifications, etc., Date, Title
Honours and Special Recognition
Date, Award, Organization Granting the Award, Description of what the award was for if not evident.
Date, Civic Leadership, Organization
Date, Special Honour Title, Organization
Two to three listed.
“Available upon Request”
Step 5: You’re in the Door: Now What?
Scheduling an Interview. If you are asked for an interview, you should confirm the interview in writing. This will demonstrate that you are organized and will assure that you have understood all the particulars regarding time, place, and with whom the interview will take place. Even for senior level interviews, it is wise to confirm the appointment. Again, if working with a search consultant, they should handle this confirmation process for you. If they are not doing this or if the arrangements are unclear, then the search firm is not doing its job for you.
Accepting the Position. When it all works out, you will be offered that job you have been working to get. This is a time when you are happy, excited, and somewhat nervous about moving onto the new job with all its challenges. To assure smooth sailing going forward, you should make certain that you have completed the following checklist:
- Do you have a written offer letter?
- Does this offer letter contain specifics on your compensation, benefits, title, reporting relationship, start date, and other vital points of the deal?
- If there are any questions regarding any points of your deal, have you talked with someone at the company who can clarify them for you?
- Have you given a verbal acceptance to your new employer (or via the search firm)?
- Have you given a written acceptance to your new employer?
In addition, consideration must be given to your current employer. Remember: Never burn any bridges. You may want to go back someday; you want to leave with class and dignity. Make sure that you:
- Give your current employer enough time (reasonable amount) to begin hiring for your replacement and to ‘wind down’ your duties.
- Offer to assist with any transition items or actions that will make life smoother for them.
- Give them a formal letter of resignation stating the date you will be leaving and underscoring how much you have enjoyed working for them.
- Personally thank everyone who has helped you or who has been in any way significant to your career.
These things will make the transition as smooth as possible and help you keep good relationships that may be important to you in the future. Remember that you are always building your network, so it pays to keep positive relations as you move forward.
Handling Rejections. None of us like to be rejected for anything. It hurts and makes us want to forget about the unpleasant experience as soon as possible. Remember today’s rejection may be tomorrow’s acceptance! You should always view each and every opportunity as a marketing event-especially those in which you are not successful. What did you learn about your product- that is, you? How can you utilize this knowledge to make the next experience better? Market knowledge for product improvement is always a goal of your personal marketing campaign.
Make sure to send a thank-you note to those companies and people who said “no”. This will not be your first inclination, but it is a critical move. This will demonstrate your sophistication and the fact that you have a lot of professionalism. It is amazing how these letters capture people’s attention and make them keep your resume on file. It is also surprising how many times they call you back when their “first choice” doesn’t accept or later on for another opportunity. Being gracious in defeat can pay future dividends.
Lastly, if it is a job you just know that you are right for or have interest in other positions at the same company, stay in touch with the person and organization. Give them a call periodically to express your continuing interest and send in updated resumes. Don’t be pushy or bothersome. But don’t let them forget you either. Determination can pay off. It’s also a trait that companies look for in their people.
Keep Your Resume Current. A good resume both opens doors and remains as a record of your accomplishments. Always keep your resume up-to-date. Even if you are happy with your job and company, keep your resume current. Annually, review your resume and add to it those things that will further distinguish you. Sometimes things change quickly, or else that special opportunity presents itself you want to be ready with the latest and best information about yourself.