Not too long ago I was in the middle of recruiting an Industrial Engineer, doing the last thing that I actually like to do– reviewing resumes. Let me step back a few steps. I began my hunt using technical outplacement firms, you know, these outlets that find you qualified prospects for about a 25% wedge of the first year’s earnings pie. They manage everything, top to bottom. I won’t have to place a classified ad or anything else, right? Problem: I got slim pickings early on from the talent scouts. Since I had a time limit on my position, I wound up placing the ad anyway. That brings us up to the present, with me sitting behind my desk sorting through the professional histories of every person who ever uttered the word “engineer”. It’s actually not that awful. Actually, I’m encountering some respectable CVs. If the candidates are as good as their dossiers, I’ll have the great difficulty of picking the best of the best. Between this adventure, being on the opposite of the application desk, so to speak, my past expertise in concocting my CV, and a couple of books I’ve read on the topic, here’s my quick two cents on what separates the winners from the losers.
When it concerns resumes, it’s not a one size fits all world. Workplaces have specific demands and expect you to modify your resume to them. With the way the Internet has changed headhunting today, trust me; they get dozens of seeming exact matches. There was a time when this was a genuine headache, but word processors and mega-megabytes of hard drive space have made it a technical breeze. For example, as a consultant I am heavily involved in sales, project management, and my technical field. If the job I am applying for happens to be in technical sales, I’d minimize the engineering and project management experience, just enough to show I’m a well-rounded guy, and address sales achievements. Actually, go to Wordle.net and copy the entire online job description in the text box and hit go. Find out creatively what the most significant keywords are to the person who posted the job.
Think of your resume like a professional baseball line-up. There’s a reason that the number 9 hitter hits number 9. He’s the weakest link in the chain. Don’t put your Achilles heels first, lead off with your assets, just like those first four or five hitters in the line-up. This is particular to the age old resume-writing question, “What comes first, education or experience?” If you’ve got loads of experience but little in the way of degrees, feature the experience up-front. Most businesses will place a premium on your real-world experience anyhow. If, however, you’ve accomplished remarkable things in the world of higher education and don’t have so many good years in the working world, put education first. Your target is to impress enough to get an interview. I’m not saying to leave out one section or the other, because both are essential. If you’re right out of school, you still list your co-op and part-time jobs as experience. On the other hand, if you’ve got twenty years of great experience and no degree, list programs that you have taken or CEUs (continuing education units) that you’ve obtained.
In the case of the Industrial Engineer I was looking for, the best CVs that I received told me particularly what the outcomes were of the things the candidates did at each position, not only their job duties. The difference between “reduced design department expenses by 12 % annually over three years” and “responsible for managing design department” is the difference between Godzilla and a Gecko. Be specific as to what you achieved in each task (provided it is accurate and verifiable) over merely what you did. Point being: How did you help the business make or save money? This points to another suggestion to use for your whole career. In order for you to make these claims about your work history in the future, it’s vital that you document the outcomes of what you are doing right now.
I feel guilty even mentioning this one. There are a million resume templates that you can use– what comes first, do you include personal interests, etc.– but whatever you do, make sure your copy is neat, neat, and without typographical errors. Insulted? Don’t be. In the hurry to curry-comb the job market, this is the first place that professionals will demonstrate neglect. I just received a CV that was a noticeable Xerox, and a bad one at that. If it was from a headhunter I’d be forgiving, but it was from a direct applicant to my advertisement. Where do you think it wound up? If you said the garbage can, you win a trophy. “Oh Karl, don’t be absurd! How can you tell anything about a person from a simple blunder like that?” Well, I can tell this– if that person didn’t have enough sound judgment and respect for me to get me a clean copy of his CV, there’s a likelihood that he may impress a client the same way, and that would cost my company money. Adios, Amigo! It’s a very competitive job market out there, folks. Don’t immediately disqualify yourself by being careless.
Prospective employers will see hundreds of resumes, all from people who may have read this article and know the first four points. Everybody’s copy is tailored and appears a match for the position. What are you going to do to distinguish yourself from the heap? This is where I look for little tidbits in the so-called less-important CV headings. How can I learn about the applicant’s character and work ethic? Your job is to discuss these details. Do you have military service? Eagle Scout? Haven’t missed a day of work in eleven years? Do you sit on the board of directors of any charities? Maybe it’s the interviewer’s favorite one. If it says something positive about you, the person, touch on it somewhere! Hell, even mention in your opening sentence, generally headlined “Career Goal” or something similar, that you are a dedicated, conscientious person who wants to use your abilities to help your company succeed. Just remember, they’re considering hiring you for their advantage, not yours. Show that you know it.
OK. Back to the essentials once more. Make sure that you assess the finished copy of the resume, not only for grammatical errors but for flow. Does it move effortlessly from one item to the next? Does it tell a positive and truthful story about you? If you can’t answer “Yes” to these questions, regenerate your copy until you can. Most importantly, get one or two other people to check it for you to see if they get the warm fuzzies too. Your spouse or sweetheart is acceptable. Even better is a work colleague in your field who’s had some hiring responsibility in her life. Best is a human resources professional who has seen lots of resumes and can tell the ripe from the rotten– whether it gets picked or composted.
There are lots of handbooks to tell you the appropriate style of CV, some even by field. The points here are to help you sharpen your copy so that you communicate your history to potential employers in a good light. The job you do will affect your marketability, your self-esteem, and inevitably your earnings. Seems to me that that’s a job well worth doing right.
About the Author:
Karl Walinskas is the CEO of Smart Company Growth, a business development firm that helps small to mid-size professional service firms build competitive advantage in an online world of sameness. He is author of numerous articles and the Smart Blog on leadership, business communication, sales & service, public speaking and virtual business, and Getting Connected Through Exceptional Leadership, available in theSmartShop. Get your FREE LinkedIn Profile Optimization eBook & Video Course, Video Marketing video and course, or Mastermind Groups e-course & video now.