When an employer looks at your resume, what does it need to have, and what do you need to say about yourself to get her to put you in the “yes” pile? Is it just about your skills and experience or is there something more to the way you present yourself that she wants to see to get you to the all-important first interview?
What your resume should NOT say
I know it’s tempting to jam-pack your resume with everything you think the employer is looking for – especially if you’ve read articles about targeting your resume. But there really is nothing to gain unless you actually have all of that experience and can back it up.
I remember reviewing resumes and getting excited to see hard-to-find skills we were looking for. But when I did the screening call, the person could barely talk about the topic – and admitted that they only helped with or studied it. They were hoping we would see how great they are anyway.
I would like to tell you that their honesty at that point won me over and they got the job. But the job seeker lied and, even if they are an amazing person otherwise, and even if I wanted to give them a chance, the company who paid my salary would never see blatant deception as a plus. I’m sorry.
BUT … if you can be honest about your actual skill level (not that you should undersell yourself either) and use your cover letter or the way you word your resume to win me over, we sometimes do interview folks with less than the stated requirements. I wouldn’t count on it, but if close, it’s worth the chance.
So what are employers looking for on your resume?
There are some employers who are the black & white types – just show me skills and experience that exactly match the stated requirements. You can’t do much about these types, but I do say they are missing out since:
- There really are qualities that are far more important than some preconceived quantified ideal
- Many employers are bad at writing job descriptions
- Many employers are also bad at creating the list of keywords they use to screen resumes
But since in job search you need to cast a wide net anyway (precisely because of these types of employers), here are some ways you can catch the eye of employers who have a good feel for what really makes a successful hire:
- Skills and experience – Ok. You do need to match, as well as possible, based on your actual skills and experience. So be sure to carefully read the job description and make notes of EVERYTHING that you have that might be a match to use as a guide when you do write your resume.
- Show growth where you can – Progression in title and / or responsibility indicates not only something about your abilities, but that you were able to show and communicate that well enough to get your bosses to see it too.
- Takes on challenges / is chosen to take on new projects – Employers are looking beyond the person who does what’s told, or only as the job description requires. So where you went above & beyond or where you were selected for a special task force, show it. Reading between the lines, potential employers see someone who others see as a true asset.
- Show success – Don’t just say you did something, let the resume reader know how it came out. And if you can quantify it – “saved employer $250,000 as a result” – do so.
- Highlight qualities employers look for – Let them see you have valued qualities like problem solving, resourcefulness, determination, initiates things, self-starter. But don’t just use the words; find strong examples that tell the story:
- Works well with others – Again, show examples. Don’t just use those well-worn words. They prove nothing and fly by the screener’s eyes, having seen them so often.
- Personality – You have one. Don’t be afraid to show some of it in the words you choose and in the rhythm and flow of your resume and cover letter. I’m not saying to imbed jokes or silly words. But you also don’t want to make it so dry it puts the reader to sleep!
- Have a story that makes sense – As I said earlier, you want to find a way to get the employer’s attention by presenting yourself as a whole person, whose sum is greater than the parts. (See next section.)
Your resume story
I don’t want to leave you without mentioning this very important part of helping an employer put the puzzle pieces together – and see beyond “just the facts ma’am”. If there are only a bunch of unrelated jobs and accomplishments, you may not grab the employer’s attention as well as if your resume (and cover letter) help convey a story.
Perhaps you always showed some skills (especially those the potential employer wants), even in different types of jobs. Perhaps there are early and continuing threads of how you got here now. This post should help:
More articles to help get you that job