At a July 4th event, I was talking shop with another successful author, AnnaMaria Bliven. Her book, Work at Home with a Real Online Job, is about being successfully employed and working from home. Of course part of that success entails successful job applications. So she was excited to promote How to Write a KILLER LinkedIn Profile to her clients. Then our conversation turned to a related topic:
“I wrote another book that might be of interest – How to Write a WINNING Resume,” I stated helpfully.
“Oh, I’m not interested in a book about resumes,” she said. “Every resume needs to be unique.”
I was surprised by AnnaMaria’s response. The idea that any resume book would advocate a cookie cutter resume was beyond my comprehension. But hearing this perspective, from someone who built her career helping people get jobs, made me think it’s important to clarify my philosophy:
NEVER write a “one size fits all” resume!!
Here are some tips on how to ensure your resume is targeted to the position you’re seeking and paints you as a unique candidate:
1. Tailor each resume to the job description.
If you’re applying for two different types of jobs, you will probably need two different resumes that highlight different aspects of your experience and qualifications.
Let’s say, for example, you are a registered nurse with management experience and you are currently pursuing an MBA. If you are applying for a “worker bee” nurse position, you will focus on the details of the types of procedures you know how to do with patients, and the different types of medical conditions you are familiar with. You might not include information about your MBA at all, and you would want to play down the fact that you created a wound care program at your hospital from scratch. In contrast, if you want to be a manager, you will highlight your managerial, organization and training skills, and downplay your ability to put in an IV.
This strategy applies to every single profession and resume. We used it when we had a CFO who wanted to be an Executive Assistant, and she got the job. Currently, we have a client with an executive business background who is applying to be a house mother at a sorority. We are putting her sorority experience up front and center. If she had been applying for a VP of Marketing position, sorority experience would be relegated to the final lines of her resume.
If you have just one version of your resume, it might work well for some positions, but you might also be futilely throwing spaghetti at a wall. It’s worth the time and energy to emphasize the things that will matter for each job application you send.
2. Use keywords from job descriptions.
Part of tailoring your resume to job descriptions is using actual keywords and language from those job description. You might feel like you’re “cheating” but trust me, it works.
Here’s a sample bullet from a job description for a Marketing and Sales Manager:
Meets marketing and sales financial objectives by forecasting requirements; preparing an annual budget; scheduling expenditures; analyzing variances; initiating corrective actions.
It’s easy to see how someone with the skills listed could put them in a resume bullet, ideally by tying them to a quantifiable achievement such as the dollar amounts of those marketing and sales financial objectives. But a resume with these keywords can only be truly valuable when the keywords are in the job description.
Yes, this means you will be tailoring each resume to the job description. I wasn’t kidding. Yes, there is work involved in applying for jobs. It’s worth it.
3. Use concrete facts to describe yourself in the top section of your resume.
As I discussed in my “New York, New York principle” blog, it’s important to write a summary of yourself at the top of your resume that could not have been written by anyone else. This section is your opportunity to brand yourself and state your USP (Unique Selling Proposition). I’m not sure when it became customary to use vague, general, or even flowery language in a resume summary, but I’m telling you now, it is not helpful!
Instead, list some big name companies or clients you worked for, a specialized skill you have, and a big result or two. The person next to you can be “results-oriented” and capable of “cross-functional leadership.” But how many of them worked for Coca-Cola and launched one of its most successful product lines? If you leave the most impressive pieces of your background for the Experience section, you are leaving money on the table.
4. Use professional formatting techniques.
If your resume looks like the one your college career office helped you write, it’s time for a refresh. Look into the many formatting tricks that will bring your resume into the modern age. Possibilities include nicely designed headers (for sections like Profile, Experience and Education); bolded sub-headers; text boxes, charts and graphs; and varied font styles (within reason).
Be careful to keep your format within the standards for your industry. For instance, financial and legal resumes are more conservative format-wise than biopharmaceutical executive resumes or sales resumes in general. Create something that you feel represents you and that is in line with your industry standards.
Important: if you are sending resumes through computerized Applicant Tracking Systems, they might not recognize text in a text box or table. Format a separate document that you’re confident will pass through the ATS.
5. Vary your language.
If you start every bullet with “Increased” or “Managed,” you will have a hard time keeping your readers’ attention. Instead, use a variety of verbs like “Boosted,” “Pushed,” “Grew,” “Raised,” “Expanded,” “Directed,” “Trained,” “Supervised,” and more. Sprinkle these verbs throughout your resume and your reader might not even realize what is keeping them reading past the first six seconds!
Seeking more resume resources? Check out How to Write a WINNING Resume, by Brenda Bernstein, or Resumes for Dummies, by Brenda’s mentor, Laura DeCarlo.
Do you have other ideas of how to make your resume unique? Share them below!