“Here’s one for you,” said a friend, who works in hiring at a university. “Cooperative integration across spatial elements.”
“Ummm,” I said. “Computer science?”
He told me that an applicant for an administrative assistant position had listed this under her responsibilities as a kindergarten teacher.
“I have no idea what it means, but if our paths ever cross, I’m going to ask.”
It turns out that this jargon could be appropriate in the K-12 world, and that it might have been relevant, given that many organizations use digital scanners to automatically eliminate any resumes that don’t include certain keywords before they ever cross the desk of a real, live human being.
Still, the fact that she was applying for a very different kind of job made this point not just ineffective, but possibly hurt her chances of rising to the top of the applicant pool.
This is one of the three main issues I have seen in the resumes and CVs I have worked on in recent months.
Keep It Simple
In one sense, all writing is persuasive writing since you want to persuade the reader to keep reading. Anything that causes the reader to pull out of the immersive reading experience should be avoided.
Using three-dollar words where a fifty-cent word means the same thing can be risky, and this is not the time to take risks. This means using clear, straightforward language so someone reviewing your resume doesn’t have to wonder what you are trying to communicate. It also means using phrases instead of full sentences where you can, and bullet points instead of long paragraphs.
In terms of design, simplicity means having plenty of white space, with margins of an inch or more, and using a standard font, such as Times New Roman or Arial, with type that is 11 or 12 points in size.
One recent client had this to say about her performance as a receptionist at a doctor’s office: “Went above and beyond assigned duties to achieve excellence in all areas: interactions with medical staff, patients, and vendors.”
She sounds like the kind of employee any office would want—except that we don’t have any context to know what she means.
What were her assigned duties? Was excellence defined, and if so, by whom? What kinds of interactions did she have with people in these categories?
Being specific about your duties—and using quantifiable, objective measurements to indicate how you perform them—can help you stand out. In this case, her boss added a partner, and her workload doubled overnight (which is why she was looking for another job). In that case, adding objective measurements was easy.
In other cases, it’s a matter of thinking in terms of before and after. Answer the question, “How is my workplace better because I work there?” List any ways that you have increased productivity, efficiency, or profitability. And don’t be concerned if they are not dramatic. Getting to work on time every day says a lot about you. By being specific and thinking of how you benefit your current workplace, you are showing potential employers that you think like they do—in terms of the bottom line that keeps the organization going.
Put the most important information first, both in each section of your resume and overall.
If your work experience qualifies you for the job, then list that first, even if the most relevant job is not your most recent, and if you have been in the workforce for many years and have had jobs that are irrelevant to the one you’re after, then give them less space in your resume. If your academic degree or certificate gives you the expertise required in the job, list that first. (For most young job seekers, for example, their education or training is more significant than their job experience, so this section goes at the top.)
In other words, think from the perspective of the organization, not just your own experience. Focus on your skills, not when you acquired them. Ask yourself, “How can I help this employer achieve its mission?” To answer this, focus on your professional achievements, not a laundry list of your job responsibilities.
Being relevant means tailoring each resume to each job. You want to show that you know something about your prospective employer—what they do, and why and how they do it—and that you might be a good fit.
Keep in mind that your resume has one purpose: landing an interview. You want to make it to the next round in the process; or, more specifically, you don’t want to give the HR folks any reason to kick you out before you have a chance to prove yourself.
There are many more factors to consider when preparing your resume, but presenting your credentials in terms of how you would help the organization in these key areas will go a long way in putting you ahead of your competition.
--Ann Kellett, Ph.D.