By Peter Weddle
Most of us view writing a resume as just slightly better than doing our taxes. But in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. While your tax filing indicates what the Government is going to take from you, your resume describes what you've brought to your career. Listing the skills you've acquired, responsibilities you've accepted and accomplishments you've achieved, your resume is really an acceptable way to brag about yourself to employers. Yet despite this, most of us never practice doing it.
That lack of practice gets us into trouble. Most job seekers don't write a resume until they're already under pressure to find a new job – fast. Building a complete and compelling history of your career is always a challenge, but having to do it under a deadline gives resume writing a bad name. Because of this need to update your resume quickly, important details often get left out, inaccurate information is included by mistake and the wrong points are emphasized. In a struggling economy, competition among job seekers is fierce, and you never know when your employer will be forced to lay people off. So it's essential that you always have an up-to-date resume, and that it brags accurately, but persuasively about your value as an employee.
Even the best-written resume submitted at just the right time, however, can't guarantee you'll find a new job in today's job market. Consider these findings from a recent survey:
Putting it another way, to get a job offer today, you'll have to be better than at least 50 (and often 100) other applicants competing against you. How can you do that? Here are some ways to ensure you write a resume with the "right stuff" to succeed:
Employers believe that tailoring your resume to a specific opening is not only easy, but a measure of your interest in the job. From HR's point of view, if you aren't willing to invest the time to focus your resume on a job's requirements, you're unlikely to have the commitment necessary to succeed in the position. Of course, you should still write a cover letter to point out highlights from your record, but it should reinforce things already in your resume, not introduce them for the first time.
While there are many good ways to list your accomplishments, there's only one that will get them recognized by an employer. You have to speak the language employers use in their resume-management systems. Companies store applicant resumes in databases, then search them using keywords to identify qualified candidates. Unlike humans, however, these searches can't interpret what they see. They look only for exact matches between a job listing's keywords and the keywords on a job seeker's resume. So instead of trying to be super-articulate, tailor your resume using the same keywords that an employer uses to search. Where can you find these keywords? Simple -- look at the phrases the employer uses in its job listings.
In order to manage resumes in a single database, today most employers will scan any paper resumes they receive into their resume-management system. These systems can be finicky, however, and portions of your resume may wind up as unintelligible, preventing you from being identified as a qualified candidate. To avoid this situation, it's important to use a resume format the scanner will like. Use black ink on white paper, a font size of 11 or larger, a font without a serif (eg Arial instead of Times New Roman) and produce each a separate sheet of paper. Or better yet, submit your resume online, either by using a resume builder or attaching a pre-written document.
No resume is perfect, because no document can fully capture the personal qualities of a person. Words can't describe the "right stuff" you offer an employer. But until someone comes along with a better alternative, we're stuck with the current system. So to survive in today's job market, your resume has to work as hard as you do. And to do that, your resume needs to have the "right stuff" to succeed.
Formerly the Chairman and CEO of Job Bank USA, Peter Weddle is an HR consultant, recruiter, author and commentator with an international reputation. He has authored or edited more than two dozen books, including "Recognizing Richard Rabbit: A Fable About Being True to Yourself", "Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System" and "WEDDLE's 2009/10 Guide to Employment Sites on the Internet". In addition, he oversees WEDDLE's, a print publisher specializing in the field of human resources. WEDDLE's annual Guides and Directory to job boards are recognized for their accuracy and helpfulness, leading the American Staffing Association to call Weddle the "Zagat of the online employment industry." Peter Weddle is also CEO of the International Association of Employment Websites.