I’ve been helping job seekers with their resumes, LinkedIn profiles and other job search-related materials for about 25 years. You’d think resume writing would be that much easier after all that time, but it’s not.
Resume writing is complicated. These days, so much more is involved than merely detailing a client’s career history.
When I started my business, resumes were lifeless, dry career history documents, listing job responsibilities and perhaps an accomplishment or two. They were easier to write then.
And, since word processors were the most advanced document-creation tool widely available, resumes didn’t look like much. There was no fancy formatting to be done, once the writing was finished.
LinkedIn didn’t make an appearance until 2003. Some say LinkedIn makes the resume obsolete. I don’t agree. They’re both necessary. Nevertheless, for now, the importance of LinkedIn requires syncing the resume with it, so they work together the right way.
7 Things That Changed Everything For Resume Writing
As I evolved as a resume writer and careers industry professional, I learned certain things along the way that cumulatively inform the way I approach resume writing:
1. A resume is a personal marketing document, not just a career history.
As I noted above, for many years resumes consisted of a chronological list of jobs, with maybe a little about responsibilities thrown in. Education, training, honors, and other distinguishing information followed the professional experience section. Sometimes a brief summary might lead the resume.
Today, and for a long time now, a resume needs to market the candidate by reinforcing what makes her potentially valuable to the employer. It needs to convey personality, so employers will get a feel for how she works with others, and if she’ll fit with the company’s culture.
The easier a resume makes it for an employer to connect the dots between the candidate’s qualifications and abilities, and what their unique needs are, the better the resume will work.
This also means that the formatting of the resume needs to be attractive and reader-friendly, with important blocks of information highlighted to draw the eye to them.
2. Resume writing without first targeting and researching specific employers won’t fly.
Following the thinking in #1, anyone familiar with marketing knows that step one is identifying your target audience and their pain points. Then you can build marketing messaging around why and how you can help them.
In order to effectively market a candidate, their resume development needs to begin by narrowing focus to particular employers. Next step is researching to identify particular challenges (or pain points) impacting those target employers, that the candidate is qualified to help them with.
Without knowing how the candidate will bring value to a company or organization, it’s pretty hard to sell them as a necessary hire.
3. The things about you that make you a good fit for your target employers drive the resume content.
This is where a lot of job seekers and some resume writers falter. They lean most on top strengths, skills and achievements. But those particular things may not be what’s most important to your target employers.
You need to clearly show employers that you have what they need to get certain things done.
The only way to know, is to do the research to find out what it is about you that they need.
4. Resumes need to be an interesting read and give a feel for your personality.
If you’ve been in a position to review even a few resumes here and there, you know how much you’re drawn to one that holds your interest and highlights the candidate’s personality. This is where personal branding comes in. It’s all about balancing hard skills with softer skills.
Branding helps you generate chemistry for the unique value you offer.
How do you generate chemistry in a resume? With storytelling, providing specific examples of contributions you’ve made to past employers that will help employers see you doing similar things for them.
Another branding strategy is to include feedback from people you work with that supports the claims you’ve made about yourself.
I still sometimes get resistance from clients who aren’t comfortable showing their personality in their resume. They don’t understand that a resume that will help them land interviews needs to differentiate them. A resume with personality does that.
5. Worry less about the length of a resume, and more about not including arbitrary information.
This is another issue that bogs people down. For years, there’s been so much noise among professional resume writers about resume length, that everyone is likely confused.
Of course there’s a limit. Even the most accomplished c-suite executive with a long history of achievements probably shouldn’t have a 6 page resume. But there’s one caveat: If you’re working with a recruiter who requests a long resume with all of your jobs and qualifications, do what they say. They know what their client companies want.
A general rule of thumb is 2-4 pages. But make the resume as long as it needs to be, to provide the necessary information about you, based on your targeting and research work. Nothing arbitrary should be included.
More about this in my post, Resume Length: One, Two, or Three Pages?
6. Today’s resume is a digitized document that syncs with your LinkedIn profile.
A resume without links to your social media accounts (especially LinkedIn) marks you as a dinosaur. If you hesitate adding a link to any social media because you’re not active on them, you need to GET active on them.
Candidates who are more social media savvy and up-to-date with the new world of work are more highly prized.
Other digitization may include links to articles or white papers of yours, descriptions of certifications/credentials you’ve earned, your employer’s websites, other relevant information about you online.
And, as noted earlier, your resume needs to work in tandem with your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn allows for a lot more content than a reasonably long resume. Load your LinkedIn profile with as much content as you can, that will position you as a good fit for your target employers. Make a note in your resume referring people to your LinkedIn profile for more information about particular items. For instance, if you’ve compellingly described an important project at length within a “Projects” section of your LinkedIn profile, refer people to it within your resume.
7. Today’s job search requires an attractively formatted resume for human eyeballs, plus an ATS-friendly version for databases.
In my experience, many job seekers, at all professional levels, are unaware of the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) conundrum. They often don’t know about the existence of ATS.
They have a top-notch resume. It does all (or most of) the things I’ve outlined above. But then they use it to apply for jobs via company websites or job boards. Crickets. It apparently goes nowhere. Their resume doesn’t make it through the ATS, because it wasn’t built to make it through.
Read all about this in my post, ATS and the Executive Resume Black Hole – What You May Not Know