In essence, you face a similar situation. You are about to launch your "product" onto the job market. You need to let your potential customers—your prospective employers—know that you are available. You need to arouse their interest and persuade them that they can't live without your skills, talents, and experience.
You, of course, will not be investing millions of dollars in your advertising campaign. You won't be running a 30-second TV spot or hawking your wares in the pages of a magazine. Instead, you will rely on the job-hunter's basic marketing tool, the resume.
Just as sales of a new car or detergent are greatly affected by branding and advertising, the success of your job search is greatly affected by your resume. A poor resume reflects badly on you; it doesn't attract any notice at all. But properly planned, written and designed, your resume can work wonders for your job search—in more ways than you might expect.
What is a resume?
The term "resume" comes from the French word resume, which means "to summarize." And that's just what a resume is: a summary of your qualifications. This summary should include your professional and volunteer experience, education, accomplishments and special skills. What role does your resume play in your job search? We put that question to career counselors and employers. Here are a few of their answers:
- Your resume is a snapshot of you.
- A resume is supposed to intrigue.
- Your resume is your professional calling card.
- It's the core of your presentation; the first piece of yourself that stays behind.
- A resume should say this is who I am. This is what I want to do.
- It opens the door.
- The resume is a marketing tool that allows you to promote yourself.
It sounds as if the resume has many functions. And indeed it does.
But will it get you a job?
The answer is no. No matter how wonderful your resume, how stellar the accomplishments it contains, it will not land you a job on its own. A resume is just one of many weapons you need in your job-search arsenal. You must also develop a strong network of contacts, hone your interviewing skills and polish your image and appearance. But make no mistake; even though it is not the sole determinant of your job-hunt success, your resume is a critical element. A resume is the mark of a professional; employers expect people who are serious about their work to have one. More importantly, your resume often provides employers with their first impression of you. And it may be the last piece of evidence they review before making a final hiring decision. So don't go job hunting without one-- a good one.
One tool with many uses
Of course, the most obvious and most common use for a resume is in application for employment, but there are several others-some having nothing at all to do with your career! Let's take a look at the various ways you can put this multipurpose tool to work.
On the job hunt
There are many different avenues by which you can get your resume into the hands of prospective employers. The resume plays slightly different roles depending upon which avenue you choose.
- The direct route: When you send off your resume "cold" to an employer—that is, with no previous introduction—its most important job is to grab the employer's attention. As you've already learned, this is no small feat, considering the stacks of resumes employers receive each day. Your resume must generate enough interest to be picked out of the pack and marked "for farther consideration." Only then can it perform its other mission, which is to sell you as the answer to the hiring manager's needs.
Suppose, on the other hand, that you make initial contact with an employer by phone or in person before you submit a resume. On the basis of that contact, the employer asks you to send your resume or agrees to interview you on the spot. In either case, initial interest in your skills has already been established, and your resume's main goal is to help "close the sale."
- The employment agency route: If you are working with a search firm or employment agency, you will be asked to provide a resume. In many cases, such agencies will not forward your resume to potential employers, preferring to draft their own "candidate report," a combination resume and written evaluation of your skills and background. At some point, the employer may ask for a resume-in which case your resume is, again, a "sale closer." But initially, your resume is simply an educational tool. It helps the search firm or agency gets a fix on where you've been and what companies might be a match for you.
- The networking route: Networking is an important strategy in the modem job hunt. Your network of contacts may include friends, family, former associates and, often, second- and third-generation contacts-friends of a friend of a friend.
In the hands of your networking contacts, your resume is a matchmaking tool and a sales-reinforcement tool. When your contacts hear of possible job openings, they can refer to your resume to see if you're a good match. If they think you'd be great for the job, they can alert you to contact the employer.
Your contacts may be willing to give you an extra boost by putting in a good word for you with a particular employer. Although their recommendations are worth a great deal, it's even more impressive if they can back up their claims about you with some written "proof."
Say your Uncle Bill does some consulting work for a small publishing company. You're an artist looking for work. Your uncle can tell the publisher that you're a "great kid who draws the neatest birthday cards." But he'll be better armed to promote you if he can present a resume that shows you supported yourself for three years as a freelance artist, working with several major consumer magazines.
On the job
You can also use your resume to improve your status in your current company, whether you want to transfer to another position, win a promotion, or bump up your salary a notch.
Perhaps you were hired to handle one set of tasks but have assumed additional responsibilities. Even a good company or appreciative supervisor may overlook your "above-and-beyond" contributions to the department. It's not that you're not appreciated; it's just that everyone assumes you're happy doing extra work for the same pay and same title. If you don't rock the boat, why should they?
Your resume is an excellent vehicle to document your growth and accomplishments. It offers hard evidence of your expanding role and your increased worth. When your supervisors see your contributions to the department on paper, they are more likely to agree that a promotion or salary increase is in order. And such documentation also makes it easier for them to get upper management to approve your raise, transfer or promotion.
And off the job
Resumes can come in handy in situations unrelated to job-hunting, too. For example, suppose you're not looking for a job at all; you've decided to chuck the corporate world and start your own business. You approach your favorite bank for a startup loan. Your resume serves as proof of your abilities and responsible nature, which increases your chances of being approved for that loan. In the same way, your resume may be helpful when you apply for an educational scholarship, grant, or other type of financial award.
A mirror and a map
There's one other important role that a resume serves: a self-assessment tool. The process of creating your resume allows you to get further in touch with your professional self.
The process begins when you completed your self-inventory worksheets and began your career file. This gave you an opportunity to review the big picture, to consider all the parts—your experiences, achievements, skills, and goals.
When you write your resume, you'll turn that big picture into one clear and vivid snapshot. For each resume that you write, you'll establish one specific career goal and you'll sum up all of your accomplishments related to that goal.
This process is not only good for your ego but also it's good for the job hunt! When you're clearly focused on your accomplishments and you're set on your career goals, you'll present yourself with much more confidence in job interviews.
Keep your resume current at all times!
Perhaps your company is planning to reorganize. Your boss even hinted that it might not be a bad time to brush up the resume. Or maybe after you've spent the last seven years changing diapers and carpooling to school, you and your husband decide that if you plan to keep the house, the family is going to need a second income-now.
Life is full of surprises, and sometimes those surprises—which could include being displaced, laid off, fired, or otherwise shoved unceremoniously into the job market-are unwelcome as well as unexpected. During such a traumatic time, who needs to deal with the additional burden of composing a resume?
Likewise, you never know what opportunities will arise suddenly. If you have to rewrite your resume before you can pursue those opportunities, you'll not only lose valuable time—you'll probably let the whole thing drop. How many times have you heard about a great job, and then decided not to apply because you didn't have time (or energy) that week to redo your resume? Plenty, if you're like most people.
The minute you get a new job or achieve a significant goal, update your resume. That way, when opportunities or challenges come your way, you'll be one step ahead of the game and have a current resume ready to go.
Lots of wasted paper
In our former lives as managers and hirers, we've screened stacks of resumes from would-be employees. We've seen resumes with typos. Resumes splotched with correction fluid. There even were handwritten resumes and resumes typed on lined notebook paper. And these people expected us to take them seriously! We did not, of course. A few of these resumes made it into our "Worst resumes we ever saw" file, which we pulled out whenever we needed a chuckle.
Even those resumes that were cosmetically perfect, devoid of typos and coffee stains, often suffered from subtler, strategy problems that rendered them ineffective. These problems all stemmed from one common downfall; failure to respect the psychology of hiring.
Remember that employers only hire people who can solve particular needs and that they are flooded with hundreds of resumes for every available position. Most job-seekers ignore these two facts of life.
An effective resume must:
- Match the employer's needs. You must determine what needs the employer is trying to solve. Then, you must design your resume to match, to make it clear that you are the "dream employee," the one who can solve the employer's problems.
- Stand out in a sea of resumes; this cannot be accomplished by the use of gaudy paper, garish type or scratch 'n' sniff devices. Such gimmicks only make you look desperate or foolish. The way to catch an employer's eye is to present a resume that's neat and professional-looking.
- State your accomplishments and qualifications in specific terms. This is one of the most important principles of resume-writing. Your accomplishments are proof that you handled your previous jobs well. They help prospective employers understand the unique benefits you will bring them. They answer the question at the forefront of every employer's mind: "What's in it for me?"
- You must be clear and concise: Employers must be able to find the information they are seeking quickly and easily. Remember, you usually have just 30 seconds or less to get the attention of the person reading your resume.