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If you asked most people to define a resume, you would probably
find the phrase "list of qualifications" showing its ugly head
quite often. I say "ugly" because I think that the idea of a
resume as just a list reduces its effectiveness and deprives it
of its elegance. Yes, even a resume can be elegant!
I suggest that you shouldn't think of your resume as a stale,
historical documentation of your accomplishments and
qualifications. Instead, you should think of it as a form of
autobiography, or better yet, a self-portrait.
How do you do this? By first understanding that no piece of paper
can represent the entirety of who you are. We are all very
complex folks, and even if you have just graduated from high
school and have had only one job, there is more about you than
just one or two pages of a resume can present. Therefore, as with
a self-portrait, you will have to choose which characteristics
about "you" that you want to portray. Here are a few tips on
deciding how to make this decision:
Do your homework. When you are researching a job or a company,
try to go beyond basic job requirements and qualifications.
Research the company itself to try to determine what personal
qualities are valued. Do they pride themselves on having
innovative, creative "rebels," or do they prefer steadfast, loyal
workers with traditional values? Finding out this information
will not only help you decide how to present yourself in your
resume; it will help you decide if you will even fit in at all at
Remember that it's not all about expertise: As the above tip
shows, companies are not just looking for areas of expertise or
experience -- they are also looking for more general, abstract
qualities (even if they aren't mentioned in the job ad). Keep
these qualities in mind when you make an assessment of your
strong points. For instance, in an industry that goes through
constant change and upheaval, it would probably be better to be
"adaptable" or a "quick learner" than it would to have experience
with a particular piece of equipment.
Realize that each situation is different: Even if all the jobs
you apply for are similar, that does not mean that you will be
focusing on the same characteristics in each resume. As was
mentioned before, companies will differ, as will situations.
Other factors you could look at that might affect how you portray
yourself include: the size of the company, the location of the
company, how new the company is, the relationship between your
present employer and the company you are applying to, and the
number and type of applicants you will be competing with.
Once you have a good idea of what characteristics you want to
portray in your resume, then you can begin painting your
portrait. Just as in a painting, you want each element of your
resume to add up to one distinct image. You can help yourself do
this in a number of ways:
Be specific and consistent in the qualities you want to show. I
advise my students and clients to actually write down the top 3
or 4 qualities that they want to portray in their resume. Doing
this will help keep you focused -- everything in the resume
should point to somewhere on your list. Having this kind of list
will also allow you to "test-drive" your resume -- Have a friend
read your resume and write down the qualities it shows best; if
their list matches yours, you can feel comfortable that you are
headed in the right direction.
Rethink your experiences. One area where people seem to be
especially rigid in their thinking is when it comes to describing
past jobs. The tendency is to just list what their explicit
duties were and maybe any particular accomplishments they
achieved. Instead of being locked into this model, you should try
to think back on the entire experience of your work (or
education, or volunteer work, etc) with an eye toward how you
showed the qualities that you are trying to communicate. If this
is just business experience, doing this will be easy. If,
however, one of your characteristics is "quick learner," you will
have to look back on your work experience to see if you can find
examples of where this was useful, or where you had to use the
characteristic to perform your job.
Prove your qualities instead of just claiming them. This is
just another version of the REALLY old cliché of "Show, don't
tell," but it is an important rule to follow, especially if you
are dealing with more abstract qualities. ANYONE can say that
they are creative; it is a completely different thing to give
examples of how you used your creativity in past jobs or
experiences. In other words, always back up statements about
yourself with some sort of proof.
I've found that a pointed, specific resume that uses these
techniques is a much more powerful document than a generic list
of qualifications. Some people may disagree with me, especially
those who see a resume as just a "foot in the door" on the way to
an interview. I personally think a resume makes more of a first
impression than this, especially these days when resumes are
being faxed from the across the world or being perused on the
Internet. Painting a portrait with your resume will show WHO you
are, rather than just WHAT you know or WHAT you've done, and this
will help you stand out as an individual in a sea of applicants.
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Ron Sathoff is a noted speaker and manager of DrNunley's
InternetWriters.com Ron provides help for speakers,
marketing, and Internet promotion. Reach him at email@example.com
or 801-328-9006 (USA).