“Top 5 resume tips” from a reluctant observer

I’ve been asked to appear on one of the local morning TV shows early next week and talk to the “top 5 resume tips” for students seeking summer employment. So far, so good.

Only, I’m not a big fan of “resume focus” because I fear that this is too often done to the exclusion of understanding what’s really going on behind the scenes — in other words, how the hiring process REALLY WORKS. People inherently believe that the job application is a “matching game” (which is of course the way companies and job boards promote it) and so applicants play the game by embedding the “action words” from the job listing directly into their resume and/or cover letter. For a job listing seeking a “creative and results-oriented team player”, pretty much every one of the 300+ applicants submitting their resume for this job will find a way to embed “…as a creative and results-oriented team player…” somewhere into their material. This isn’t really surprising, but worse, it’s actually pretty destructive behavior for the job seeker.

So, in pulling together my “5 resume tips” I’ve tried to paint the bigger picture of what the resume is actually for and what it can and can’t help you accomplish in your own job search. I hope I’ve done justice to helping people think about their own resume efforts in a different light — we’ll see what kind of feedback I can generate from both this blog post and also from the interview itself!

My “top 5 resume tips” for students seeking summer employment (and for anyone in crafting their resume):

  1. Focus on having ONE great resume, rather than a handful of different ones.
    1. Lots of people have “multiple personality disorder” with their resumes. This is not really helpful;
    2. The idea isn’t to chase everything that moves, but to be very selective in what you go after, so you increase the chances it really is a “great fit”;
    3. You end up spending a lot of time cranking out entirely different versions of resumes. Much better to spend that time getting REAL CLARITY about you and what you can offer and how that is valuable to a specific kind of employer.
  1. The resume is your STORY OUTLINE, not your BOOK. Keep it short, tight, and compelling.
    1. 1 to 2 pages at maximum, depending on your experiences to date. Just starting out, 1 page OK. Never more than 2 pages.
    2. Think – your resume is like the inside jacket description of a book; you scan the inside cover to decide whether you want to buy the book.
    3. If you can’t summarize your “intriguing and compelling story” in a couple of pages, you’re not trying hard enough. Get some help.
  1. It’s for ALL your notable experiences, not just the paying ones!
    1. As potential employer, I want to know WHAT you can do for me, and HOW well you do it (RESULTS). I care less about what you earned doing it, and what institution you did it at.
    2. Your experiences (accomplishments) should tell a mini-story; what ATTRIBUTE about you helped you to succeed, WHAT that success was, and what the RESULTS were for the organization. When I read it, I want to see if it is a match for the kind of challenges/opportunities I have in my organization.
  1. Your resume is your calling card; EMBED YOUR AUTHENTIC PERSONALITY into it.
    1. It’s YOUR STORY, you should tell it with words and descriptions that are IMPACTFUL to you, and a true reflection of who you really are. Because that is the way you are going to show up in the role anyway, so you might as well stress it as a positive characteristic.
    2. The more time spent getting CLARITY about “who you are, how you work, and what excites you” the more clearly and compellingly you will be able to TELL THAT STORY.
    3. When you read through your own resume, what are the two or three VISUAL IMAGES that jump out – if they don’t pop, them work to build them up.
    4. Tighten up your VISUAL IMAGERY into a short, future-oriented OPPORTUNITY SOUGHT statement.
  1. People hire people, not resumes. ENGAGE IN CONVERSATIONS with people whenever you can.
    1. Ultimately, the “firing resumes into the internet, hoping for a job” is a highly arbitrary and somewhat flawed process for finding meaningful employment. It’s more like a lottery than a well-designed business process. You are usually “competing” with approximately 300 other applicants for most posted positions.
    2. People hire people they know and trust. You have to work your network to get introductions to decision-makers and those people who influence hiring decisions.
    3. For every hour you spend “feeding the machine”, focus at least 3 hours on researching, building, and feeding your network. It is a much more valuable use of your time.


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