Search the web for 'resume help' or 'resume advice' and you'll find lots of pearls of wisdom. All of which are true. But all of which are ultimately misleading.
Most resume advice articles will tell you to focus on achievements not responsibilities, or to use lots of action-oriented words, or to be sure you communicate your 'personal brand.' I've written these articles myself and I meant well, I really did! But all of this is what I call 'bitty' advice. It's useful and lots of it is true, but it's nibbling around the edges of the problem.
What my art teacher taught me about resume writing
My first college art teacher was called Arthur Bagley. He had a beard and unkempt hair and he made teapots. Whenever I hear the phrase 'doesn't suffer fools gladly' I think of Arthur Bagley. He didn't suffer fools glady at all and he immediately decided I was one.
I had chosen to study art because I was good at drawing. I had read lots of books and taught myself how to replicate anything. On the first day of class, Arthur asked us to show him art work we had done. I proudly showed him a portrait I had done of a minor celebrity. It was good! I was excited to hear what he had to say.
'Well, he said,' after a long pause. 'It looks just like him.'
I beamed. I knew it! But he hadn't finished.
'But what's the point?' he asked.
'Why did you do it? What are you saying here?'
I stammered but I didn't even really understand the question, let alone have an answer.
He tossed the drawing back on to my desk with a slight sneer. 'I think that your drawing has no point other than to show other people that you can copy what you see accurately,' he said.
Then he paused, turned back to the class and issued one devastating last word on the matter: 'Meaningless.'
What is the point of your resume?
I tell this story because it perfectly sums up the issue with most resumes and the reason most resume advice can lead you awry. Before you can follow the tips about adding action words, and focusing on accomplishments not achievements and all the other stuff that resume advice articles generally cover, you have to decide on one thing: What's the point?
The Resume Strategy
The number one secret to writing a resume that gets results is simply this: Have a strategy.
I never start writing a resume without one. I gather tons of information on my client, and without much thought, I could probably write a resume that was impressive on the surface, but lacking a central point. 95% of clients would probably walk away happy with that, and some of them might even get good jobs.
But that's not enough for me and it shouldn't be enough for you. Because by doing more, you can dramatically increase your success rate. The way to do that is by determining your own strategy (and by the way, it's OK to have several resumes, each with a different strategy and each to be used in different situations).
The Resume Strategy Formula
Here's how I develop a resume strategy when working with my clients:
1. What does the person want to do next. Clear target positions are essential for a strong resume. If you don't really know what you want to do next, your resume will reflect that and it will fail.
2. What matters most to employers in that field? If you don't know the answer to this question, research is key. You will need to understand their needs in depth if you are to write a resume that appeals to them. Study as many job postings as you can to identify the required skills, experiences and personal traits.
3. What do you have to offer that matches employer needs? Dig into your background, experiences and personality traits and write down everything that meets the needs of your target employers. When you're done, summarize this into a short description of how you will add value.
4. Develop your strategy and keep your resume content focused on communicating that message. This is hard, but you will need to omit or minimize information that doesn't show employers why you are the perfect fit to solve their problems. You might be dying to boast about this or that accomplishment, but if it's extraneous to requirements it will only distract from your central message. Stay focused!
Arthur would be proud!
After a few months of art classes with Arthur, I had moved from copying the things I saw to painting wild, imaginative landscapes inspired by poetry. I was never a technically skilled or particularly gifted artist, but finally my art work had a point.
If you follow my resume writing strategy formula, you will be able to say the same about your resume. Arthur Bagley would be proud!