As the 'Dear Sam' mailbox receives so many questions from candidates finding it difficult to differentiate their skills from their competitors', I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight actionable tactics you can use to make a better first impression. With screening processes estimated to be as little as 4 seconds long, here are some ways to maximize your time in front of the hiring manager...
Jack-of-all-trades job seeker: I am always hesitant when I hear a candidate tell me that they can do anything. Unfortunately while this may seem like a great positioning strategy is actually one of the worst things you can do when marketing yourself on a résumé. In today's very employer-centric market, hiring managers have the pick of the litter when it comes to finding a perfectly qualified candidate, meaning candidates have to be fairly specific in their job search (and résumé) and position themselves for something and not everything. If you find yourself thinking that you want to pursue different objectives, consider having more than one version of your résumé so you are presenting a very targeted picture to each audience. While you may think that broadening your search with an open résumé might yield more responses, it is likely to do the opposite.
Human Resources Manager: Funnily enough, I work with more human resources professionals than probably any other field. Why? Because those in human resources understand the competitiveness of the market and know they need an edge in what has become a highly saturated field. The most common concern I hear from my HR clients is that they are puzzled as to why they can't write their own résumé when they have reviewed hundreds or thousands of résumés throughout their career! Just as with most clients I work with, often the candidate struggles when speaking openly about the value they have contributed, not knowing how to use, and not abuse, self-promotion. When writing a HR résumé, be sure you are giving enough information to differentiate yourself from the other HR pros, knowing that the reviewer will likely understand your field very well so is looking a little deeper into what you did that was different than the norm.
Creative candidate: One of the most concerning things creative candidates do is to create a résumé that does not reflect their personality or talent. If you are a creative individual (marketing professional, PR pro, artistic director, graphic designer, artist, musician, art teacher, etc.) it is imperative you take the time to brand yourself and showcase what you can do creatively. Think about it, your ability to market yourself is a direct reflection of your ability to market a product or service. About 9 years ago before I was in the résumé writing field I was in marketing and communications and conducting a job search of my own. While understanding little about résumé writing at the time, I did know that I needed to prove that I could market myself. I created a simple theme throughout my résumé and cover letter, created personal business cards showcasing some of my key qualifications, and packaged my collateral in an inexpensive paper pocket folder. To make the presentation more unique, I printed my logo and some core competencies on a sheet of vellum paper and slipped it into the front of the folder in a swoosh-shaped die cut I made with an X-Acto knife. Sure, it took longer than hitting apply now online, but it reinforced my creativity and my willingness to do more than the average candidate. The results spoke for themselves: I received a 100% response rate for the 5 packages I sent out during the first week of my search. I had 4 interviews lined up for the week of July 22nd. The fifth package I sent out yielded a call from the hiring manager to tell me he had filled the position but had to speak to someone who presented herself in such a unique and engaging manner. So, a 100% response rate and 4 interviews in week one, all based on packaging and decent content (not stellar as I knew nothing about résumé writing at the time!). On July 21st I went into premature labor with my first child and my daughter was born on July 22nd, so, my friend cancelled all my interviews and my life took a different path! I tell you this personal story to illustrate the power you can have in your job search when you take the time-whether a creative person or not-to make your presentation targeted, engaging, and unique.
50+ job seeker: While at this juncture in your career you probably have 25+ years of experience, it is important to present a strategic picture of what you have done in order to avoid being disqualified for fear of being overqualified, inflexible, or too expensive. With your objective in mind, review your experiences and prioritize engagements, being sure to showcase achievements more so than responsibilities to reinforce the value of your experience. Think about presenting about 10-15 years of experience, leaving earlier positions to fall into an additional experience subsection or omitting from your résumé entirely. Hiring managers do not expect to see every position you have ever held on a résumé, so be sure you are not writing an autobiography and instead developing a strong marketing document that strategically positions your candidacy based on your current career goals.
Salesperson: An effective sales résumé must contain quantifiers. Numbers jump off a page, and when significant, can be the determining factor in differentiating you from your competition. If your quotas, and therefore quantifiers, are somewhat unimpressive, or if you had trouble meeting your objectives, then quantifiers have to be used sparingly, but there are almost always ways to incorporate numbers into a sales résumé. If you worked with a smaller company, try to quantify your successes in percentages as opposed to dollars. Doing so will keep you in the running for those opportunities in which you would handle much higher volumes. I also find that some in the sales arena have never had solid goals or objectives, and therefore think they don't have anything to measure their performance against. If this is the case, try to compare the results you achieved with those of your peers, your competitors, or industry benchmarks. Lastly, if you just can't use quantifiers, maybe you have some sales-related awards you can showcase at the beginning of your résumé, comments from clients, or even pull excerpts from your annual reviews.
Administrative Assistant: The most common complaint I hear from administrative assistants is that they do not have any accomplishments to highlight on their résumé. Most feel that they have played a supportive role their entire career, and therefore cannot attribute any achievements solely to their efforts. But I have yet to work with an administrative assistant who didn't have achievements of some kind - such as increasing organizational effectiveness by revamping the filing system, performing their job despite limited articulation of responsibilities, or even helping others better perform their jobs by seeking out and taking on additional accountabilities. By showcasing where you have driven value for an organization, you will really position yourself ahead of the competition.
Teacher: One of the fields I enjoy writing most about is teaching, partly because there are a number of ways you can make a résumé stand out as a teacher. First, instead of opening your résumé with your full name, use your teaching name, such as Mrs. Simon. This unique approach immediately positions you as a teacher and engages the reader. I also find myself using imagery a lot on teaching résumés as they grab the reader's attention and make a case for the strength of the content in the résumé. Lastly, consider adding testimonials from parents, administrators, or even students as these reinforce the claims on your résumé and present the third-party validation hiring managers are seeking.
For inspiration and visual reinforcement of all of the above categories, simply visit the Results or Dear Sam sections of my website at www.ladybug-design.com
About the expert:
Samantha Nolan is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer and owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service résumé-writing firm. Do you have a résumé or job search question for Dear Sam? Reach Samantha at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about Sam's résumé writing services, visit www.ladybug-design.com or call 614-570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).