9.4 Your Resume is Killing You

Resumes are an essential tool for job seeking. Writing one is tricky. Fail this task and you are going to be overlooked and ignored by the people you most want to notice you.

Job seekers do not ask me to look at their resumes because things are going well. People come to me because they are getting zero response from employers – on LinkedIn or from applications. Typically, they come with resumes that have been constructed, rebuilt and remodeled over time, with input from multiple supporters on the family and friends plan.

Everyone has an opinion about how your resume should look – if you ask 10 different people, you are probably going to get 10 different answers. But the odds are that none of them will really be able to tell you if your resume is “killing it” or just killing you.

Even if they are willing to risk hurting your feelings by pointing out this or that, the odds are that they have not worked on thousands of resumes that got the job or looked at thousands that failed.

I perform triage on resumes that are clinging to life support. I try to be gentle because I know that people have a lot of ego wrapped up in their resumes. So, I will carefully insert a drip line as I load their resume up to Google Docs – my resume ICU – and perform emergency surgery.

The resumes people send me have changed little in the past 40 years. Typically, applicants focus on chronicling where they have worked, while failing to define themselves in terms of how their education, experience, knowledge and skills fit with the needs of a current, potential employer. People lock themselves into the past – what they have done – rather than laying out a clear case about what they can do.

Your resume needs to adjust to the 21st century. If you want to get a better job, there are certain things that you need to convey to the hiring manager – sharing what you have to offer relative to the job you are targeting.

Designing the perfect resume requires that you state quickly, clearly, and succinctly what you have to offer. In order to create a powerful resume that will not be ignored, you need to know yourself, and you need to know a great deal about the job you are applying for and the employer you hope will hire you. Research and self-assessment, along with intensive job analysis, are the first steps to writing the perfect resume.

Start with a complete analysis of the job description using a yellow highlighter to zero in on the key elements of a job, capturing key words that managers are sharing. Then use the bullet points of the job requirements as a checklist, checking off each item as it is added to the qualifications displayed on your resume.

A qualifications summary at the top of your resume is a great way to add important knowledge, skills, essential experience quantification and key words to your resume.

For example:

  • BS Computer Science
  • 3+ years of experience in Agile software development
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Experience working in multidisciplinary team environments to develop high quality software products
  • Understanding of OO software design, distributed computing, embedded programming, client/server programming
  • Experience maintaining and debugging live software systems
  • Languages: Java • C • JavaScript • HTML • CSS • Python • SQL • Unit Tests • Design Patterns • Scrum
  • Tools: GUI/UX • Git • IntelliJ • Eclipse • Jenkins • Ant • Maven • JIRA • Gerrit • UNIX • Linux

You need to tell them that you have the right stuff, and it does no good if that stuff is hidden or merely implied in your work history or in your education. You have to dig out the nuggets the employer will be looking for and put that information front and center. Employers do not read tea leaves… you have to tell them what they are looking at and what it means.

It is imperative that you focus on your assets relative to the job needing to be filled and the employer you are hoping will select you above all of the other candidates. If you fail to do this, your resume will end up in the shredder.

Once you have the qualifications summary at the top of your resume, the rest of the resume supports it with details. The basic building blocks are the same for everyone – education, training, experience, community involvement, and professional activities all provide source material for describing and documenting your skill sets.

The candidate who can describe in detail why they are perfect for the job is at a competitive advantage – they will often beat candidates who have more experience or who might be even better qualified. When an employer has to decide which candidate to hire, they are more likely to choose the one who told them on their resume and reinforced it in an interview that they have exactly the skills that are required.

The spillover benefits of doing the hard work to create a perfect resume is that it is the perfect study guide for your interview and the outline for your cover letter and other supporting documents.

At the start of the process, it feels like a messy, emergency operation – a resume resuscitation – but by the end, it is like a tapestry of who you are with all of the important threads woven in – showing exactly who you are relative to the job you hope to get. If done correctly, the tapestry will be like an animation, with the important words jumping off the page and forming a vision for the hiring manager.