Thursday, April 2, 2009

Make your resume more than an obituary.

As I was on my way to class, a student brought me his resume and asked me to look at it. I did. I told him it looked like an obituary, something they'd write about him in the newspaper after he dropped dead. I told him, as subtly as possible, his resume was one of the most boring I had ever seen. He told me forlornly that he was told to do it that way at career services, just like everyone else. I told him that was a big problem because the world is over saturated with boring messages that clutter our minds and distract us. I told him he needs to cut through that clutter with a focused, and differentiating, message that promises some benefit to the reader.

"How do I do that?" he implored.

"You need to attract the reader's attention," said I, "and create interest and appeal. You need to show the employer QUICKLY, how you can satisfy some need at his/her company. And, while you're at it, you need to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack. The HR departments are getting 322 resumes for each job and you need to make yourself stick out."

"How do I do that?" he implored.

"You can start," I said, "by writing, not your employment objective, which no one cares about, but a 'Profile,' a profile that says you are everything the employer has ever wanted in an employee."

"How do I do that?" he implored.

"Simple," I said. "Just write something like this: 'An enthusiastic, energetic, self-motivated, CMU-educated engineer with corporate experience and proven outcomes.' Then, create a section called 'Special Accomplishments' and cite some of your more impressive accomplishments. But, make sure they are measurable, that is, show some proven outcomes from some projects you worked on, some results. When employers look at the results you've created for others, they translate them into results you will create for them."

"How do I do that?" he implored.

"Look," I said, "this ain't brain surgery. Take any of your experiences, preferably work experiences, and talk about a 3% increase in volunteers, or a 4% increase in customer satisfaction, or a 7% increase in productivity. Surely you've worked on something, in college or at a job, that attempted to create some results."

He smiled. I thought he might be getting the picture, so I continued, "You need to think of finding a job as a marketing activity, that is, find out what the customer wants and provide it. Or, demonstrate clearly how you can provide it better than the competition, the other 321 people who applied for the same job. Think strategy. Think Michael Porter: be the cost leader, be different, or be focused."

"How do I do that?" he implored. (I was beginning to think he only knew five words.)

"Use the key words that every employer looks for (managed, coordinated, developed, created, and so on), but add the results. And, in the 'Work Experience' section, instead of just writing that you were a coder for Cognizant, talk about Cognizant and its clients. Suppose they worked with IBM, BONY, Coca Cola, and other big brand names. If so, use those words in your resume. Each word carries associations that rub off on you when you use them. Don't talk about yourself in this section; talk about Cognizant, the $20 billion company."

"Oh," he said, the smile widening. I saw that he was beginning to get it.

So, I continued. "Look, kid, these are words on a piece of paper. You can make them boring or interesting. It's your call. You get to pick the words that represent your life, regardless of what career services says. When you choose words with no life, you create an obituary. So, promote yourself as if you were a product. Labor over every word. Give your writing energy and life."

I began to move away from him because I was expected at class, and I felt that I had enlightened him. As I walked down the hall, he hurried to catch up and stepped in front of me. "Will you look at my cover letter?" he asked.

"How do I do that?" I implored. "I have to go teach." He looked downcast and I added with a smile, "But, come see me later. I have lots of opinions about cover letters!"

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