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Straight Talk About Your Resume

By Frank Fox

Your resume is the one step in your job search over which you have total control. It is your personal career marketing document. Based upon the strength of that one or two pages of information, you will either be selected for an interview from among potentially hundreds of other candidates — or passed over.

The Resume’s Function

The purpose of a resume is not to get a job! Its purpose is to get an interview. And any candidate in today’s job market is up against very stiff competition.

Put yourself in a personnel or human resources director’s shoes. The morning’s mail has just arrived and a stack of 100 or 200 resumes have been dropped on your desk. Your first goal is going to be narrowing down that stack to perhaps 10 or 20 candidates. So the first function a resume serves is to eliminate most candidates from consideration.

Job recruiters spend approximately 15 seconds looking at each resume. In that short time, they make a decision to place you in the “yes” pile…or the “no” pile. This decision can be based on the overall appearance of your resume, the format, and the three or four key selling points you have listed in your qualifications summary at the top of the resume.

If you make it to the “yes” pile, your resume will receive a detailed reading. But again, the recruiter is still looking for a reason to eliminate you as a candidate. From that pile of resumes that came in the mail, the recruiter’s goal might be to narrow the list to only five or ten candidates who will be called for an interview. So even if you survived the first screening and made it to the stack of 20, you still have a 50 /50 chance of being cut the final selection.

Remember, this entire process happens solely on the strength of your resume. And if you survive this process, your resume then becomes the basis for your interview. The recruiter will use your resume as an outline to discuss your career history, accomplishments, and qualifications for the position they need to fill at their company. 

After the interview, your resume continues to represent you as your qualifications are weighed against those of other candidates who have also made it through this interview stage. Assume that only the five or ten most qualified candidates were interviewed. Now the company has to make choice. How do they do that? The people involved in the decision sit down at a conference table and discuss those final five or ten resumes … again, looking for reasons to eliminate all but one applicant. Even here, your resume plays an important role in reminding the company of your qualifications the impression you made during the interview, etc. 

Should You Write Your Own Resume?

Probably not – unless you are a skilled professional writer who can also honestly look at your own strengths and weaknesses objectively. While there are dozens of “do-it-yourself” resume books on the market, the truth is that if you do your own, your resume is being prepared by an amateur.

Does it make sense to spend four years and $40,000 to earn a college degree and then market that investment to employers with a do-it-yourself resume? Or to have solid career credentials and a salary level of $30,000, $60,000 or $100,000…and use a less than professional resume to represent you?

Think of a company like Coca-Cola. The executives who work for Coca-Cola probably know that product better than anyone else. Yet Coca-Cola uses a professional advertising agency to create the messages that are designed to sell us on buying Coca-Cola.

The Professional Resume Writer

Hiring a professional resume writer serves the same purpose in selling you to a potential employer as Coca-Cola’s advertising agency in selling their products to consumers. You’re getting the benefit of the expert who writes resumes everyday and who knows how to present a client’s background and credentials to best advantage.

For example, there are three standard resume formats: The Chronological, Functional, and Modified (which is a combination of Chronological and Functional). Deciding which format will best present your career history is a critical strategic decision before the first word is ever written on paper.

Most job candidates also fall into one of the three categories that are detrimental to the success of a do-it -yourself resume: 

  1. Those who are reluctant to “brag” about their past accomplishments and successes and tend to underplay the specific information an employer wants to see in the resume. Sometimes a candidate simply doesn’t realize how important some detail of their past performance would be to a future emloyer.
  2. Sometimes the candidate says too much. Even though the candidate would be perfectly qualified for the available position, they can appear to be overqualified, or a threat to the hiring manager, or too narrowly focused on one aspect of the job instead of being a generalist. 
  3. Finally, there may be some aspect of a candidate’s past that can be difficult to present in the resume: frequent job changes, a long period of unemployment, lack of a college degree normally required for a particular position or the lack of any actual work experience in this particular field (career change, graduating students, military personnel returning to civilian job market) etc.

A professional resume writer is an objective third party with the expertise to draw out relevant information from your work history, tone down the extent of your achievements, if necessary, and provide strategies for overcoming any difficult or negative aspects in your job search.

Choosing a Resume Professional

Over 700 professional resume companies throughout the U.S. and Canada belong to The Professional Association of Resume Writers (PARW). This professional membership demonstrates their commitment to their craft and to serving their clients. In addition, the association established a study and testing curriculum in 1991 and nearly 200 of the association’s members have already earned the designation, Certified Professional Resume Writer.

For assistance in locating a PARW member near you, visit www.parw.com, or call 800-822-PARW (7279). Look for PARW members when you check the yellow pages under “Resume Services” or call: 800-822-PARW (7279).

Frank Fox is the founder and executive director of the Professional Association of Resume Writers in St. Petersburg, Florida.