The most important work that goes into composing an effective resume comes before sitting down to write anything. One must know with exactness the job being sought. In some ears this might sound like a point too obvious to mention, but it is one Wizdom, Inc. career counselor Jane Goodman finds herself emphasizing over and over again. “This is a resume I see all of the time: the resume in search of an employer to identify the job that corresponds to it.”
Job identification is not the employer’s responsibility. And yet the single most common resume mistake is the failure to clearly describe the position sought. According to Jane Goodman, “I am always seeing resumes that state the applicant’s educational and work experience, and sometimes this experience is quite varied, but not a title, the name of the position desired.” This leaves it to the prospective employer to imagine what position would best match the resume, and this expectation—that a hiring manager will perform this service–is simply unrealistic. Even if the assumption is made that your resume finds its way into the hands of the proper person, this person has available, in all likelihood, too many resumes to spend much time on any given one. According to a recent survey, the average recruiter spends six minutes looking at a resume, the average HR person significantly less time (90 seconds). A resume needs to be responsive to the targeted entity, the organization to which it is addressed. It needs to demonstrate, at a bare minimum, enough familiarity with the reader’s concerns (e.g. the hiring manager of a company) to identify a position that is in fact available or that could well become available. The cover letter is the place to demonstrate an even greater familiarity.
Life isn’t always linear. Not every job applicant knew as a freshman in high school or college what would serve as a lifelong career. According to a University of Oregon study, the average undergraduate changes his or her major three times prior to graduating. As such, the task of being a resume writer can have an important ancillary usefulness. Students don’t tend to take the time to research the careers that are open to them. Indeed, they seem to know very little about rather practical economic matters. One might want, for instance, to be a documentary filmmaker. If so, it would be valuable to understand certain basic facts. Documentary filmmaking has undergone massive decentralization, and while the availability of documentaries to a wide audience has never been greater, thanks to the ease of publishing on the Internet, there is no guarantee whatever that a living wage is in the works. It might be a better choice to aim for something else, for the position that stands the best chance of leading to documentary filmmaking but that doesn’t involve as many risks.
The approach that has been taken in the hypothetical case of the one who wants to be a documentary filmmaker is applicable universally. Before an effective resume has been written, the resume writer has to be clear about his or her goal, and that means taking the time to be informed, doing some research. In this case all kinds of empirical evidence supports the ancient Platonic principle: to know the good is to do the good. Students who fail to identify “the good,” the desired outcome—usually in career terms—for a college education are far less likely than their peers to graduate. According to a University of Texas at Austin study, undergraduates who could name the exact job desired, as long as there was a logical connection between the course of study and entrance requirements for the job, were four times as likely to graduate and, according to the Yankee Group, applicants who are not clear about the position for which they are applying are twenty times more likely to have trouble securing work, as reflected in both the occurrence and length of unemployment.
Consider the fundamental logic that informs any good resume by way of an example, that of someone seeking a position as an instructional designer. To apply for such a position, the applicant must know what organizations are in need of someone in this capacity as well as the details of the job description for each organization. A job description is not standard. In other words, every organization has a different idea of what constitutes instructional design—the place of the instructional designer within the overall architecture of the organization, the nature of the content of instruction, the kind of platform that is already in place for the delivery of courses, the kind of relationship that exists between the instructional designer and IT, etc. Let’s say that a large local company uses Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro for its courses, that the courses are for its sales force, and that the position available is junior instructional designer. A junior instructional designer is not likely to have to coordinate the demands of IT, training, and corporate executives. He or she is not likely to be involved in budgetary considerations. Hence nothing need be said about managerial competencies or experience in matters budgetary. However, your resume should clearly state that you have experience using Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro, that you are knowledgeable about the latest teaching methods, that you are more than merely familiar with the course content (i.e., sales) and, above all else, that you are applying for the open position of junior instructional designer.
An open secret among instructional designers is that most of them are self-taught. They had some teaching experience, sometimes online, and then they quite deliberately set out to learn about the subject matter (in our example, sales) and the relevant technology. There are very valuable books on the basics of instructional design, and the platforms are almost invariably available online to download and study. Numerous tutorials on instructional design and the requisite software (e.g. Adobe Acrobat Connect Pro) can be viewed on YouTube.
To write a resume that will attract attention and produce interviews, you must first be clear about the position you seek as well as the job description that characterizes that position with the specific organization at issue. You have to name the desired position in your cover letter and on your resume, and then marshal all the evidence you can that you possess the experience sought. There is no substitute for clarity. There is no substitute for specificity. And resumes that are both clear and specific are winners.