In this case, well, these aren’t secrets, per se, and in fact are pretty well-known, but given how often I see people not using these techniques, they might as well be secrets.
I’m going to be revealing some of these secrets every day for the next week. When it’s over, you’ll have to tell me if what I’ve written is worth it.
Today’s Secret: “Only For You”. Read on!
Secret #1: “Only For You”
Customize your resume for each job you apply to.
I’m not kidding.
Look – right now, companies are working with reduced staff. Think about it – the economy is in the tank; how many companies are going to keep a full recruiting staff on the payroll until it turns around? Heck, how many companies are going to keep any recruiting staff for the duration? Quite likely, the person going over the stack of resumes is the hiring manager, and he/she already has a full-time job, and may be doing at least some of the work s/he’s hoping to give to the potential new hire on top of that. And now they have to play Human Resources, too? They don’t have time to spend searching for someone.
Add to that, there are hundreds of applicants for every job out there, even when the employer asks for a PhD for their open janitor position. And when you figure how many people think that the employer is not serious about this qualification or that qualification (“Experience?!? Why would I need that?”) and apply anyway, you are talking about a serious pile of resumes.
Lack of time, and an overabundance of candidates… if they don’t see what they are looking for in the first quarter of a second, your resume is going to end up in the recycle bin with the rest of them.
And when there is still a recruiter or an HR department, the recruiter may not understand the qualifications you have unless you use the key words from the job listing.
Unless you are an actual archeologist, you aren’t applying to the archeology department! Don’t expect them to dig for what they are looking for!
To even be in the running for the job, you have to give them exactly what they are looking for, right there in front of them, in the absolutely shortest amount of time.
Start with a “Kitchen Sink”: create a resume template with everything you have ever done, with sentences that describe what you have done, your accomplishments, and the things you were responsible for from a variety of different perspectives. To hell with the length, you want everything in this that you can possibly think to put in. Redundancy is encouraged! In fact, find five different ways to describe each task, accomplishment and responsibility of each job, and put them all in your Kitchen Sink.
Create a blank resume template, with your contact info at the top, some space, a chronological resume listing the titles and dates only (with some empty bullet points to fill in later for each job), a section of other relevant data (professional memberships and so on) if you have them, and an education section (unless you have education but no experience in the field you are applying for, in which case the education goes above the chronological resume).
When you find a job you want to apply to, copy and paste relevant task, responsibility and accomplishment phrases from your Kitchen Sink into a copy of the blank resume template. “Relevant” in this case means “using the terms and phrases they have in the job description”. Make sure all of the key things they are looking for are in the top half of the first page, using the exact same phrases and terms they use in the job listing. If you don’t have all of them in your Kitchen Sink, write them up for this resume and then add them to the Kitchen Sink too. The top should look like a shopping list of all the things the employer wants in their candidate. Heck, use the check-mark bullet points for the list, just to make your point!
(Of course, if you can do all of that with the most recent job on your resume, you can eliminate the checklist at the top, go straight to the chronological resume, and make the checkmarks in the description of your last job.)
Fill out the chronological resume with the very same phrases from the checklist in the bullet points. Use only the barest descriptions when the job has no experience relevant to the job for which you are applying. You do not want to distract the employer with your side trip as a delivery person when you are applying for an accounting position. Then, go back and figure out how what you did at those jobs with “little relevancy” can be described in terms that match the description you are applying for and add those descriptions to the resume, and to the Kitchen Sink!
As for the cover letter, I’ve gotten mixed signals from the recruiters and hiring managers I’ve spoken to. One said that cover letters gave him the most exercise he gets all day (as he mimes tearing off the cover letter from a resume and tossing it over his shoulder). The best I can tell you is that attention to the cover letter can’t possibly hurt your chances, and may even be helpful. Again, you want to use the words in the job description to craft the letter. The more your cover letter sounds like the job description, the better your chances.
Jim Adcock is Vice President of Launch Pad Job Club, an organization in Austin, Texas, whose mission is help people who have lost their jobs to get the skills they need to land their next job, and to help them cope with the interim between jobs. Check out previous career-related entries.