As the 'Dear Sam' mailbox receives so many questions from candidates finding it difficult to differentiate their skills, I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight actionable tactics you can use to make a better first impression.
For the multi-talented job seeker
Many clients tell me that, for a number of reasons, they are open to many different opportunities and can do pretty much anything. While this is wonderful for expanding the candidate's prospects, it does make writing an effective resume more difficult. For clients in this situation, I showcase their background in the professional experience section, which will essentially stay the same regardless of the job opportunity. I then incorporate a list of competencies to allow for a very easy and quick way for the client to tailor their resume to each opportunity. I like to place this list down the left side of a resume in its own column or, if I don't need to be quite as extensive, at the end of the qualifications summary. This competency list can include any type of experiences or skills that represent notable strengths. It is best if the job seeker develops a general set of these brief noun phrases, and simply tailors them to each opportunity, based on the keywords in the job description that are aligned with their experience and education. This is a very simple task anyone can perform to create the tailored feel hiring managers are looking for.
For the 50+ job seeker
While at this juncture in your career you probably have 25+ years of experience, it is important to present a strategic picture of what you have done in order to avoid being disqualified for fear of being overqualified, inflexible or too expensive. With your objective in mind, review your experiences and prioritize engagements, being sure to showcase achievements more so than responsibilities to reinforce the value of your experience. Think about presenting about 10-15 years of experience, leaving earlier positions to fall into an additional experience subsection or omitting from your resume entirely. Hiring managers do not expect to see every position you have ever held on a resume, so be sure you are not writing an autobiography and instead developing a strong marketing document that strategically positions your candidacy based on your current career goals. Be careful dating your education section as you could undo what you might gain by presenting only more recent experiences. For example, if you are presenting experience from 2000, then date your degree completed in 1985, you have just inadvertently added 15 years of experience to your candidacy. When this is the case, simply omit years of graduation from your education section.
For the salesperson
An effective sales resume must contain quantifiers. Numbers jump off a page, and when significant, can be the determining factor in differentiating you from your competition. If your quotas and therefore quantifiers are somewhat unimpressive, or if you had trouble meeting your objectives, then quantifiers have to be used sparingly, but there are almost always ways to incorporate numbers into a sales resume. If you worked with a smaller company, try to quantify your successes in percentages as opposed to dollars. Doing so will keep you in the running for those opportunities in which you would handle much higher volumes. I also find that some of my clients in the sales arena have never had solid goals and objectives, and therefore think that they don't have anything to measure their performance against. If this is the case, try to compare the results you achieved with those of your peers, your competitors, or industry benchmarks. Lastly, if you just can't use quantifiers, maybe you have some sales-related awards you can showcase at the beginning of your resume , comments from clients, or even pull excerpts from your annual reviews.
For the teacher
One of the fields I enjoy writing most about is teaching, because there are a number of ways you can make a resume stand out as a teacher. First, instead of opening your resume with your full name, use your teaching name, such as 'Miss Charlie'. This unique approach immediately positions you as a teacher and engages the reader. I also find myself using imagery a lot on teaching resumes. Often this will be something as simple as ABC blocks, but I have also created teaching resumes with images of children playing, writing on the blackboard, etc. These images grab the reader's attention and make a case for the strength of the content in the resume. Lastly, if you have them available, I suggest adding written comments you have received from parents and students. You can even present them in a handwritten-style font to add a personal touch to your resume. These testimonials, particularly if they are from your students, reinforce the claims on your resume and present an outsider's view of your core competencies.
For the administrative assistant
The most common complaint I hear from administrative assistants is that they do not have any accomplishments to highlight on their resume. Most feel that they have played a supportive role their entire career, and therefore cannot attribute any achievements solely to their efforts. But I have yet to work with an administrative assistant who didn't have achievements of some kind — such as increasing organizational effectiveness by revamping the filing system, performing their job despite limited articulation of responsibilities, or even helping others better perform their jobs by seeking out and taking on bigger tasks. By showcasing where you have driven value for an organization, you will really position yourself ahead of the competition.
Samantha Nolan is a Certified Professional Resume Writer and owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service resume-writing firm. Do you have a resume or job search question for Dear Sam? Reach Samantha at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about Sam's resume writing services, visit ladybug-design.com or call 614-570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).