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What A Resume Is For- If You Don’t Understand This, You Won’t Land A Job

May 7th, 2008 · 5 Comments

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A resume is a marketing document… a personal advertisement… it’s not a “form” or list of things you’ve done.

There. I’ve told you everything you need to know. You don’t need to read the rest of this post.

Unless you want to.

Cause here’s the thing. This is what people don’t get about writing a resume. This is why there are professional resume writers out there who charge money to craft your resume:

It’s not just a form or a list of duties. It’s a SALES JOB. A resume needs to sell you.

When companies want to sell their products, they try to find a compelling angle, a hook. (And more often then not, they hire outside professionals to help them, but that’s for another post, another time.) Very rarely do you see advertisements that just list the details of the product. You wouldn’t really want to sell soap by listing the ingredients, chemical by chemical.

I hate it when I see resumes that are just lists of duties. “My next job was at company XYZ. My title was such-and-such. I answered the phones, interacted with customers, filed reports, blah, blah, blah.”

Sure, part of a resume is a list of jobs and duties. But only part. You list what you’ve done only to give an idea of what your skill set is and what you have experience doing. You’re showing what you’re qualified for, based on your past career.

But the rest of the resume, the meat of the resume, is convincing the reader what you can do in the future. What you might be capable of if hired. It’s not about what you’ve done in the past.

You know my philosophy about winning the job by selling yourself as the solution to all the employer’s problems. You should lay the groundwork for this in your resume.

Make sure you list tangible and impressive accomplishments. I can’t stress the stressing of accomplishments enough. Saying, “I was in outside sales and managed an entire territory,” is fine. Following this up with a bullet point that says, “Over 3 years, increased sales 40% in a previously under-performing territory,” is much better. The first sentence just says what you’ve done. The second sentence sells your talents and suggests what you’re capable of achieving.

Try to form your accomplishments and skill sets into a compelling narrative, suggesting what you might be able to contribute to a new employer.

Most importantly, show, don’t tell. (see my previous post about this topic)

So, take a look at your current resume. Does it make an compelling argument for you to be hired? Does it read like an advertisement for your skills and potential? Or is it just a list of duties.

A list is not a resume. It’s just a list of stuff you’ve done.

Related posts:

  1. Ask Brian- Best Resume Tip
  2. Resume Tip- 4 Quick Ways To Make Your Resume Stand Out
  3. Don’t Include These Skills On Your Resume
  4. Ask Brian – What is the Difference Between a CV and a Resume?
  5. Ask Brian- Lying on a Resume
  6. Old School Resume Hack- Snail Mail

Tags: Resumes

  • Rick

    Nice post Brian! Anyone doing their resume needs to keep this point in mind: Focus the resume on what the reader would like to read and what the employer wants, not what you want. Yes, it’s a sales job, and you’re trying to sell yourself as the solution to the employer’s problem.

  • Scott

    What you are saying in a long drawn out manner is to quantify your past/current actions. To simplify this even further you take the following formula …

    What was it like when you started, what is it like now, and what is the difference?

  • Brian

    No, what I was really responding to was poorly written resumes that are nothing but one big long list of duties and responsibilities at previous jobs. That shouldn’t be the focus of the resume. If you want a formula, the focus should be:
    70% on previous accomplishments (tangible, hopefully progressive and impressive) and 30% on describing previous duties. De-emphasize the duties; emphasize the progress in your career and the accomplishments. Don’t just show me what you used to do, suggest what you can do for me if I hire you. To continue the soap analogy, the manufacturer doesn’t list all the ingredients in the add, but does say something like, “Kills 99.9% of all bacteria and germs.” Again, suggesting what the product can do for you

  • Al T.

    Nice post Brian.
    As a hiring manager, I have reviewed thousands of resumes.
    Most of the day-to-day stuff a candidate has done I can figure out from the job titles, companies and keywords such as Unix, C++,
    Account Manager, etc.
    I want to know the specifics (i.e. numbers if possible) of what things a person has done that makes them different.
    but make it brief – challenge yourself to remove as many words as possible by continually rewriting your resume – you’ll be surprised at how much you can say with how few words.

  • Scott

    That was my point Brian! What is the difference? We made 100 widgets an hour (when I stated), we now make 150 widgets an hour, we now make 50 more widgets an hour more and thus an increase of 50% production improvement …

    (on resume) “50% improvement in widget production over a one year time span.”