By Steven Provenzano, CPRW/CEIP
Author of nine career books including Top Secret Resumes & Cover Letters, the 2nd Ed. career ebook for all job seekers, Top Secret Executive Resumes, 2nd. Ed., and Blue Collar Resumes, 2nd. Ed. Appearances on/in CNBC, CNN, Fox Chicago News, WGN, ABC/NBC Chicago, The Chicago Tribune, Crain’s, The Wall Street Journal and numerous radio programs nationwide.
These days finding that new – or better – work situation means keeping track of job listings, networking, updating your Linkedin profile, tracking down leads, scouring the internet, analyzing potential employers and scheduling interviews.
It can be overwhelming, especially since so much depends on the attention and response of others. However, there’s one aspect of your search over which you always have control: the content and format of your resume.
Only your resume gives you total control over how you’re perceived by potential employers, and it certainly doesn’t have to be a passive job listing with subjective information about how you’re a great and wonderful person (which of course you are).
Instead, it can and should be a high-impact career marketing piece that takes full advantage of the paltry 10-60 seconds of attention most resumes receive.
When a resume is truly well-written, it can become a source of excellent, trimmed-down content for your Linkedin profile or Facebook page. Recent surveys reveal that all of the Fortune 500 – indeed up to 80% of all companies – are using Linkedin for recruiting new hires.
Yet even human resource managers, expert writers and top executives have trouble writing about themselves. They tell me, “my resume isn’t perfect, but I’ll explain myself in the interview”.
There’s the catch: you may be the perfect candidate for a position and still not get the interview, for no other reason than your resume. Resumes are typically used to ‘weed out’ people from positions. During my tenure as a corporate recruiter, we created three stacks of resumes: Yes, Maybe, and No Way. whomever was left in the ‘Yes’ stack might be called for an interview – the others, of course, were tossed out or filed.
The bottom line? What employers really want to know from each person “sitting” on their desk is: What can you do for me? How can you fill this job effectively? Why should I talk to you over everyone else? Are you a good fit for my company? Here’s how to get them to call you, and not the other candidate:
Use a Title
Think of a basic Title for the top of your resume. This is typically very brief, centered and placed below your contact information, and comprises two to four words: SALES / MARKETING or ACCOUNTING / FINANCE, or something as simple as EXECUTIVE LEADERSHIP. Give the reader some idea of where you’re coming from, and generally where you want to go, without blocking yourself from consideration for other positions. This sets the tone for the content which follows, and gives the reader some kind of handle on where you’re coming from.
Create a Profile/Skill section to leverage your Keywords
Your resume must pre-digest, develop and market all relevant information about your transferable skills and abilities in a Profile/Skill section – beginning just below your Title.
You don’t need to label this 2-3 inch deep section “Profile” or “Skills”, but it’s comprised of 3-4 bulleted sentences that develop your essential skills and abilities relevant to the job you’re seeking right now.
This section is not a re-hash of your job history or education. Rather, it’s the value of your job history, education, volunteer or military experience. It is, in fact, a development of the best skills and knowledge you’ve gained from all your education, and work you’ve performed for previous employers.
The Profile/Skill section gives you total control over how you’re perceived by employers. Without this section, you’re a victim of your work experience and education. When your most recent experience isn’t related to your current career goals, the Profile/Skill section becomes even more important: use it to paint a picture of yourself – exactly the way you wish to be perceived by employers.
Keywords used in your Profile/Skill section may include sales, marketing, client relations, target marketing, project management, staff training, budget planning or forecasting. Start with these elemental keywords and expand where you can.
Ubiquitous ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) will most likely scan and sort your resume well before it’s seen by human eyes, and keywords can make or break your next opportunity.
If you have any questions about this section, typically the hardest to write for any resume, remember you may always forward your current resume for review and feedback directly to me at:
Market actual business talent – and avoid the fluff
Steer clear of pointless, catch-all phrases such as “Self-motivated, hands-on professional with an excellent track record of…” Let’s face it. The first two items in this sentence could apply to almost anyone. As for your track record, let the employer decide if it’s excellent by reading about your abilities (on top) and your duties and accomplishments (under the Employment section).
Your Profile/Skill section must be based on solid, objective facts – derived from actual experience. If it’s subjective or contains ideas that can’t be verified through education, volunteer work or business experience, then re-write it, or you’ll lose credibility.
Employment and Education sections.
All items in your resume must consistently verify, support and quantify what you’ve stated in your Profile/Skill section. Help the reader actually see you at your last position by spelling out daily duties most relevant to your career goals. Describe how many people you supervised or trained, explain types of clients you work(ed) with, products demonstrated, computers utilized, and most important, quantifiable results.
What are/were your achievements? Give facts and figures like budget amounts, or how much you saved the company over how long, awards, recognitions and so on.
Research the company’s brochure, annual report and job advertisement, if any, for any keywords and useful content, and tailor your resume as much as possible to each position.
Avoid the ubiquitous “References Available upon Request” at the bottom of your resume. If employers really want references, they’ll ask you. Consider “CONFIDENTIAL RESUME” at the top of your resume, and/or state this in your cover letter. Always respect the reader’s intelligence!
Although up to 75% of all positions are filled through personal networking, an excellent resume can open doors all by itself, and is still required in many networking situations. Of course, a brief cover letter should be targeted to the hiring authority whenever possible.
Yes, you should write a Cover Letter
Contrary to popular belief that “No one reads a cover letter”, research tells us that up to 65% of all cover letters are indeed read by potential employers. They like to get a feel for your personality, career goals, motivation for seeking a new position, and what makes you different from other candidates with similar skills and experience.
Tell employers what you know about their operation, and why you want to work specifically for his/her company. Make them feel like they’re the only person getting your resume.
Consider this: a resume that’s only slightly more effective than the one you have now could help you get a job weeks, or even months faster than your old resume.
Resume writing is an art form in itself, and there are few hard and fast rules. You need a complete, professional job search strategy, and your resume must be a key part of that strategy.
When you implement these ideas in the next update of your resume, you’ll almost certainly get more interviews. At my company, ECS: Executive Career Services, we provide a free resume review, and as mentioned, you’re welcome to send us your materials. We look forward to hearing from you, and happy hunting.
Steven Provenzano is the author of nine career books including Top Secret Executive Resumes, a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW), Certified Employment Interview Professional (CEIP), Career Coach and former Corporate Recruiter.
He and his staff have written more than 5000 resumes for clients worldwide for more than 20 years. He has appeared on CNBC, CNN, WGN, Fox Chicago News, ABC/NBC in Chicago, on numerous radio programs and in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal and Crain’s.
His work is endorsed by Chicago Tribune Career Columnist Lindsey Novak, and top executives at firms such as Motorola, First Data Corp. and Coca-Cola.
For a free resume analysis, send in confidence to:
Call toll free to speak with Mr. Provenzano, 10-5 CT weekdays, or 10-2 most Saturdays at:
Toll Free: 877-610-6810
Based in Chicagoland since 1991, with thousands of satisfied clients in all 50 states and 20+ countries worldwide.