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Show Them What You've Got
Experts Say the Best Resumes Show off Achievements

By Joanne Cronrath Bamberger
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, January 4, 2007 6:18 PM

Sometimes -- say, during the dot-com era of a decade ago -- all a job seeker needs is a simple, one-size-fits-all resume to nab a job, or at least an interview, in his or her field.

Not so today.

Your written workplace history must honed, polished, crafted and targeted for you to compete in a job market where, according to John Owen, a metro marketing manager for the Washington office of recruitment firm Robert Half International, an employer posting an opening on a major job search Web site can receive as many as 700 resumes for one position.

The classic, all-purpose resume -- a single page of white or cream-colored twenty-pound bond paper, name at the top, "objective" line and a brief, reverse chronological history of every job you've held since high school -- isn't going to grab anyone's attention.

That doesn't mean you need to submit a pink, scented resume a la Elle Woods in "Legally Blonde" -- but you do need something special.

What, exactly? Hiring experts agree that the best way to get the attention of your dream employer is to create an achievement-based, employer-targeted resume. Focus on a few key tactics, they say, and your phone will soon ring with invitations to interviews.

It's about your achievements. "The one word job hunters must focus on today is 'achievement,'" says Penelope Trunk, author of the popular job advice blog Brazen Careerist. "Employers want to know what you achieved in your prior jobs, not just your job title and where you worked."

About half of the candidates qualified for a given position fail to find their way to the top of the stack because they don't follow that advice.

How can you create an achievement-based missive? Quantify the benefits you brought to your current and past employers. Your title may have been "Assistant to the Manager of Managing," but that doesn't tell anyone about your accomplishments or skills. In creating an achievement-based resume, ask yourself questions like:

Did I increase sales or profits?

Did I create or implement a program that reduced turnover?

Did I supervise a staff?

Did I take the lead on a significant project that increased my employer's profile?

Once you start thinking about your past work achievements in this way, you can illustrate to prospective employers why and how you intend to bring value to their organization.

Sound daunting? Not if you invest the time. Suppose, for example, you're currently working at a video store and looking for a move up the career ladder. You're not going to get a lot of response to a resume that reads, "Watched movies and restocked shelves."

But if you can truthfully say "Reorganized aisle end cap displays and increased movie rentals and sales by 10 percent," that may catch an employer's attention. Trunk's brother Erik did just that and was able trade a clerical job at a large video store chain for a new position in marketing for an internet start-up.

Create a core resume. When you're home at your computer, forget the advice about limiting your resume to one page. Start big, then carve out the parts of your employment past that are relevant to each job you apply for, says Joyce Lain Kennedy, author of "Resumes for Dummies" (For Dummies, 2002).

In this "core" resume, Kennedy advises to include everything you've ever done, including hobbies, special interests and anything else you think might in some way be pertinent to an employer. This is your starting document from which all your targeted resumes will be born, but which, Kennedy warns, no employer should actually ever see.

Once you've created the base document, it's easy to create what Kennedy calls an "OnTarget" resume for each employer, cutting and pasting only the pertinent highlights that are relevant to a specific employment goal.

While you might include three years of college lacrosse on your resume when looking for an entry-level job, for example, it should probably come off at mid-career unless an interest in sports or competitive experience is pertinent to a job you're seeking.

In addition, committed job seekers would be wise to research a prospective employer's job requirements and then tailor a resume to a particular opening. Employers are increasingly looking for exact matches between job requirements and the skills they see on resumes. That approach, Kennedy says, is a proven way to break away from the stale, formulaic resume pack and help overwhelmed human resources personnel find your resume.

It's like shopping for a car, she says: "If I want to find someone who is selling a red convertible that gets 25 miles to the gallon, for under $20,000, I'm going to go to the ad that exactly matches what I'm looking for."

Make your resume scannable. Once you've tweaked that resume so that it truthfully sings your achievements and qualifications, make sure that it is scanner-friendly by writing in keyword search terms a prospective employer may be looking for.

This isn't as tricky as it may sound: Use the employer's own job posting as your guide. Many companies today use software to electronically scan all the resumes they receive, according to Roberta Matuson, president of Northampton, Mass.-based consulting firm Human Resource Solutions, who has performed work for search giant Monster.com.

Highly qualified job candidates are often overlooked, Matuson says, because the key words that were included in the job description weren't mentioned anywhere in the resume.

Simplicity and precision count. Finally, don't forget the simplest of advice: Keep your resume short, easy to read and free of errors.

A resume is essentially a marketing tool for landing you an interview, so your life story isn't needed -- no hiring manager wants to read six pages on any applicant. Choose a clean layout and make sure to find someone to proofread your resume before submitting it or, potentially, face a quick end to your hopes.

Even these simple steps can set you apart. "You wouldn't believe how many resumes I get that are not proofed or that are written in an unclear manner," says Amy Maher, staff recruitment director for a Washington, D.C.-based law firm. These, she reports, tend to move swiftly into the "no" pile.

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