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How to Deal

Don't Let a Recruiter Paint an Artificial Picture in Your Resume

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By Lily Garcia
Special to the Washington Post
Wednesday, July 8, 2009; 5:06 PM

Resumes -- what are the criteria you use to figure out who provides good advice/services and who is just blowing smoke? I keep hearing variations on, "you won't recognize yourself when I'm done with you." That is NOT helpful. More polish is what I want. Faking is not.

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My HR contacts say my resume is fine, head-hunters keep saying I have to pay them to "make it acceptable" - and I'm still not finding work.


I understand your frustration. I, myself, was once contacted out of the blue by a recruiter who promised that I would not recognize myself when he was done with my resume. When I probed regarding his technique, what I gathered was that he would assess my marketable skills and experience and package me (the "product") in such a way that I would have the greatest chance of attracting employers (the "buyers").

That made sense to me, but I remained uncomfortable with the idea that I would be presenting a false or contrived image of myself. I would like to think that prospective employers value authenticity and personality more than presentation and polish.

However, the truth is that we are all susceptible to the allure of an attractively packaged product that promises to make our troubles go away. Successful marketing and sales professionals have staked their careers on this principle, and many have profited famously as a result.

I don't see anything wrong with incorporating this concept into your job search. In fact, I think that you would be foolish not to. However, too much of a good thing can end up defeating your objectives. If you place yourself in the hands of a recruiter who polishes you to a high gloss and brands you like a can of soda pop, you risk burying the earnest, hardworking professional that all employers long for.

I am not saying that all recruiters seek to transform their clients into artificial portraits or that you could not benefit from the help of qualified recruitment professional. However, I think that, with some diligence, you can develop a smashing resume all on your own.

Some of the most helpful resume advice I have recently heard came from a vice president at Lee Hecht Harrison, a company that, among other things, helps people to find suitable jobs. She confidently asserted that you are the most qualified person to author your own resume because only you really understand your skills and accomplishments. However, you should take a long critical look at your resume to make sure that it is a good piece of persuasive writing. That is, you need to make sure that your resume conveys compelling details about what results you are able to deliver to employers. This means quantifying your accomplishments with specific numerical data and tailoring your resume to each and every job by incorporating terminology from the employer's job description.

It's all about making a clear connection between who you are, what you can do, and how you can help this employer. Sound familiar? It does come down to skillfully highlighting your strongest attributes and explaining how experience has prepared you to solve the employer's most painful problems. Yet, you should remain anchored in who you are as a unique individual, beyond the impressive metrics and laurels.

I have gone through this self-editing process myself and I can confirm that it feels somewhat awkward and formulaic at first. The end product, however, is a rich and compelling portrait that is sure to get you noticed.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for more than 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail HRadvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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