5 Secrets for a Standout Resume
Many job seekers focus all of their effort on their resume. Yet many jobs are not posted, job boards are ineffective, and hires are often made through networking. So, do resumes still matter? Yes and no. If your resume looks and sounds like everyone else's in your field; if your resume is your main tool in your job seeking strategy; or if you neglect to add networking and reputation management to your job search mix, then the likelihood of landing a dream job off a piece of paper might be unrealistic.
Instead, to give your job search the best likelihood of success, be sure your resume is a personal promotion and marketing piece for brand YOU – that it represents your values, goals, experience, and value-add to the company you are trying to attract attention from. Here are my best practices and secrets to creating a compelling and relevant branded resume:
1. Start with the WHY
When I review resumes, the most common mistake I see is candidates who list the what, how, and where of their experience but forget to relay the "why." By default, a resume is a listing of what you did in the past – from your professional roles and your military successes and achievements. But more importantly, a resume can indicate what you are passionate about, why you served, what leadership means to you, and how you see your ability to produce results and add value in your next job.
Add language that shows what you are capable of, what you aspire to, where you want to grow your career, and what you care about, and then connect that with your past. Relate your future goals and dreams to the reasons you raised your hand to serve your country, how you handled stress and conflict, why serving a cause is meaningful to you as a professional, and so on.
2. Make sure the resume sounds like you
In counseling hundreds of transitioning military veterans, I've seen many resumes that do not sound or look like the person I'm sitting across from. In some cases, professional resume writers "demilitarized" a resume to the point where the candidate cannot speak to the experience listed.
Instead, be sure you will feel proud, confident, and focused when you hand over a resume. Can you speak to every job, result, and accomplishment listed? Does your resume reflect your humor, energy, passion, and confidence? If your resume looks sophisticated and professional, yet you are relaxed and casual, it will be a challenge to help a hiring manager see that you are the same person listed on the pages.
3. Leave something for the interview
Have you ever seen a 4-page, single-spaced resume? Did you read the whole thing? Me neither. Your resume does not need to include every thing you ever did, from grade school forward or every accomplishment, award, and success you've achieved. Your resume should highlight the relevant skills, talents, experiences, and value the hiring manager is recruiting for.
Leaving some items off your resume may feel risky. You certainly need to include the certifications and keywords the resume reviewer will need to put you through to an interview, but you do not need to include everything. You have room in your cover letter to highlight some of your background and can link to your online profiles (LinkedIn) to supplement your talents and background with even more.
Then, in the interview, be sure to add even more selling points to your resume by calling out examples and testimonials that validate your fit for the job.
4. Customize to the job requirements
As a job seeker, your resume should be modular – able to be adjusted and tweaked to fit the job requirements. A one-size-fits-all resume is like job seeking with a blindfold on. Hiring managers and recruiters are often overwhelmed with resumes for open positions. The easier you can make their job, the more likely your resume will get reviewed.
For example, look through each job requirement or job description and identify:
- What are the skills needed? Do I have those skills?
- What type of background are they looking for? Does my military experience relate to that type of background? Can I make it relate?
- Are there keywords listed in the job requirement? I need to pull those same keywords out in my resume and use them often.
- What is the company culture? Will I fit in there? What makes me a fit? How can I work that into the tone and feel of my resume?
- Do I know someone who works there? Mention them in my cover letter.
5. Leave off the personal info (married, birthdate)
Many former military personnel make this mistake: They include their birthdate (including year), marital status, and medical situation on their resume and online profiles. This information is not required and should never be a way to market yourself for a job or career.
It is fine, however, to include a "personal interests" section on a resume or online profile. In this case, you will still veer away from information that can be used to dismiss you and instead focus on hobbies, interests, and talents that relate to the job you seek. For instance, you might say, "passionate about environmental causes and sustainability," if you are looking for a career in natural resources exploration.
A resume is a part of your toolkit, not the entire solution. Consider building your personal brand and reputation and having your resume become an extension of all that you are, what you stand for, how you have demonstrated expertise, commitment, and sacrifice, and what you look forward to accomplishing in your next career.