When looking for a job, you have to remember that potential employers have no way of possibly knowing all of the amazing quirks and accomplishments that make up who you are. There is no way to convey all of that in a resume, so you must sell them on the version of yourself that are able to present.
Your resume is not simply a list of everything you have done. It should be seen as a way to show potential employers the version of you that fits perfectly within their company, and that they would be foolish to pass up on.
Here are ten ways to tailor your resume and make it the perfect job magnet:
- Analyze the job announcement. Applying for jobs is definitely not a one-size-fits-all situation. Your first step should be to look at the job announcement and consider, on a high level, how your resume fits with those duties and responsibilities. Make a list of keywords, and analyze how they can be incorporated into your resume as you follow the steps below.
- Tell a story. Ensure your resume tells the story of not just what you've done, but who you want to be. Consider how your resume can show that you were always meant for the job you're applying for, even if you didn't know it at the time. Every step along the way should contribute to that story. If there was an internship you’ve left off because it wasn’t relevant to previous job applications but is relevant to this one, include it now. If your job experience is light and you're positioning yourself for a career change, consider any sort of training or education that was directly relevant, and include it in the appropriate section of your resume.
- Translate your skills. If an item does not seem to fit within your story, it may simply need to be translated. Perhaps the duties you performed as an Intel analyst fit perfectly, only you haven't realized it yet. Go back to your past work experience and consider what you may have done that could be at least loosely related to what the job announcement is asking for. Did you do war games while in the Marines? You can tie that into tabletop exercises with the government, or even convince hiring managers at a video game company that the aspects of developing a war game (putting together a story line and considering player agency, for example) are the same skills you will need in game design. Once you know what sort of story you want your resume to tell, it's much easier to fit your skills into that box. Be sure to use the Military Skills translator.
- Trim the fat. Certain items don't have a place on your resume when applying for a certain job, but may for future jobs you apply for. It's okay to have multiple resumes, but in telling your story, as discussed above, if an item does not fit within the story, consider cutting it from this resume. The last thing you want is to appear scatter-brained or like you're approaching the job market with the shotgun approach. You want to be the right candidate for that job at the right time.
- Highlight the good stuff. Having completed the steps above, it's time to make sure the key points shine. The top of your resume should include a SHORT summary section. Tailor the summary, and use this opportunity to fit in some keywords, if appropriate. You should probably limit yourself to three or four bullet points, depending on how many jobs you have had after the military. You may have taken a lot of classes that relate to the job, but consider only including the most relevant.
- Prioritize your resume items. If you graduated from college a long time ago, it should be after your work experience, unless your education experience is the only thing that qualifies you for this job (but if that is the case, perhaps you should consider finding other ways to build your resume for a career change. If you had multiple jobs at the same time, put the most important or relevant ones at the top, so that the hiring manager who scans the resume will be sure to notice.
- Prep your salary negotiations. This is about selling who you are and why you are the right fit for this company, so try to show areas where you had more responsibility or might have had a managerial role. Anything you can do to highlight your value in the resume gives you something to point at and gives the hiring manager something to take to human resources to argue your case when it comes to salary negotiations.
- Keep it simple. Do not print your resume on pink paper or have cartoons in the margins. Nobody likes to see that, and the few that do are so rare that you are playing against the odds if this is your style. Remember that hiring managers have to go through a lot of resumes and are often skimming, so if yours is confusing in any way or establishes you as an amateur, you just gave them one more reason to toss your resume aside. Look up what schools like Harvard or Johns Hopkins are telling their students to do when it comes to resume formatting, and simply copy that.
- Make it pretty. In the case of resumes, simple is sexy. Make your resume easy on the eyes, so that a hiring manager can skim the material within 30 seconds and come away with a pretty good idea of who you are and what story you are trying to tell. This may be done with shorter sentences, bullet points, and bold headings. As with the point above, see what the top schools are doing, and then find what works best for you when it comes to resume formatting. Ask a friend, or better yet, someone you don’t know very well, to glance over your resume in 30 seconds and tell you what they come away with, so you know how the resume is being interpreted.
- Include something fun. Maybe. While including extracurricular activities is not necessary, it can be an extra talking point in the interview that makes you memorable. If you are into creative writing, an employer can be you care about grammar and word usage, and are more likely to be a better writer in the office. If you have a background in theater, an employer knows you will feel comfortable speaking in front of others. Have a black belt in karate? That shows dedication and discipline. Use common sense here, and don't include anything that could give an employer a reason to look down on you, or question whether you would be best fit.
It doesn't have to stop there. Military.com has plenty of other articles on tips for resumes and cover letters, and you should be networking to find out what jobs are best for you and to have contacts in those industries. The job search can be a challenge, but it's much less scary when you come prepared.