Just how important is your resume?
The answer, depending on whether you ask an employer, a career search professional, or someone recently hired, can range from almost irrelevant, to a matter of career life or death. In any case, you want it to optimize it so that it helps with the networking that obtains most jobs.
Your resume is similar to a college application essay – it could help attain your career ambitions. You need to be very careful in composing it, but also realistic as to a resume’s limitations. This article has some tips on making your resume work for you most effectively.
What your resume can do for you
This writer believes that a resume’s reasonable accomplishments include the following crucial tasks:
- introduce you in your absence, either by mail, internet or in the friendly hands of a contact,
- remind your interviewer of your uniqueness after some time has elapsed since a meeting or phone call
- serve as a prompt during an interview,
- Document qualifications that you might not bring up in conversation.
What your resume will not do for you
However, your resume may not be the determining factor in your hiring (or lack thereof). After, all, people usually hire people whom they like, and who make them feel comfortable. It is almost impossible to discern that sort of personal compatibility via a paper or online resume. Human beings were evolved to interact face to face. No technology yet replaces the act of breathing the same air and examining each other in the flesh to find out if we get along with someone.
Furthermore, while this may seem unfair, it really isn’t. Working closely with people whose deep values and personality or habits are violently at odds with yours is like a really, really bad date 50 weeks a year. So let us just accept that employers need to find out more about you than a resume will reveal, through some sort of interview or other modes of personal information gathering.
But how do you get that interview?
Arriving at that point could require a resume, even if sent over the transom by a friend! Everyone should have one. This is a relatively new phenomenon. When this writer first hunted for employment, back when mastodons roamed, resumes were reserved for professional positions. These days, many college application packages ask for one. Any substantial job opening, even in the trades, may require that you submit one. Even volunteer positions sometimes demand one.
For example, this writer is currently helping a Canadian-Asian lady to develop a resume for a hospital volunteer opening. Her day-care background is not obviously relevant. However, from the perspective of the volunteer coordinator (her prospective ‘boss’), a resume will succinctly demonstrate her people skills and a job history that excludes ax murder. For some ideas on what else to document on your resume, check out CNN’s site.
Networking is still your main job-hunting tool
The main entree to successful employment is still usually some sort of contact, a personal connection between you and the individual doing the hiring, as documented in their 2011 study by Right Management. You should therefore be exploiting every source of contacts that you possess.
Your college placement office will have lists of alumni, organized by industry. A subset of these long-suffering and loyal alumni may have agreed to accept contacts from fellow graduates and even conduct mock interviews with you. They may be willing to pass your resume on to other employers. Use these with discretion and be considerate of their time. Consult your placement office for guidance on networking politely and effectively or take some tips from Forbes staffers.
Any organization memberships from high school, college, or beyond, that are reputable, are another source of potentially useful connections. Here are some possibilities:
- Rotary Club International,
- Future Teachers of America,
- local historical society
…the potential list is endless.
These affiliations should be briefly listed on your resume. They can provide an ‘in’ with your reader, even if you did not do your homework ahead of time, and determine that your interviewer is a past champion oarsman or philatelist, or whatever, just like you.
Avoid overly controversial organizations, unless you are certain that your prospective boss shares your views. The local ASPCA is neutral, the Aryan Nation is not, just to choose some extreme examples. LinkedIn offers some very useful thoughts on mentioning religious affiliation.
Ramp up the interest
Reading resumes can be unutterably boring. This writer once shared a train with a junior executive doing the first cut on a stack of C.V.s four inches thick. Between Washington and New York, she needed a stiff drink, and a chatty seatmate to distract her from the task of discarding potential policy wonks.
So find ways to make your experience sound intriguing without fibbing:
Find some unique job feature, even if it involved asking, “Fries with that?” Note whether it was the sole fast foodery in town, or part of a cluster; independent, or franchise.
As another example, this writer once included “market research on competitor activities” on a resume after her boss asked her to discreetly go check out the prices and service around the corner. Sounds more interesting than merely reporting, for example, “completed copying and printing jobs”, doesn’t it?
If you walked dogs, did you specialize in large, small, or obese pooches?
Rivet your reader’s attention but be realistic
Use your resume to enhance your networking efforts and represent you. If you and the employer are a good match, a well-composed resume will help them figure that out. If you are not a good match, a resume is not going to help at all, no matter how slick. Optimize it, but remember its limitations!