Forget Everything You’ve Learned about Writing a Resume
Why? Because what you learned rarely works. Including what you hear from the outplacement firms who are actually paid to do this. But don’t fret – I’ll present you with a framework that can dramatically increase your chances of getting the job you want.
First, you need to understand the two-part secret of resume.
Secret part one: The purpose of your resume is not to get the job. Rather, the resume has one, and only one purpose which is to leave the reader thinking, “Wow, we need to get this person in here for an interview.”
Secret part two: The reader of your resume likely doesn’t care about you. What they are about is their company and the challenges they have.
Doesn’t sound like much of a secret, does it? The problem is, you’d think it was the most clandestine cover-up by the way people write their resumes.
If the purpose of your resume is to leave the reader wanting to meet with you, and if the reader doesn’t really care about you – then everything you write on your resume needs to leave the reader seeing the obvious connection between what you’ve done and how you can help their company.
For every single bullet or sentence you write, ask yourself this one question: Does it contribute toward the reader thinking, “We gotta meet with this person?” If the answer is no, then either delete it or rewrite it.
Unfortunately, most people list every job they’ve ever had, and each role within those jobs. Further, they identify every skill they’ve even slightly mastered. And some people actually write about the kind of job or role that they are seeking – as if the reader might really be thinking, “Hmm, I wonder what kind of job this candidate would like to have?”
This often makes zero connection with the reader, and that’s why most resumes get thrown in the trash.
The Sad State of Affairs
Here’s an actual bullet from a resume I received, listed under one of this person’s jobs as a procurement manager.
- Prepared costing and pricing analysis.
It’s a true statement of one of the many responsibilities for this person. The problem is, it tells the reader very little, and worse, it hardly excites the reader to want to get the candidate in for an interview.
And yet that’s what most resumes look like. A series of boring sentence fragments that contain close to zero impact value. That’s why most resumes barely get a second look. But yours doesn’t need to be like that.
After I dug in to what this woman had actually achieved in her role, below is my “edited” version of the bullet point.
- After thorough market trending analysis and competitive intelligence gathering, I developed a pricing and positioning model to ensure consistent sales at sufficient profit margins. This new model resulted in a 20% increase in profit margins within two weeks, and with zero drop in revenue.
What do we learn about this “second” candidate? Well, for one thing we see someone who understands market trends and is conscientious about business results. But most importantly, we see how her initiative directly (and quickly) translated into an improved bottom line.
After reading that second bullet, you could imagine a business executive (e.g. hiring manager) thinking, “Very good – this woman could likely help us.”
Just because you use bullets doesn’t mean you need to write in boring, no-person, incomplete sentence fragments. Nor do you need to avoid writing in the first person. Re-read those two bullets above. Now, put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager or HR screener role and tell me – which of those two would resonate more with you?
Resume Like Dating Profile
Your resume is not a transcript. There is no need to list everything you’ve ever done.
Instead, think of your resume more like a dating profile.
If you wrote a dating profile that was uninteresting and demonstrated no personality (and listed every partner you ever dated since high school), how likely is it that you’ll get a response? Answer: very unlikely.
Resume screeners and hiring managers will likely receive hundreds of resumes for a given role, from which they will immediately whittle that down to about a dozen or so for further consideration. If your resume doesn’t move the reader in a way where they can see the likely connection on how you can help their company – then your chances are very slim.
So, select a few very powerful points you can make for your major jobs and write them in a way that leaves the reader thinking, “Wow, this person looks good. We need to meet with them.”
Very few resume screeners and hiring managers are doing a cross-check between a set of skills they are looking for and what you list on your resume. Sure, if you are applying for a technical role that requires certain mastery, then you obviously need to articulate your strong competence. But, you are competing against the hundreds (or maybe thousands) of others who know the same programming languages or development tools or process methodologies or whatever else might be important for a given role.
So, simply listing your skills or bullets on what you’ve done is hardly likely to leave a reader excited.
For instance, here’s how most people write about their education: degree, major, school, and GPA.
Of course, people only include their GPA if it’s really good – otherwise they omit it. So, everyone knows that if you don’t show a GPA, you had mediocre grades. But even if you had a 4.0, what does that tell us? Perhaps that you are good at memorizing or taking tests. Maybe you are a hard worker. But we don’t really know.
- B.S. in Computer Science, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA
- In-major GPA: 4.0
That was on another resume I received. It’s not bad – it’s pretty much what everyone’s resume looks like. But I knew this person. And here is the updated version that I helped edit.
- B.S. in Computer Science, Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA
- In-major GPA: 4.0
- I chose to study computer science after getting my first glimpse of source code at age 12 – a two-hundred page printout for a game I enjoyed playing. When my father bought me a QBasic primer to help me decipher the source code, he set the wheels in motion that unlocked my passion for software development. At fourteen, I published my first widely-accepted software package that had hundreds of customers and served tens of thousands of people. At sixteen, I was serving customers that were spending hundreds of thousands for my custom web and e-commerce solutions. And by eighteen, I knew I wanted to get a formal education in the field I had already grown to love.
You tell me, which of those two people would you rather interview?
How Bad Is It?
I recently hosted a workshop on How to Write a Killer Resume. Very smart, accomplished people attended the class. Prior to the class, I asked everyone to privately submit, on a scale of 1 to 10, where they would rate their resume. The average across the large sample was about 7.
Since I had a chance to see many of their resumes prior to workshop, I felt the ratings were closer to about 4. Which they agreed with once we got through the theory part of the workshop and before we began the hands-on tuning. And that rating of 4 is about the average given the thousands of resumes I’ve reviewed over the past two decades.
Most people think their resume is much better than it is. And that’s actually good news for you. Because if you follow the framework I suggest here, your resume will look spectacular by comparison.
In every section of your resume, powerfully convey your accomplishments and background in a way that keeps the reader nodding their head up-and-down thinking, “Damn, this person is good!” If you have a line, sentence, or bullet that does not contribute toward that conclusion, then either delete it or re-write it until it does.
Once you pass that filter, you’ve got yourself a spectacular resume.
Career Domination is taking the steps required to align your skills, passions, and market opportunities in a way that leaves you waking up every morning excited to be doing exactly what you are embarking upon. Life is too short to be in a job you don’t like – or to be unhappily unemployed.
The first step is having a killer resume that potently articulates your game-changing capabilities. The old rules no longer apply. Don’t be held back by them.
Ask Me Anything: Free Career Domination Counseling Sessions
I’ve been running career-related workshops over the past few months. The sessions have focused on helping people best articulate their skills and accomplishments – whether that be for creating a killer resume, getting discovered, acing an interview, or negotiating a contract. The workshops entail live resume editing, mock interviews, and other hands-on activities to turn the theory into a practical reality usable by each participant.
I have witnessed so many “aha” moments as participants get a concept. And I’ve seen the positive changes it is having – including watching many of them land their dream jobs! It’s been an incredibly rewarding experience.
After another workshop last week, a thought crept into my mind. How can I help more people land a job they love? That thought led to this post.
I am opening up virtual office hours with a central place to field questions to help you land your dream job and wake up every day loving what you’re doing.
All for free.
Why am I doing this?
Transforming lives is my passion. That’s what I love waking up every day doing.
I’m trying out this concept of virtual office hours to see how it goes – so it may be for a limited time. There are three ways you can connect with me:
1. Ohours – These are one-on-one sessions where we will chat over Skype. Register for my Ohours here.
2. Yabbly – With Yabbly you can ask me any question you like – at any time – and I will answer as quickly as possible. Your questions (and my answers) are public. Access my Yabbly page here.
3. Google Hangout – I will be hosting a weekly Google Live Hangout on Friday afternoons at 1 pm eastern. These video hangouts are limited to 10 people, so I will take registrations each week on a first-come, first-served basis. Each hangout will be recorded and posted on my site, indexed so others can search on relevant topics. Signup for my next Google Hangout here.
What is stopping you from waking up every day excited to get into work – and how can I help?
Killer Resume Workshop PDF
This Skill Will Change Your Life
Public Speaking. Yes, I know it is scary. Yes, I know many people are more fearful of public speaking than of dying. But learning how to be an excellent public speaker – and actually enjoying it – are not as hard as you might think.
I should know. My first attempt at public speaking was awful. I didn’t sleep at all the night before the presentation. And during the talk, my hands shook like crazy each time I advanced the slides. Today, I love presenting in front of groups. What changed?
I did. I learned how to transform that nervous, debilitating energy into a relaxed confidence that allowed me to powerfully articulate messages that move people. And you can too.
The big breakthrough for me came with a workshop I attended called SpeakEasy. The first part of the seminar focused on how to craft a message that achieves its desired outcome – typically moving a person or group to take a certain action. But the second part of the seminar was the most intimidating.
Each of the attendees spoke for 5 minutes on a random topic. And if that wasn’t painful enough, each talk was recorded and then played back in front of the audience where the instructor picked apart everything we did wrong: how we were standing, where our hands were, where our eyes were looking, how our feet were planted, how we handled pauses, and so on. You can imagine how challenging that must have been.
But there is an amazing benefit to watching yourself on tape with a quality instructor who can point out tips for how to improve. By the third or fourth take, each of our presentations was far better than the first. By the end of the workshop, the most nervous and intimidated among our group was eager to get up in front of the room.
The techniques we learned on how to channel our nerves into delivering a compelling message and how to position our body for maximum impact were invaluable. The founder of SpeakEasy, Sandy Linver, wrote a terrific book called Speak and Get Results that encapsulates much of the workshop. The book is a bit dated and there may be more modern reads, but the original probably still holds up well. Another organization worth considering is Toastmasters. I’ve never used their services, but I know a few people who are big fans.
I also just came across this free class being offered by Coursera [HT to @myasmine] called Introduction to Public Speaking. It looks like the 10-week class covers everything related to preparing your actual message as well as the delivery. It is all online and includes instructor/peer feedback as you progress. I don’t know the fellow teaching the class, nor do I have any affiliation with Coursera or the University of Washington – but I wanted to make you aware. The next session begins on March 31, 2014.
I’ll be writing more on this topic of learning how to ace public speaking gigs, but for those of you looking to immerse yourself in a class that might help – check it out. Let me know how it works out.
As a designer looking for a new gig, you are often asked for samples of your work. Everyone’s got their portfolio. But some folks have found a way to very cleverly stand out from the crowd. See the examples below, and let me know what ideas it sparks for you.
What you see below is not a Google search page. It is a LinkedIn profile.
Eric Gandhi created the profile above to highlight his resume mocked-up to look like a Google search results page. His goal was to get interviewed by Google.
Guest what? Google learned about this, saw his profile, and indeed gave him an interview.
3 Breaths to Instant Relaxation
One of the keys to giving a great presentation or acing an interview is controlling your nerves. A healthy amount of adrenalin can keep us sharp and on our toes, but once that bleeds into outright anxiety or excessive nervousness, then performance suffers.
The first time I gave a public talk I was so nervous that my hands were literally trembling as I tried to switch from one slide to another. Nor did I sleep much the night before, being so worried about tomorrow’s talk. That experience, coupled with My Mortifying First Interview Experience, hardened my resolve to get over my fears of interviewing and public speaking.
I learned how to transform that intense apprehension into an incredible state of calmness – and you can too.
It all starts with our breathing.
A terrific mentor taught me this technique she called the “Three Breaths to Serenity”. I’m not sure where she learned it, but I am very thankful for her guidance.
Three breaths. Three deep breaths, in-and-out through the nose, allowing your belly to fill with air on each intake. If possible, five seconds on the inhale, and five seconds on the exhale.
The first breath is known as the consciousness breath. As you are breathing in, be aware of the cool air as it passes through your nostrils. Feel the air tickling your nasal hair on its way in. Likewise, on the exhale, sense the warm air flowing back through the same passage. Concentrate on that air in both directions.
The second breath is called the confidence breath. During both the inhale and exhale, think about all your skills and talents. There’s a reason you’ve been invited to give this talk or take this test or interview for this company. You have game-changing skills that can make a difference. Feel proud of what you’ve accomplished thus far in your life. You’ve worked hard to earn this spot, and you have what it takes to be successful.
To help you get in touch with that state of contentment, smile during the exhale of this second breath. And not a half-hearted, fake smile that you might give for a photograph – but a genuine, ear-to-ear grin. Believe it or not, even forcing yourself into a big smile instantly lifts your mood and reduces stress. Don’t believe me? Give it a try.
The final breath is the gratitude breath. Try to keep smiling throughout this third breath. And consider all the people and situations that have enabled you to be in this current situation. Friends, family, colleagues, and random encounters are all fair game as you reflect on how grateful you are to be right here, right now.
That is the Three Breaths to Serenity. I recommend you repeat this three times right before your big moment. And if you are sitting in a chair, then on each exhale, feel yourself sinking deeper and deeper into the seat of the chair. Then when you are done, pop right up on the edge of your chair and ace the gig.
I am a cynic by nature. I never believed this would work, but was willing to give it a try. I was very pleased to be proven wrong. And after watching the Wolf of Wall Street and Matthew McConaughey’s chanting/humming meditation scene, I can assure you the Three Breaths to Serenity technique is far less conspicuous.
Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.
My Mortifying First Interview Experience
My first interview was absolutely horrific. It was for a very prestigious university and I was applying as a physics major. I got lost on the way to the interview (this was before the days of cell phones, and I didn’t have time to stop and find a pay phone). I rushed in 20 minutes late, sweating and nervous. I had no time to relax or prepare myself. As soon as I stepped in the doorway, the interview started.
I was meeting with the associate dean of physics, who was a woman. I have no recollection of the first question she asked me – but it probably was something along the lines of why I wanted to attend this university. I was about 15 seconds in to my response when she put her hand up to stop me and said, verbatim, “Anthony, I don’t mean to embarrass you, but are you aware that you have a Cling Free sticking out the bottom of your pant leg.”
I was mortified.
The funny thing is that when I think of the story now, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. So what, a dryer sheet peeking out from my pants.
But as a 17-year old thinking my whole life depended on getting into this university – it felt like the end of the world. I don’t remember anything else about the day – who else I met with, what I said, etc. Apparently I repressed those memories to spare myself further shame.
While I didn’t fully appreciate the significance of the moment at the time, I had enough of a sense to realize that this concept of interviewing was an important one, and I probably ought to learn how to do better in the future.
Thus began my quest to learn how to excel at interviewing and public speaking, both of which took off once I graduated from college. After landing my first real gig designing mainframes for a large computer company, I learned from brilliant minds and gifted managers on how to both very well.
I shared this humiliating experience during a recent workshop I led on How to Ace an Interview, as well the steps to transform extreme anxiety into a blissful serenity. And I’ll be writing much more on these topics of overcoming nervousness, powerfully articulating your skills and accomplishments, acing interviews, and landing the jobs of your dreams.
But what an inauspicious start it was.
Needless to say, unlike Tom Cruise blowing the interview in Risky Business, I did not get the coveted invite to join that prestigious university.
What was your worst interview experience?
Get my Top 10 tips to ace any interview.
How To Save $200K on a Wharton MBA
I can’t even count the number of times people have asked me this question: Do I need a Wharton [or some other ivy league] MBA to get the kind of jobs you’ve had?
People are usually surprised when I tell them that not only do you not need an MBA, but you don’t even need an undergraduate degree to succeed in business.
Of course, everyone knows the famous stories of Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Mary Kay Ash, and the other billionaire dropouts. People don’t write too much about the hundreds of thousands of anonymous dropouts that failed in business. But I’m not talking about the billionaire entrepreneur success/failure anecdotes. I’m talking about basic career success where you are in a job you love, making money that is more than sufficient for your lifestyle. Easily achievable … with or without a degree.
The other night I taught a workshop on How to Ace an Interview. The space was provided by this very cool geospatial software company called Azavea. One of the managers from Azavea gave a brief intro before my presentation, and she indicated that Azavea was hiring. I took a look at the job description, and at the bottom was this awesome paragraph:
You’ll notice that we don’t say “X-Y years of experience” or “M.S. in Computer Science.” Formal credentials like these are not irrelevant, but we are primarily looking for people who have had experience successfully building sophisticated web applications. You might have had these kinds of experiences without a college degree. Or you may be just out of school but worked your way through school and had some great co-op experiences. Or you might have a math or humanities background but a have a great head for software development. These are all potentially great backgrounds, and we’d be interested in hearing from you.
It’s no surprise this company is one of the hottest places to work in Philadelphia. Notice how they say what really matters is a great head for software development and experience building sophisticated web apps. And the ultimate in blasphemy – you might even have a humanities background.
When I ran engineering for Unisys, I found that the most successful employees (coolest roles, highest salaries, and most respected) were not the people with the highest grades or most prestigious alma maters. Rather, they were the ones who had the cleverest ideas, knew how to work extremely well in teams and on their own, and could make the connection between their efforts and the impact on the business. They were people with very high EQs – emotional intelligence levels – not necessarily IQs.
And so it is in nearly all professional endeavors, whether engineering or ecology or economics. The “soft skills” will differentiate you much, much more than the hard ones. But, it takes work to develop those soft skills. It starts with a willingness to look honestly at your own defenses and insecurities, and then systematically work through them. In my experiences (with plenty of insecurities to cull from), the work itself wasn’t nearly as hard as the honest look in the mirror. Why did I need to get the last word in at that meeting? Why am I so reluctant to listen to what that other person has to say? Once you start looking, with an open mind and a desire to improve, the dominoes tumble rapidly.
I asked the Azavea manager what mattered most to her when she interviewed candidates. Of course they need to have the technical skills, but what was of most significance beyond that baseline – personality!
No degree in the world gives you those skills, not even a Ph.D. in psychology. Conversely, anyone with a shred of intelligence and a willingness to honestly examine their shortcomings – MBA from Wharton or GED from W.H. Adamson High – can succeed and thrive.
Got such success stories from people in your network? Let’s hear about them.
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