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By The time when you could send the same résumé to everyone is over. Now you need specific résumés for every job you apply to, says Joanne Cronrath Bamberger ©The Washington Post
  • Published 24.04.07

Sometimes — say, during the dot-com era of a decade ago — all a job seeker needed was a simple, one-size-fits-all résumé to nab a job, or at least an interview, in his or her field.

Not so today.

Your written workplace history must be honed, crafted and targeted for you to compete in a job market where, according to John Owen, a metro marketing manager for the Washington office of the recruitment firm Robert Half International, an employer posting an opening on a major job search website can receive as many as 700 résumés for one position.

The classic, all-purpose résumé — a single page of white or cream-coloured £20 bond paper, name at the top, “objective” line and a brief, reverse chronological history of every job you’ve held since high school — isn’t going to grab anyone’s attention.

That doesn’t mean you need to submit a pink, scented résumé a la Elle Woods in Legally Blonde — but you do need something special.

What, exactly? Hiring experts agree that the best way to get the attention of your dream employer is to create an achievement-based, employer-targeted résumé. Focus on a few key tactics, they say, and your phone will soon ring with invitations to interviews.

It’s about your achievements. “The one word job hunters must focus on today is achievement,” says Penelope Trunk, author of the popular job advice blog, Brazen Careerist. “Employers want to know what you achieved in your prior jobs, not just your job title and where you worked.”

About half of the candidates qualified for a given position fail to find their way to the top of the stack because they don’t follow that advice.

How can you create an achievement-based missive? Quantify the benefits you brought to your current and past employers. Your title may have been “Assistant to the Manager of Managing,” but that doesn’t tell anyone about your accomplishments or skills. In creating an achievement-based résumé, ask yourself questions like:

Did I increase sales or profits?

Did I create or implement a programme that reduced turnover?

Did I supervise staff?

Did I take the lead in a significant project that increased my employer’s profile?

Once you start thinking about your past work achievements in this way, you can illustrate to prospective employers why and how you intend to bring value to their organisation.

Sounds daunting? Not if you invest the time. Suppose, for example, you’re currently working at a video store and looking for a move up the career ladder. You’re not going to get a lot of response to a résumé that reads, “Watched movies and restocked shelves”.

But if you can truthfully say, “Reorganised aisle end cap displays and increased movie rentals and sales by 10 per cent,” that may catch an employer’s attention. Trunk’s brother Erik did just that and was able to trade a clerical job at a large video store chain for a new position in marketing for an Internet start-up.

Create a core résumé. When you’re home at your computer, forget the advice about limiting your resume to one page. Start big, then carve out the parts of your employment past that are relevant to each job you apply for, says Joyce Lain Kennedy, author of Resumes for Dummies (For Dummies, 2002).

In this “core” résumé, Kennedy’s advice is to include everything you’ve ever done, including hobbies, special interests and anything else you think might in some way be pertinent to an employer. This is your starting document from which all your targeted résumés will be born, but which, Kennedy warns, no employer should actually ever see.

Once you’ve created the base document, it’s easy to create what Kennedy calls an “On Target” résumé for each employer, cutting and pasting only the pertinent highlights that are relevant to a specific employment goal.

While you might include three years of college lacrosse on your résumé when looking for an entry-level job, for example, it should probably come off at mid-career unless an interest in sports or competitive experience is pertinent to a job you’re seeking.In addition, committed job seekers would be wise to research a prospective employer’s job requirements and then tailor a résumé to a particular opening. Employers are increasingly looking for exact matches between job requirements and the skills they see on résumés. That approach, Kennedy says, is a proven way to break away from the stale, formulaic résumé pack and help overwhelmed human resources personnel find your résumé.

It’s like shopping for a car, she says, “If I want to find someone who is selling a red convertible that gets 25 miles to the gallon, for under $20,000, I’m going to go to the ad that exactly matches what I’m looking for.”

Make your résumé scannable. Once you’ve tweaked that résumé so that it truthfully sings your achievements and qualifications, make sure that it is scanner-friendly by writing in keyword search terms a prospective employer may be looking for.

This isn’t as tricky as it may sound; use the employer’s own job posting as your guide. Many companies today use software to electronically scan all the résumés they receive, according to Roberta Matuson, president of Northampton, Massachusetts-based consulting firm Human Resource Solutions, who has performed work for search giant Highly qualified job candidates are often overlooked, Matuson says, because the key words that were included in the job description weren’t mentioned anywhere in the résumé.

Simplicity and precision count. Finally, don’t forget the simplest of advice: Keep your résumé short, easy to read and free of errors.

A résumé is essentially a marketing tool for landing you an interview, so your life story isn’t needed — no hiring manager wants to read six pages on any applicant. Choose a clean layout and make sure to find someone to proofread your résumé before submitting it or, potentially, face a quick end to your hopes.