Strategic Resume Writing: Solutions For the Less-Than-Perfect Career History
by Michelle Dumas
Do you have a completely unblemished work history? Was writing your resume a breeze because you are perfectly qualified with a model career and educational background?
Or, do you find yourself struggling to prepare your resume...struggling because of some glitch or problem in your background that you don't know quite how to overcome in your resume?
- Maybe you are too old...or too young...
- Maybe you have an obvious gap in your work history...
- Maybe you have changed employers too many times...
- Maybe you are a new graduate with little-to-no relevant experience...
- Maybe you are an executive who needs to explain what appears to be a demotion...
- Maybe you are returning to the workforce after taking some time off...
- Maybe you are trying to change careers and your past experience doesn't relate...
Don't feel alone! It is the extraordinarily rare job searcher who doesn't struggle with how to deal with some problem on their resume.
As a professional resume writer I have worked with thousands and thousands of clients, and while every single one of those clients is unique, they all have one thing in common: they have a problem that they need me to solve for them.
How do I do it? The truth is that the solution is often as unique as the individual client. But, to develop those solutions, there are six steps that I carefully think through prior to tackling any new project for a client. As you work on developing or refining your own resume -- as you try to come up with ways to transform YOUR troubled work history into a job-winning resume -- it may be helpful for you to work through the same six steps.
Step #1 - Know your goal
What is your current career goal? What profession? What industry? What professional level? Knowing your objective and your goals for a job search is the foundation of not just your resume, but of your entire job search.
Unless you know where you are going, you will have no idea what the focus of your resume must be and you won't even have a clue how to begin writing it. Don't expect a busy employer to figure it out for you. Your resume must have a precise focus and it must convey that focus in five seconds or less. If it doesn't, it will be discarded. It is that simple.
Step #2 - Know your audience
Now that you know your goal, you are in a position to begin thinking about the recipients of your resume. What are the expectations and requirements of a candidate for the job you are targeting? What are the problems that a person in your ideal position is likely to be faced with?
Remember (speaking of problems) that the person doing the hiring has problems that they are hoping their new-hire will solve. What are those problems? Do they need to increase sales? Reduce costs? Increase productivity? Improve efficiency? If you clearly identify the problems of your target audience, you can construct an entire resume focused on how you are the ideal candidate to solve them. Do that effectively and whatever issue you are dealing with in your troubled work history will suddenly become a non-issue.
An employee is an investment, and if you can create a resume that proves you will produce a better RETURN on that investment than the next guy (even the one with the squeaky clean work history), doors will swing open to you.
Step #3 - Know your competition
Who is your competition in the job market? What qualifications might they have that you don't have? What qualifications might you have that they don't have? For most situations, I'm not referring to specific individuals. Obviously you wouldn't want to violate the privacy of any specific person competing for the same type of job. But, there is definite value in trying to define your competition in generalities. What types of qualifications does the typical candidate have for the job you are targeting?
Knowing your competition is a key part of Step #4...
Step #4 - Clearly identify the problem(s)
Okay. Now that you know where you are going, know what your audience is seeking, and know what your competition brings to the table, you are ready to fully define the problem or problems that your resume must overcome.
Some of those problems might be obvious. Work-history gaps, concerns about age discrimination, and multiple job changes are among the most common. But, having worked your way through the prior three steps, you may have identified others. Are there key qualifications you are lacking? Educational requirements that you don't quite meet? Ways that your experience doesn't quite stand up to your competition? Whatever those problems might be, make sure you define them. In the next step, we will begin to solve them.
Step #5 - Be willing to throw the rules out the window and think outside the box
Now, take everything you have ever read or learned about resume writing and forget it. Well, maybe not everything, but at this point you definitely do need to begin thinking creatively and strategically.
Remember that a resume is essentially an advertisement - a marketing piece - a personal sales pitch. Resumes are NOT autobiographies! They are personal marketing documents meant to sell you as the ideal candidate for a particular position. Everything about the content, the structure, and the design of your resume should be strategically and selectively included, excluded, highlighted, or de-emphasized.
Always be absolutely and meticulously honest, but be willing to think outside the box and present your background in a format and structure that will be most flattering to you in relation to the career goal you are targeting.
Do you want to be one of a kind? Or do you want to be one of many? Your resume is meant to make you stand out and shine. You will NOT achieve this by following some rigid template and structure that doesn't have the flexibility to showcase your unique qualifications.
Step #6 - Reframe, reposition, reformat, and redesign
It is really all about how you frame and position your experience, your achievements, your educational background, and any other qualifications. Once you get to this step, you are ready to put pen to paper (or fingers to the keyboard) and begin writing your resume. Take what you know about the expectations and the desires of your target audience, combine this with your understanding of the competition and the problems you defined in Step #4, and start writing your resume.
Perhaps you are making a career change into a completely new profession. Much of your past experience is transferable, but this might not be immediately obvious to the resume recipient. How can you "reframe" your past experience to selectively emphasize the transferable skills and de-emphasize those that will no longer be relevant?
Is there a qualification you are lacking for the position you are targeting? Perhaps some other experience you have had has helped you to develop this qualification in a non-traditional way. How can you "reposition" that experience to illustrate the qualification in question?
Maybe you are returning to a career path that you veered away from ten years ago. Your recent experience is not as relevant as your past experience. What opportunities do you have to "reformat" your resume to bring the older skills to the forefront?
Or maybe you have a couple of big gaps in your work history. Can you think of a way to "redesign" your resume to take the visual emphasis off of the chronology/dates of your experience and place it instead on your achievements and results?
So, what problems does your resume need to solve? What issues must you face to transform your troubled work history into a job-winning resume? As you get started, remember, it is words on a piece of paper. It is easy to edit and move things around. Don't be afraid to experiment (just do it BEFORE you use it in the job market!).
If you aren't sure what the best solution is, create several versions and ask your friends and family for feedback before choosing the one you use in your search. And, if you get stuck, that is what professional resume writers are here for! We can often provide solutions that you would never have thought of on your own.