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Rethinking What a Resume Is
Yeah, I think I know what you want. You want me to get right to it. Tell you how to write a winning resume, give you an outline or template, tell you how to fill it in, tell you where to post it. And that’s that.
Well, much as I would love to do that, I just can’t.
Resumes need a lot more thought these days. Since the Great Recession of 2008, resumes aren’t working too well.
I’m guessing you knew that.
Everyone assumes this is because there are no jobs these days.
Well, there are jobs. I’m looking at the government’s little-known report, sitting here on my desk right now. It’s called JOLTS for short, but its full name is Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. You can look it up on the Internet. It’s issued monthly. This one is for January 2014. It reports that during that month, 4,500,000 people in the United States found jobs, and there were still 4,000,000 vacancies unfilled at the end of that month. That’s a total of 8,500,000 vacancies filled or waiting to be filled. That month! That’s pretty typical in the United States. Every month.
Now admittedly, that’s not enough jobs or enough vacancies to fix our distressing unemployment problem. Still, somebody’s getting those eight million jobs. Each month.
Why shouldn’t you be among them?
Well, one reason—a big reason—may be your resume.
It almost certainly needs fixin’.
Yesterday’s resumes just aren’t up to the task today.
Yesterday’s resumes are like a dull knife trying to cut food. Need sharpening. Badly.
These days, you can’t just fill out a resume, post it, and expect it to go anywhere.
Resumes now take more time than they used to.
They take more thought than they used to.
In this economic climate, you have to work harder to make yours effective, in finding those jobs that are out there.
But you can do it. Yes, you can.
That’s what this little book is about.
Let’s start simple, with some thinking. Or, rethinking.
Let’s Start Simple
Okay, here’s the story:
You want to find work. To find it, you’ve got to secure an interview with some employer or employers who actually have the power to hire you. And employers are busy people.
They’re not necessarily anxious to spend all day doing interviews. So, since you know that, you send someone on ahead of you, to plead your case for you.
And that someone is not actually a person but a piece of paper.
Yes, you send a piece of paper on ahead of you, to make the case as to why you should be invited in for an interview. And that piece of paper has a name. It is called a resume. Or resumé. Or résumé. Or its near cousin, CV (curriculum vitae, meaning “the course of my life”).
Now, the most interesting thing about this piece of paper (digital or real) is that while it looks like just a bunch of words, it really is a painting. And that’s because employers have the same thing you do: imagination.
Yes, your resume looks like just words. A lot of words. But when they’re reading your resume, the words are lifting off the page and painting a picture of you in the imagination of the employer who reads it.
Employers wouldn’t call it a painting; they would call it an “impression” of you. Same thing. They are looking at this piece of paper, covered with words, but they are thinking in terms of pictures. They are visualizing you.
Now, here’s the question. Do the words they read make them visualize you as a competent worker, or not? Do the words they read make them visualize you as energetic, or not? As joyful, or not? As a team player, or not? As honest, or not?
And let’s throw in: Do they visualize you as tall, short, or average height? Young, middle-aged, or old? Yes, those things aren’t covered in your resume, but employers can’t turn their imaginations off, just because they’ve finished looking at this piece of paper you sent on ahead of you. Rightly or wrongly, they see, they imagine, beyond your words. That’s just human nature.
But to my main point: It’s not just words that determine whether or not they decide to call you in for an interview. It’s the picture of you that these words paint in an employer’s imagination that determines whether they invite you in, or not.
So, when you set out to compose your resume, you would do well to think of yourself overall as a painter, not a writer. Your paintbrushes are your words. What is the picture of you that they paint? That is the question you should ask yourself, when you—or someone you hire—are debating what words to set down in your resume.
Let’s say you see a job posting. Some employer is looking for someone to fill a vacancy or a job newly created. You send in your resume. And you want to know how long an employer will likely spend looking at this resume/painting of you that you are sending on ahead, to plead your case for you. The answer will vary, of course.
There’s a difference, for example, between how long the owner of a restaurant will spend looking at the resume you drop off, when you are applying to become the manager there, versus how long a multibillion-dollar corporation will spend looking at your resume when 250 came in that day. With a small employer you might get as much as two minutes. With larger employers, we know (because people have measured it) that generally your resume will get between four and fifteen seconds of attention. The average is eight.
Eight seconds! Yikes! An employer is going to be reading down your resume fast. In fact, they may not get all the way to the bottom in those eight seconds. So, what they read first, what they see in the top half or even top third of your resume, is going to be determinative.
What can you do about that?
What can you do about this painting that the employers may be taking only a fast look at?
Well, real painters of course paint in various ways. But, as we can tell from the sketchbooks of famous painters like Rembrandt (right*), they usually begin by laying down in broad strokes the outline of the whole portrait or picture. Then later they fill in. Details, shading, and such.
If your resume is only going to get eight seconds of attention, then it must do something like that. In the top third of your resume you must lay down in broad strokes an outline of who you are, using the words you write. Enough to make the employer hungry to see what else you have to say for yourself, as during the remaining two-thirds you shade and fill in. So to speak.