The minimal requirement of a résumé is to qualify the professional. I would estimate that 75% of résumés that I have read from students to executives over my 20 years in the employment industry don’t pass this simple requirement.
The standards of résumés have evolved as technology has exponentially increased the number of applicants, and best practices constantly evolve to keep up with changing job markets and human resources technology trends.
So, what does it take to qualify a professional today?
Here’s an easy-to-follow checklist. Does your résumé:
- Identify the role you are targeting?
- Include at least 6 key skills commonly found on job postings for your target role, also known as keywords?
- Communicate your proficiency in these skills or quantify your experience with them?
- Make clear the recency and relevancy of these skills to your target role?
- Outline your experience applying these skills to create desired outcomes for previous employers in bullets underneath each work experience?
- Prove that you have applied these skills to create value?
- Present your experience in a reader-friendly format that effectively uses white space?
- Link to relevant work samples and your LinkedIn profile?
- Get you interviews for jobs that you are qualified to do?
- Have your accurate contact information within the body of the document (not the header)?
Once you qualify yourself as a candidate, you might expect that, if seen by a human being and not screened out by an applicant tracking system, you will be filtered into a group of candidates who will be pre-screened or invited to interview. The résumé has done its minimal job of moving you to the next stage.
If you invest in a professional résumé writer, you can expect your résumé to check all of the above boxes.
Most job seekers, however, are able to read and apply professional résumé tips to get their résumé to this very basic level, and it’s worthwhile to learn this life skill so that you can respond to opportunity when it presents itself, as it sometimes does.
Are they willing? It appears most are not.
Here is what most résumés do:
- Provide the name and contact information.
- List employment and education dates.
- Identify previous companies and titles.
- List the primary functions and responsibilities of the role.
- List skills.
None of the above actually qualify you. They hint that you might have the qualifications, but stating what your job responsibilities were does not communicate that you performed those responsibilities well. Also, having years of experience is not the same as gaining proficiency in skills, let alone expertise. In 1999 when I graduated college, it was not difficult to earn an interview with a résumé like this.
Now, even in a “job seekers’ market,” in which there are more opportunities than talent available, you are vying for the same positions as other qualified candidates. Employers usually move forward the candidates who have provided clear proof of performance.
Unless you are pursuing a position that requires no previous experience or you have a very unique, in-demand experience made clear based on where you worked and your title, employers will not take the time to find out if you are qualified, even if you are. No matter how many jobs you apply for, you can expect very little, if any, response to a résumé written based on the standards of the last millennium.
I estimate that about 2% of the résumés seen by employers are branded. This résumé goes further than qualifying a job seeker. It positions a professional as a top candidate and creates a sense of urgency that you need to be brought into the interview process immediately before another company snatches you up. It speaks directly to their needs, challenges, and initiatives and distinguishes you from other equally, or even more, qualified candidates as uniquely talented.
If you have any particular challenges in landing a new job, such as changing roles or industries, time out of the job market, associations with disreputable companies, multiple short (under 2 years) job stints, or having been fired, then your job search may continue indefinitely without a branded résumé and a branded, proactive campaign.
If you have none of the above challenges, but want to create demand, generate multiple competing offers, and have the luxury of choosing which opportunity best aligns with your short and long-term career and lifestyle goals, branding is essential.
- Start with defining your ideal audience’s challenges, initiatives, and goals and identifying what 4-6 themes you want to convey that will position you as the solution.
- Qualify you.
- Make obvious the role you are pursuing, as well as the industry, if relevant.
- Have short (under 5-lines) summaries that demonstrate (vs. state) your qualities, perspective, unique experience, and expertise in the context of how they have created value consistently throughout your career for previous employers.
- Define the scope of your previous roles in short position summaries under your experience.
- Tell stories that further validate the unique, relevant value you offer in concisely written bullets that explain not only what you achieved, but how and with what results and impact.
- Define subjective terms, like “large” and “quickly” in quantified terms.
- Omit terms like “responsible for,” “participated in,” “collaborated with” in favor of more specific, action-oriented verbs.
- Are generous in explaining the outcomes produced, often accompanied by explaining the challenges needed to be overcome in achieving those outcomes.
- Present all of the evidence of your skills proficiency, not just in a skills section, but also in context of what you have achieved using those skills within the bullets.
- Answer the question, “so what?” with each bullet and summary.
- Omit irrelevant experience, but may include experience further in the past if it supports that the professional gained unique insight, learned and applied industry-recognized best practices, worked for a name-worthy employer, or worked in an industry with transferrable, but not frequently applied, best practices.
- Position information where employers expect to find it and in a way that is easy to read.
- Maximize the “real estate” above the fold of the résumé, stating relevant work experience before the reader has to scroll to the next page.
- Are intentional about where acronyms and numbers, aka “stop signs”, appear based on eye tests.
- Use formatting features, such as bold, italics, and underline, sparingly to emphasize relevant data.
Though careful thought and intention is put into every single word choice in a branded résumé, it still has to be written so that the reader can make a decision in 6-8 seconds. Every résumé will make an impression in that amount of time.
Possible impressions you can make from undesirable to ideal include:
- Unqualified/under-qualified – Pass
- Lacking attention to detail/uncommitted to excellence – Pass
- Possibly qualified/potential to be trained – Maybe
- Probably qualified/potential to fit culture – Maybe
- Qualified, but probably does not fit culture – Maybe
- Qualified with potential to fit culture – Follow Up
- Qualified, probably fits culture – Priority Follow Up
- Qualified, fits culture, and probably attractive and visible to our competition – Follow Up Immediately!
When you start the interview process with a branded résumé, you are positioned as a front-runner from the get-go and the interview process looks very different. Rather than answering questions that help an employer mitigate their risk, they are selling you the opportunity from the get-go. They still will have to mitigate their risk, but they’ll make sure you are engaged and interested first. At this point, it’s your opportunity to lose.
With a branded résumé and a proactive strategic campaign, a job seeker often rises so far above other candidates that companies consider custom-designing a role that allows you to make the maximum impact. Negotiating then doesn’t happen in the context of tiered, approved salary levels; you name your market price based on the value that you know you will create when you are given all of the conditions that are conducive to your success, and you negotiate those as well. You are positioned so competitively that there is little to no competition.
The branding process isn’t something you invest time, energy or money in if you need a job and any job will do. Learn how to master a qualifying résumé and save your money for a professionally branded résumé when you decide to be more intentional, proactive, and progressive in your career goals.
Should you learn how to write a branded résumé? Well, many branding professionals have engaged Epic Careering to write their résumés and profiles because A) it’s challenging to be subjective about a product/service when that product/service is you, and B) they appreciate the personal branding process that we have honed over the last 13 years and the quality output that it consistently produces.
The general rule of thumb, according to authors like Robert Kiyosaki and Tim Ferriss who teach people how to make their money work for them instead of working for money, is to outsource to a professional anything that someone else could do better and in less time. Especially if you are unemployed, time is money.
If your résumé doesn’t pass the professionally branded test and you have a desire to be in control of your career, schedule a free branding consultation today.
If you have had the experience of being the only candidate considered for a position, please share your story in the comments. It’s hard to believe that it happens until it happens to you! Inspire others to have hope that it can happen for them, too!
Karen Huller, author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days (bit.ly/GetFocusIn30), is founder of Epic Careering, a 13-year-old leadership and career development firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, as well as JoMo Rising, LLC, a workflow gamification company that turns work into productive play.
While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales.
Karen was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends in hiring and careering. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot.
She is an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and previously was an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business She is also an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy where some of her students won the 2018 national competition, were named America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs, and won the 2019 People’s Choice Award.