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Successful Resumes: Ten Recommendations To Demonstrate To The Employer You Can Solve Their Problem

The resume is one of the most important documents you will write in your life: it is your passport to new opportunities. Unfortunately, I find that most people are not served well by their own resume. Someone that I talk to for fifteen minutes on zoom and shows passion, intelligence, and experience sends me their resume and in it they are flat, lifeless, and without colour. This is what I mean by not being served well; it does not reflect who they truly are.

The purpose of the resume is to prove to the reader that you have the knowledge, skills, and experience to do the required job. It should, however, also show that you are an interesting person because, well, we are all drawn to interesting people. Below are ten recommendations to developing a resume that will serve you well.

Recommendation #1: Focus exclusively on solving the employer’s problem

A job advertisement is not simply a posting looking for a worker; it is a cry from the employer for help to solve a problem that is very important to them. They need assistance in order to continue to provide their service or to meet a new need that has arisen. This is a very important challenge to them and a serious problem interfering with moving their business ahead – you want to show that you can provide the solution to their problem. You want to present yourself not that you are looking for work, but rather that you are solving a significant problem for the employer. This shifts your whole approach from focussing on yourself to concentrating on the employers needs. Your entire resume is then centred on showing how you have what is needed to solve the problem at hand.

Recommendation #2: Newly craft a resume for each application

Age old advice, but also sage old advice. The employer is looking for a succinct summary that shows you have the skills, experience, and knowledge to solve their problem. Your resume must show this, and the only way to do that is to customize it to specifically highlight what you bring as it applies to the advertised job. This is how you show the employer you can solve their problem. Rewrite your resume for the job, excluding anything irrelevant to the advertised position. Doing this will create space allowing you to elaborate on all of the great things you bring to the job. This is how you concentrate on your strengths and diminish your weaknesses.

Recommendation #3: Let yourself shine through

Resumes, and particularly online submission processes, are explicitly designed to make everyone look the same on paper. We all follow the same format, provide the same information, and then pray that we stand out. Rather silly when you think about it. Instead, let yourself shine through. Personalize it by using first person (I, we) not third person. Tell us a bit about yourself. Share a bit of what makes you interesting. Be a person on the page, not a ghost. This approach does come with risk as not every reader will like you or the way that you have written your resume. But for those that your personality does jive with will be more interested in moving you along to the interview stage. Consider the question, “if you are rejected because a reader does not like how you appear on the page when you are being honest about who you are, do you really want to work there?”

Recommendation #4: Choose carefully your resume format

One of the most important decisions you make when job searching is the format of your resume. You may use the traditional chronological format; the functional; or a mix of the two termed the hybrid. Each of these has advantages and disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses. You want to select the format that reinforces your strengths. An applicant that looks very attractive via a functional resume may look very poor in chronological format and for other’s it is vice- versa. Your format plays a large role in how you are perceived relative to the job.

Recommendation #5: The most important information has to be in top half of the first page

Resumes are scanned very quickly by reviewers and interest is waning if not having evaporated by the end of the first page. This means everything that is most important (your skills, experience, and knowledge) should be within the top half of the first page. This is where you want to scream at the reader “I have the skills, experience, and knowledge to solve your problem!”. That then induces them to read on.

Recommendation #6: Focus on the trinity of knowledge, skills, and experience

The employer wants to know how you are going to solve their problem. How are you going to fit into the description of the position they are advertising. There are three key pieces to convincing them you can solve their problem: knowledge, skills, and experience. You don’t have to excel in all three areas, but your resume needs to really show either your knowledge, your existing skills, or your experience will solve their problem.

Recommendation #7: Knowledge, skills, and experience include non-work activities

Volunteer or unpaid experience counts! I know how to do several types of wildlife surveys despite never having done them in a paid position. But I did months of effort on these over a period of years so you better believe I claim this as experience. And no, I do not identify it as volunteer. I just say I have experience. So I might say “I have experience monitoring nesting activity of the Blanding’s turtle – a species at risk nationally – including night work during egg-laying, tracking by radio-telemetry, and monitoring exclosures protecting the eggs from predation.” The fact that it was unpaid is entirely irrelevant.

Recommendation #8: For each skill you have, consider the ancillary skills associated with it.

In the example of Recommendation #7, the ancillary skills with the turtle monitoring include working in the dark; safety associated with working on and around water in the middle of the night; approach and handling practices for a species at risk; troubleshooting electronic equipment, and working in remote areas. My skills and experience are not limited only to the direct activity of the work, but include the ancillary skills I need to do the work safely and effectively. Consider the same for the skills that you bring to the employer.

Recommendation #9: Show, don’t tell

A guiding principle in good fiction writing is ‘show, don’t tell’. In terms of resumes, this means show us your skills and experience, don’t tell us. Rather than saying “I have experience working with Blanding’s turtle”, I have in Recommendation #7 shown the reader what I did (night work during egg laying, monitoring exclosures, radio-telemetry). Use specifics to show the reader what you have done. Instead of “I have experience boat handling” how about “I am experienced with safe boating in a range of craft from single person kayak to canoes, John boats, runabouts, and up to 19 foot Boston whalers.” These details provide anchors for the reader to understand what you are writing of. I would interview the writer of the second sentence about boat handling; I would not do so for the writer of the first.

Recommendation #10: Use active, concrete language

Active language involves relying on the power of the verb; passive language converts it to a less powerful noun. Compare:

I have surveyed for mallard and pintails… (survey = verb)I have completed surveys for mallards and pintails (survey = noun)
I have delineated wetlands in three provinces (delineate = verb)I have experience with wetland delineation in three provinces (delineate = noun)

In addition, use concrete language. Not waterfowl surveys but mallard and pintail surveys. Earlier it was not turtle surveys, it was nesting activity of Blanding’s turtle. These are your skills and experience – the coin of the realm in job hunting – be clear and precise to the reader.

The resume is the most fundamental instrument of job seeking. Time spent revising, reworking, and strengthening it is never wasted time. Its job, at its core, is to provide evidence to the reader that you have the knowledge, skills, and experience to solve the employer’s problem. We hope these suggestions will help you to write a focussed, directed, and powerful resume that the reader cannot help but place into the ‘to be interviewed’ pile.

NRTG offers a half day course, Technical Writing for Professionals: Resumes and Cover Letters, and is currently developing an additional two hour addendum to that course to elaborate and demonstrate how to put effective resume writing principles into effect.

Sean Mitchell