How to REALLY Write a Resume

Vic Napier, MBA

July 2009


Everything you have heard about resumes is wrong. A resume is not your “calling card”, your “introduction”, or a even a “description of your skills”. In fact, it is not about you at all. It is about the employers’ needs and shows that what you have done in the past is what they need done in the future.

Employers are not interested in all the wonderful accomplishments and victories you scored in the past. They might be impressed with some of your accomplishments if they gave them any thought, but they won’t. The only thing they care about is finding someone who will do what needs to be done in the future.

How are you to know what an employer’s future needs will be? Actually, the employer gives you a list of specific tasks they expect will have to be done by whomever they hire. It is in the job posting. Job postings are usually exactly the same thing as a job description. Only the name is changed.

The important thing to remember about job postings is that they are how the employer describes his or her future needs. Why is this so important? Because you need to describe your skills knowledge and experience in words the employer understands. Your resume is not about you, remember, it is about the employers’ future needs.

The biggest mistake resume writers make is not using the same words that are in the job description on their resume. Why is it important to use the same words? A couple of reasons, both of which have to do with the overwhelming response most job announcements generate.

First, understand that the person doing the hiring will not be the person screening resumes. There are simply too many of them. Initial screening is done by a clerk who simply looks for particular words in the resume – the same words that are in the job description. (Large companies don’t even use clerks, they use computers to match key words.) Human Resource clerks are often given a list words or an announcement with key words highlighted. In either case, they search for those words in resumes. That is why you may notice highlighting or underlining on your resume during an interview.

You are probably starting to see why using the same words the employer uses is important. You might know that what you did at your last job is exactly the same as what is listed in the job announcement, even if the words are a little different, but the clerk looking for keywords doesn’t know that, (and neither does a computer).

Also, keep in mind that screening is just that – a process of exclusion. The goal is to find a reason to eliminate as many applicants as possible. Many people write their resumes with the goal of being included in the group approved for interviews, and put in all sorts of things that have nothing to do with solving the employers’ future needs. They are trying to impress the person doing the hiring. Don’t. The only person that needs to be impressed is the clerk or computer program screening out applicants. And the only thing that impresses them is finding words on resumes that match words on a list. Remember, your resume is meant to show that you have done the job in the past and can do it again in the future, not to convince someone you will be great at doing it. (That comes in the interview.)

This is where old concepts like “transferable skills” torpedo the efforts of people trying to get jobs. Years ago, hiring managers had the time to consider experience that was “almost” the same as what was needed. On the job training or “orientation” would cover the adjustment needed to apply old skills to new tasks. These days, though, there is a glut of highly qualified people and not enough jobs to go around. Hiring managers don’t have the time to consider people who “almost” qualify. Again, resumes need to show what applicants can do for the employer in the future, not what they did for someone else in the past.

Next, keep in mind that if your resume makes it to the person doing the hiring he or she will likely not be interested in anything but key words as well. Every company has a culture – a unique way of doing things. That includes using particular words or phrases to describe things. If you want to be included in that culture, you had better use the same words.

Consider football. When Europeans talk to Americans about football, there will always be a little confusion until it becomes clear the European is talking about soccer. Same with businesses. If you use words from your last job to describe things you did for another company you will look like an outsider – and no one wants to hire outsiders. You want to give the impression that you are already a part of the culture that the person doing the hiring belongs to. You want to communicate that you will easily fit in and be accepted by others who already work there. You do that by using the same language they use. Trying to sound smart and sophisticated just might make you look like an arrogant outsider. Using words your potential boss and coworkers find foreign and unfamiliar is not the way to communicate an easy fit.

Constructing the Resume

There are many HR types who tell job searchers that they need to write a new resume for every application. Most job seekers know how impractical that is. Constructing a resume takes hours and there just are not enough hours in the day to create a new one for every job. Nevertheless, custom resumes that include keywords used in the job announcement are the only way to get past the initial screening and get and interview. There is a solution.

Here is how to make custom resumes quickly and easily. Think of your existing resume as a generic version, a template, for custom resumes. Make sure you have lots of white space around the text. Use bullet points, indentation, and bold and italic to keep things succinct and organized. Don’t worry much about content -- for now the idea is to make it pleasing to the eye.

Next, get on the internet, download a job announcement you might be interested in, and look for key words. These will be specific words that identify things like machines, tools, processes or skills. Don’t worry about whether you have done these things or how you will present them on your resume. Find the keywords and copy and paste them onto a blank sheet.

Think about each one of these keywords. Have you done anything even remotely similar? Forget about what people might have called these things when you did them and concentrate on what you did and how similar it seems to be to the keyword. It doesn’t matter if you did them as part of a job, a hobby or as a favor for a friend. Think about things you might have done as a teen or while going to school. Under each keyword type a note to yourself about the circumstances in which you did something similar to the keyword. If the keywords don’t ring a bell the job may not be for you. Move on.

Now read your resume. You will probably notice that the employers keywords describe some of the things on your resume. The words you used might be slightly different, but they mean essentially the same thing as the employers keywords. Copy and paste the employers keywords into your resume replacing the ones you used and make sure the grammar is appropriate for what you have added. Keep doing this until you have copied all the keywords you can into your resume. You might have to remove some jobs or add others to make sure that all the keywords appear in your resume.

Don’t be shy about pasting whole phrases from the job announcement into your resume, just be sure to change them slightly so it’s not obvious that you are copying and pasting. Keep in mind that you do not want to misrepresent your skills. You simply want to put the proper “spin” in your resume, and you are using words the employer will find familiar.

If you follow these steps you’ll notice several changes in your job search. Invitations for interviews will increase. Mine went from 46% to 82% almost immediately. But that is not really the most important change. You will also notice that you will develop different resume templates for different kinds of jobs. By comparing your skills and experience to employer keywords you will probably find that you gained skills for jobs you never considered in the past.

Vic Napier, MBA


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