(reprinted from “Getting Seen: The Ultimate Guide to Creating the Most Important Document of your Life – Your Resume”)
by James Hale, author of “Getting Seen”
In the mid-1970’s, over a billion resumes and applications were screened each year by potential employers, and that number may well have quadrupled since then.
These days, it’s not unusual for a large organization to review more than 50,000 resumes in a year. That’s a lot of people trying to market themselves. And any given company will only hire about one to two percent of these applicants, maybe even fewer.
The only way businesses can sort through this avalanche of applicants is by becoming very good at screening, judging, and categorizing resumes. With the advent of Internet recruitment, resume evaluation is likely to continue as the most important pre-employment screening device.
Look at it this way: Face-to-face interviews cost businesses time and money, so by screening out most of the potential candidates during the resume evaluation phase they save themselves countless hours and dollars. They know lots of people will do anything to get their foot in the door – including lying – so companies do everything they can to eliminate any resume that has the slightest hint of a problem. Understandably, businesses want to avoid their own form of “buyer’s remorse” – hiring someone who looks fine on paper, only to find out that they missed something important in the resume or interview.
A good resume serves two very important tasks. The first is to get you interviews – not just one or two interviews, but lots of them. You want your resume to consistently generate interviews, which leads to its second function. The second function of a resume is to enhance and supplement your professional image throughout the entire interviewing and hiring process. Everything else is inconsequential.
A good resume is like a personal publicist, an information desk, and a cheerleading squad all rolled into one – a document that will consistently remind hiring managers that you’re the right person for the job.
Both of these functions are equally important. If your resume doesn’t get you interviews, it doesn’t matter how nice a polish it puts on your professional image. If it doesn’t get you in the door, sitting across the table from an interview panel, it’s worthless.
THE JOB APPLICANT AS A TEACHER
As you’ll discover while reading this book, it’s important to understand the mindset of the person who’ll be reading your resume. That will often be a recruiter.
The principal function of a recruiter is to find qualified candidates for a specific job opening. She then has to sell these qualified candidates to her client and convince the client to interview them. Since a recruiter doesn’t get paid by a client company until the qualified candidate is hired, it’s up to her to convince the client that the candidate is qualified and should be hired. Put simply, a professional recruiter makes money by finding qualified candidates that her clients are apt to hire. If she messes up and recommends a jerk, no return business.
So how does this recruiter obtain a qualified candidate for her client’s job openings? They find qualified candidates by placing employment ads, reviewing company websites, scrutinizing online job sites and job boards, working with referral agencies, and maintaining a database of potential employees. Hence, much of their day is spent sifting through resumes, reading cover letters, evaluating referrals, surfing the Internet, sending and answering email, networking, making cold calls, and talking on the phone with other human resource professionals. Their short-term objective is to find qualified candidates for their clients. Their long-term goal is to generate a pipeline of qualified candidates.
In terms of the likelihood of any one resume actually resulting in a job, most recruiters receive over 1,100 resumes for every one job opening. In addition, nearly all recruiters receive at least 50 new resumes per day. These are subsequently added to databases that already contain detailed information on anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 job applicants.
In other words, recruiters see a lot of resumes. In order to get yours placed on the pile that will get you interviews with employers, you first need to shift your mindset and adopt three new beliefs about resumes.
New Belief #1: Resumes must be written to teach – they are not an advertisement or a marketing tool.
A resume is a specialized teaching tool. It is not a marketing piece or an advertisement. This is in contrast to what most resume “experts” will tell you. But think about the mindset of a marketer. Marketers pull out all the stops and do whatever they can to get us to think we need their product. They spend millions researching logos, product names, color usage, and advertising campaigns. They exaggerate product claims about what their products can do for us (check out the weight loss and get-rich-quick infomercials), sometimes crossing over the line by lying or at least providing false hope to the general public.
Or they use the “bait and switch” approach where they offer us something that looks too good to be true. They don’t tell us the “typical” results people get; they only telling us about the rare and lucky flukes. (“I lost 35 pounds in a week eating nothing but Oreos and ice cream!”) The marketer doesn’t reveal that the product rarely works this good. Then, after we have bitten the hook, they “up sell” us by telling us we need an additional product or feature to get the full benefit. It’s all a marketing scheme, grounded in well-researched persuasive psychology and walking the line on legality and the ethical high road.
Marketers don’t care what buying their product will do to your budget, and they don’t have your best interest at heart. YOUR best interest is not THEIR job – their job is to make money. If they don’t make money, they lose their job and their kids go hungry. Their job is to play to your emotions, your intellect, and your sense of urgency so that you leave the house right now and go buy their product. That’s their job. It doesn’t necessarily make them bad people; it just means that they don’t care that much about you. You are not like a marketer.
Lots of people writing their resumes think of themselves as self-marketers. They try to present themselves as bigger than life, greater than great. Studies indicate that over 60% of resume writers exaggerate the truth on their resumes. Some research indicates this number could be as high as 90%. And, as a hiring manager, I’ve sometimes fallen for this. The result: I’ve hired people who SEEM to be a good fit for the job, but after a while, they don’t work out. They’ve sold themselves to me and end up not being a good fit for the job. Everyone pays a price for this: the manager, because he’s hired a person who is unable to do the job; HIS boss, because he now thinks the hiring manager is incompetent; and the person hired, because he is not able to do the job he convinced the manager he COULD do. As a result, the employee can end up with disciplinary actions against him, which could result in termination of his employment – not to mention all the associated stress caused from his failure on the job. Or he may have just locked himself into a job for life because his incompetence means he won’t be promoted. Or, if the company finds out he falsified information to get the job, he could end up at the wrong end of a lawsuit.
Experienced managers can smell self-interest marketing techniques. They intuitively identify someone who is trying to sell themselves. When an experienced manager senses that someone is trying to sell themselves in a resume or job interview, the manager sees the person as desperate and self-centered. The manager will run away, because the applicant sounds like a used car salesman trying to unload a junker. It’s like the applicant is holding a big “WILL WORK FOR FOOD” sign – People tend to look the other way. As a resume writer, you are trying to teach managers what you can do for their particular business, not trying to sell yourself as the best thing since sliced bread.
The purpose of a resume is to teach – not to market yourself. When you draft your resume, think about the characteristics of great teachers. This takes the pressure off of you. You don’t have to become a salesman. But, in teaching the hiring manager, you must adhere to teaching basics: First, eliminate distractions. Remember how easy it was in school to get distracted by things going on outside the windows or things the class clown was doing? And sometimes you were so bored in the class that you probably LOOKED for things to distract you. I know I did. The hiring manager is the same. If your resume is too wordy, has a distracting layout, or has any other attributes that distract the manager, it will be headed for the trash can. More on this later.
Second, educational psychologists have found that people need to hear a message at least three times before they remember it. If you give students a piece of information once and never bring it up again, they are sure to forget it. So what does this mean for you? I want you to remember that 3 X 3 does not equal 9 x 1. Here’s what I mean: Giving a manager examples of three skills you have and repeating these skills in three different situations is much more powerful than giving the manager nine different skills and mentioning each only once. The nine won’t make an impression, but the three will make you look like an expert. For example, if a company is accepting resumes for a team leader, you are better off using three different examples of when you’ve successfully led team projects, rather than nine different skills you have, one of which is team leader.
But, James, won’t I be falsifying my application using this technique? Good question! And my answer: Absolutely not. Many jobs are so diverse and involve multiple duties, so writing out a complete description of the job gets long and windy. Condense and emphasize. Otherwise, you end up hiding your qualifications behind too much data and trivial facts. In writing your resume, you will have to choose what to include and what to leave out of each description of your past and current jobs. Leave out irrelevant details and emphasize necessary qualities for the job you want.
The hiring manager has the right to hire the very best person for the job. They get to choose – that’s their job. It is their right and their responsibility to the company. Your job is not to sway them that you are better than some other job candidate. Chances are you don’t know the other people the hiring manager is considering. But your job, on the other hand, is to teach them who you are. You have the right AND the responsibility – to yourself and those affected by your employment decisions – to put your very best in front of the manager for him to consider. You are an educator, not a sales person.
This is a complete mental shift for most people. Every day many great applicants are passed over because they are selling themselves, not teaching the manager. If a manager can look over your resume and know what you have accomplished and what skills you could bring to the job, you have succeeded as a teacher, regardless of who gets the job offer. But, remember, most people draft their resume as a sales tool. Draft your resume as a teaching tool and you WILL stand out.
New Belief #2: Resumes must focus on the needs of the hiring manager – they are not autobiographies.
Hiring managers don’t care AT ALL about you, your needs, or your goals. You’re nothing to them but one of perhaps hundreds of names they see on pieces of paper every day. They don’t care about your career goals. They don’t care if you become fulfilled and self-actualized, or if you really need this job because of your financial setbacks. They have their own needs. Your agenda isn’t their agenda. The sooner you realize this, the sooner you’ll be able to create a resume that speaks directly to what they’re looking for.
From the hundreds of managers I’ve talked to, here are the top eight motivators for most employers:
1. Maintain or increase profits
2. Speed up or streamline processes
3. Comply with legal mandates
4. Solve specific problems
5. Take work off someone else
6. Move into a new market
7. Improve company image
8. Improve customer service
As employees of the company to which you’re applying, the hiring managers are operating with a set of their own needs, like pleasing their bosses, getting that next raise or promotion, and not looking stupid. These needs influence their choices.
When you look at it from this perspective, it seems obvious: You need to write your resume focusing on how you can meet their needs, not all about your history. The change in mindset is somewhat subtle, but the results are powerful.
Yet very few resumes are written with the psychology of what a hiring manager wants in mind. In fact, some resume writers not only ignore these factors, they actually create resumes that work against them by focusing on issues that are of interest to no one but themselves.
Your target audience is hiring managers. To create a resume that generates lots of interviews, you have to look at life from the hiring manager’s perspective. If you don’t thoroughly understand their point of view, you’ll dramatically reduce the odds of getting an interview with a great company.
Novice resume writers often go wrong by trying to:
* Make themselves look important
* Impress their family and friends
* Secure a management position
* Get paid as much as possible
* Make their resume look like they can do things they really cannot
* Make the document fit on one page
* Demonstrate their career objectives
* Bend the truth, exaggerate qualifications, or lie outright
Once you know what’s going on in a hiring manager’s mind, it’s easy to see that the mistakes the novice writer makes have nothing to do with the manager’s motivations or that of the companies they represent. In fact, these motivating factors are so at odds with each other that they’ll most likely result in that resume writer rarely getting an interview with a great company. Which brings us to the third rule.
New Belief #3: Resumes are truthful – you must never exaggerate the truth, and NEVER EVER lie on your resume
You know people who have done it – some of them high profile individuals. Or maybe you’ve done it yourself – in the past. That stops today. Some people do it to get an advantage. Others think they can do a job and all they need to do is get their foot in the door. Still others do it to avoid a black mark that exists in their past and don’t want the hiring manager to know about it. I’ve talked to professional, highly paid resume writers who encourage people to “bend the truth.” If you were a hiring manager, would you want potential employees exaggerating the truth or, even worse, lying?
There are three reasons you must not lie on a resume: 1) If discovered, you can lose your job, be publicly humiliated, or both; 2) If you land a job based on falsified data, there is a good chance you will not be able to do the job, which can cause a whole host of problems; and 3) It is wrong. I’m not going to talk about this much. You know in your heart what I mean.
Sixty to ninety percent of the people writing a resume will lie or exaggerate the truth on it. Good managers see right through people who think they are marketing themselves, and like used car salesmen, such managers distrust people who they see as self-promoting marketers.
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With all the ethics scandals today, good managers often are refreshed by someone who is confident enough in themselves to tell a manager what they can and cannot do. Many people have painted themselves as being able to walk on water and – through deceit – have worked their way into jobs that were not a good fit for them. Over time, they become miserable because they recognize that the job is a bad fit. Coworkers, the manager, and the company look bad because they hired someone who doesn’t have the skills to do a job. Honesty is seen as refreshing and demonstrates a welcomed trustworthiness that today’s managers appreciate.
Now I’m not saying people will be more likely to hire you if you put in your resume that you’ve robbed banks and committed all sorts of felony offenses. But you don’t have to describe yourself as another Bill Gates to get hired by a computer company. Don’t list all your transgressions in highlighted, bold text. But don’t misrepresent yourself or your accomplishments.
In summary, in your resume, write about YOU while designing it for THEM. You must know what motivates the hiring managers in the specific business you are applying for. If you are an experienced chef, for example, your resume will look different when you apply at the upscale steakhouse chain than when you apply to a family-owned vegetarian restaurant. It is critical that you do your homework on the company, finding their successes, their fears, and their dreams, and what their top motivators are from the list in the previous section.
Looking at all three new beliefs together, you can see that resumes are fundamentally teaching tools that must be designed to meet the underlying needs of the hiring manager and, by extension, the company they represent. And while you are the item that’s being taught about, your resume will fail if it’s too self-serving.
This is the single most difficult concept for inexperienced resume writers to master. Write about you while designing it for them. However, if you think about the recruiter, the hiring manager, and the company’s needs, you’ll ultimately get the jobs that you desire because you will be addressing their motivations and fulfilling their needs. On the other hand, if you ignore this primary directive, you’ll be looked over because they won’t see you. Or, worse, you’ll wind up in a job you are ill-prepared to handle.
Getting Seen by James Hale is the book you need to set yourself apart from the job competition. Getting Seen: The Ultimate Guide to Creating the Most Important Document of your Life – Your Resume is available for only $4.97 in all e-book formats.