Résumé Writing Roadblocks
Just Another Boring Job Description
Job Seeker's Story
Josephine felt she was effective in writing her job descriptions for her résumé. She began each one with a paragraph that started with “Responsibilities included” and described what responsibilities she held in the role. These paragraphs could be anywhere from 10 to 20 lines long. She then followed the overview paragraphs with one or two well-written bullets that emphasized a few top results that she had achieved in each position. She felt that these few highlights would be enough to show an employer that she was results-driven and would give a basis for her to talk about all her other achievements in an interview.
When Josephine submitted her résumé for consideration, she could not understand why she was not getting many responses. She had responded to at least 100 job opportunities but had only received hardly any calls. Josephine felt the résumé was a strong representation of her skills and achievements, so she was frustrated and stumped about her lack of positive responses.
Job Seeker's Stumble
Josephine had fallen into an easy trap when she created her résumé, which was including responsibility content that was too passive and was not capturing the interest of Human Resources résumé reviewers. When a reviewer first looked at Josephine's most recent position, he or she saw what every candidate who was qualified for the job would have: the same description of passive responsibilities. Therefore, the reviewer began skimming and skipping ahead, saw more responsibilities than results, and moved on quickly, missing much of what Josephine needed her to see.
Job Seeker's New Strategy
In order to engage reviewers with a dynamic start to each position on your résumé, you must rethink how you begin each position. Specifically, there are actually two key mistakes that job seekers make in stifling the value of their descriptions.
The first is what Josephine did with her starting paragraph that focused on passive responsibilities. Though that seems necessary, it is not the best way to present responsibilities. You should always remember that responsibilities, although needed, do nothing but show that you are equal to other candidates who held similar positions. Being equal is not enough since reviewers will typically pick a handful of candidates who stand out for excelling at performing those tasks!
The second mistake is avoiding any type of an overview in the job description and jumping directly into a list of bullets. The problem here is that the reviewer is going to have to look at every bullet to really gain a sense of what the position entails. This means he or she will be rapidly skimming and skipping around, most likely missing a lot of the benchmarks that should have captured her attention and positioned you as a strong candidate.
To be most effective and engaging in your job descriptions, you need to take the reviewer by the hand and lead him or her into each position. You will do this by recognizing that you do need a paragraph that acts as connective tissue to take the reviewer from “Here is my title and the company I worked with” to “Here is what I did and how well I did that.” That connective piece between those two areas will strengthen the value of the bullets by setting the stage with the challenges and the goals of the position.
For instance, perhaps Josephine was a retail manager. Her old job description started with a responsibility paragraph and followed up with responsibility and achievement-focused bullets. Although her accomplishments sounded good, they were getting lost after the heavy starting paragraph and were not showing the reviewer the major challenges Josephine had faced in attaining them. In reality, Josephine had been recruited after it was found that the prior manager had been skimming funds, an internal theft ring was depleting stock, staff turnover was high, morale was low due to lack of strong leadership, customer service was poor, and sales that had been running in the red for the past nine consecutive months.
If Josephine were to capitalize on this information and create a new start to her job description it might read, “Recruited to retail operation in order to spearhead a top-to-bottom turnaround encompassing challenges in financial controls, inventory shrinkage and management, low staff morale and high turnover, poor customer service, and decreasing business resulting in a nine-month revenue slump representing increasing profit decline and significant financial loss. Directed all facets of the turnaround to successfully stabilize operations, achieve profits within thee months, and attain continued growth of 10–22% in profit attainment for the past 16 months based on improvements in all areas.”
You can see the difference that starting a position with this energy-packed focus will attain over a passive “Responsible for” paragraph or making the mistake of skipping the step altogether and jumping straight into the bullets. Even if you did not have as big of a challenge as Josephine, or had no challenge at all, you can still take advantage of this strategy. Ask yourself: “What was the goal I was tasked with in this position?” and “What challenges did I face in this position?” You might need to brainstorm, but here are a few of the issues, big and small, that you might capitalize upon:
- • Did you take over a major project?
- • Did you find ways to save money?
- • Were you always seeking to find ways to make operations leaner?
- • Were you working with a smaller-than-average budget or an incredibly small staff for the level of responsibility?
- • Were you taking over a department that had problems or replacing an absent boss?
- • Were you told that this organization was entrenched and successful, and you needed to maintain the status quo, but you still managed to make it more successful?
- • Did you just find that things were disorganized and you made them better?
- • Did you start up a new company, division, or department?
- • Were you tasked with doing something that had not previously been done?
After you have determined your challenge, a few dynamic ways to present this content in a starting paragraph include: “Challenged to…,” “Recruited to…,” “Championed the…,” “Joined organization with the goal of…,” or “Tasked with.…”.
Once you set the stage with this short introductory paragraph, you can move into bullets that combine responsibilities with achievements to show the reviewer what you were doing, how you overcame the challenges/met the goals, and what specific results were obtained.
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