Clients often expect that I am going to know exactly what should be included on their resumes to have the most appeal to recruiters and hiring organizations. The truth is that no one can know that – but there is hope. What clients should expect is that the resume writer has some credible understanding of the job and industry to ask the right questions.
Why can’t a resume writer know exactly what to include on a resume
The answer is because jobs (even ones with the same titles) are different, organization’s needs are different and resume readers have different perspectives. The problem is worse when the resume is being reviewed by “black box” algorithms built into recruiting systems that are developed for a broad market or later customized by humans who adapt the systems for their own needs. Beating these systems is like playing darts blindfolded.
So, what’s a person to do?
The answer isn’t to go to a list of key words for a specific job or industry, for example those provided to students in many resume writing programs. Those lists are generic and, while they can provide a newbie with some ideas, they are unlikely to stimulate interest among those making candidate selections. The focus must be on “who specifically does the next employer want to hire?” With that in mind, choosing what to include on a resume is easy. Just ask, “Does this matter to my next employer?” If so, include it on the resume – if not don’t bother.
What’s the best approximation for looking inside a recruiter’s or organization’s mind?
In my experience, the best surrogate for finding out what matters to an employer is a job posting (or group of job postings). By searching for a group of relevant postings on Internet job boards, a huge amount of this information can be gleaned. The job overview and the candidate requirements sections provide insight into what the hiring organization is looking for – and equally important – the language the organization is using to describe them. Don’t worry as much about the job responsibilities. These usually come straight from the HR job description. Although they should be reviewed, the responsibilities are frequently generic and don’t get to the heart of the hiring criteria for this job now. To the extent that job seekers are willing and able to make minor modifications to their resumes, the resumes can be targeted to a specific job. If not, or if there is not a specific job in mind, looking at a group of relevant postings and finding the common themes will do the trick.
Trying to create a perfect resume is not a winning strategy. A resume needs to be good and aligned with the organization’s hiring criteria – but not perfect. I advise clients to get their resumes to 80 – 85% and then move on with finding a job through research, networking and honing their interview skills.