The majority of candidates write resumes and apply to jobs in roughly the same way…writing a cover letter to focus a static resume.
I’ve written in previous articles to “Stop Writing Cover Letters, and You’ll Get More Interviews”, and described why cover letters are an obsolete tradition in today’s job search. In the 15 seconds the average hiring manager spends making an interview/no interview decision…most hiring managers make their decision based on a resume – not a cover letter. In a recent Linkedin poll, over 80% of hiring managers stated that they read resumes first.
Yet, the majority of candidates mistakenly use a cover letter to demonstrate why they are perfect for a position.
There’s a better way to stand out and differentiate yourself from the thousands of other candidates competing against you. Instead of customizing a cover letter, why not customize your resume? I use a two step process for my clients: 1) Fishing Resumes; and 2) Response Resumes.
I recommend that my clients create a couple (no more than 3) Fishing Resumes, each built around a specific Subject Matter Expertise. I use a Fishing Resume to send when you don’t know who the company is (to a blind ad, to a recruiter, to your network without a specific company in mind). A Fishing Resume is a template, with a few important features:
- Branding Statement
- Value Statements
- Skills Inventory
The Branding Statement: A Branding Statement is a crystal clear, very concise single line statement that instantly tells the reader:
What job are you applying for?
What very specific business problem do you solve better than anyone else?
Your Branding Statement should instantly clarify the first impression you want to build with the reader. It should grab her attention, and encourage further reading.
Value Statements: The bullet points within your work experience are the features and benefits that provide proof of your branding statement, and demonstrate you meet the hiring manager’s needs. Most of your competitors will create bullet points that list their responsibilities. However, you can differentiate yourself by creating bullets that feature your accomplishments. Effective bullets pass the reader’s “so what?” test, by showing how each bullet has created shareholder value (generated revenue, cut costs, increased profits).
Skills Inventory: A strong skills inventory demonstrates your broad and general skills, without branding you as a generalist. Most of the executives I talk to admit that they look for specific skills, rather than general skills, in top management resumes….yet most executives still brand themselves and consider themselves as generalists.
I coach my clients to build an extensive skills inventory at the end of their resume. I like to use a 3 column format, of 30-50 three word sound bytes (double that if you’re in technology) including technology skills, functional skills, industry skills, management/leadership skills, and soft skills. Bonuses of a well written skills inventory are that you have a chance to match the changed criteria (in the time between writing a job description and filling it) and you have a chance to meet the “nice to haves” (the criteria that never makes a job description, yet is often the single factor that separates the top candidate from the rest of the pack).
When you know the company you are sending your resume to, you can get so much more information about the company. Do some research on the target company BEFORE you send your resume. Most of your competitors don’t research until interview preparation, so pre-resume research can give you a huge advantage. True, you won’t be able to send as many resumes, but you’ll have a much better response rate – you’ll target your resume specifically to the target company’s needs.
How should you customize your resume to differentiate yourself?
- Create the impression of the “Perfect Candidate”: As you research the target company as yourself…What are the company’s Goals? Problems? Roadblocks? Challenges? Next, create bullet points demonstrating how you’ve already reached these goals, and already solved the company’s problems. Make sure that each bullet also passes the hiring manager’s “So What?” test, by listing the shareholder value you created by solving these problems and meeting the target company’s goals.
- Resume Search Optimization: The majority of times your resume will be pre-screened by a database looking for keywords – even if you sent the resume to a friend at the company (ever hear of employee referral bonuses?). You can improve your chances of being seen by anticipating the keywords that a company or recruiter is likely searching for – there are usually 5 – 10 keywords/phrases in the job description or ad. Include these keywords/phrases verbatim within the context of your bullet points.
Practice this approach for a few weeks, and watch your response rate soar!This article has been republished from an earlier date.