Use your resume to show you understand the employer's needs and embody the solution.
By Lisa Vaas
She was a stay-at-home mom looking for some way to keep one foot in her profession — teaching — while she raised her kids.
Sound like a humble pitch? Maybe so, but she was the answer to one employer’s prayers. Programs Manager Jillian Zavitz snapped her up, hiring her to teach at TalktoCanada.com, an online English-instruction site. Since then, the teacher is still with the company and is “one of our most consistent employees,” Zavitz said.
Why was Zavitz so eager to hire this woman? Because the candidate understood the issues facing this particular employer (in this case, high turnover) and was smart enough to address them in her cover letter and resume. On top of that, her resume showed ample, consistent teaching experience: most notably, four years employment at the same school.
“In the past, I would hire people who were qualified — not really taking into account how stable they were. This was OK but not a really great way to gauge who would stay with us and who wouldn’t. We had teachers quit left, right and center,” Zavitz said.
“[Her resume] … not only addressed our problem in the cover letter (high turnover), but she explained why she would be a good choice,” Zavitz said. “Four years at the same school: This not only tells me that 1) they are good employees but 2) they stick with their projects and know what they want.”
A good starting point to tailor your resume for a specific employer is to identify what possible problems the company might have. Try to understand the market of the company to which you’re applying, and address the difficulties they might be going through.
TheLadders asked several resume experts for the advice on how to best do this in your resume and cover letter. Their first rule is discretion. Never point out a potential employer’s problems; it’s presumptuous, said Bruce A. Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing. “Candidates should never tell a prospective employer what he or she needs.” Instead, address it subtly via your own highlighted accomplishments that you know would be an answer to the employer’s problems.
It’s not a lecture on their weak points, Hurwitz said. “Candidates need to focus on what they have done.”
Hurwitz described a candidate who submitted a resume to one of his clients. Based on the job description, the candidate prepared his resume by focusing on how his experience related to the “Qualifications” and “Responsibilities” sections of the job description. Unfortunately, the candidate had forgotten that a few months earlier, he had submitted his resume to the employer directly for another position. The company rejected the candidate because the two resumes were “totally different,” Hurwitz said.
It “killed him,” Hurwitz said. The variations sapped his application of credibility, in spite of the fact that he didn’t, strictly speaking, lie. After that episode, Hurwitz began recommending to candidates that they have a standard resume that begins with a section titled “Selected Accomplishments.” The benefits of such a section: It’s easier to tweak for a particular position; it’s easier to read and grasp the essentials; and if you do wind up applying numerous times at the same employer, your job descriptions stay the same, salvaging your credibility.
Hurwitz recommended using bullets to highlight a half-dozen or so examples of verifiable achievements that address the specific job for which a candidate is applying. This section has proven effective getting candidates to the interview stage, Hurwitz said. “Usually, people who read resumes are tired of reading resumes. They miss a great deal. If at the very beginning a candidate figuratively shouts at them, ‛I know you need problem solvers and leaders. I’m a problem solver and a leader. Here’s why. Here’s what I have done. Here’s what I can do for you!’ then the candidate will have a better chance of getting noticed and getting the interview.”
Link the job requirements to your experience
Some resume professionals and job seekers recommend you be more explicit in demonstrating your fit for the employer’s needs. Shay Olivarria, a speaker and author of “10 Things College Students Need to Know About Money,” applied for a job in Philadelphia as economic development coordinator for a nonprofit. Shay sent the usual cover letter and resume, but she also created a table that listed the requirements and how her qualifications fulfilled them.
“My friends said that my table was ‛way too much’ and ‛unprofessional,’ ” she said. But the joke was on them: Shay scored both an interview and a job offer. (The interviewer told Shay flat out that the table got her the interview.)
Here’s a sample of how Shay’s table looked:
|Communication||Must be able to correspond by email, letter, phone, and in-person with all levels of personnel.||I have worked in administrative positions for over five years. In my last position at Falcon Foto I excelled at facilitating projects via e-mail, letter, phone, and in-person with everyone from clients to project managers.|
|Management||Must be able to manage case workers and clients. Fill out reports on time and as necessary.||I have managed up to three co-workers on a project. My experience in graduate school writing reports, filling out reports, and time management has helped me develop those skills.|
Tiffani Murray has a similar story. When she applied to her current employer some seven years ago, she was an IT project manager with limited experience in HR, and she was looking to transition to HR Technology.
She revised her resume to highlight her HR-specific roles and projects. She then reviewed the company’s career site and created a spreadsheet that compared it with the career sites of competitors.
She didn’t get the job initially, but that presentation stuck in the hiring manager’s mind. Two years later she was contacted about the same job. “I got the job, which brought me in at an analyst level, but a year later I was promoted to a technology-manager role in talent acquisition,” Murray said. “To this day, I keep different versions of my resume. I have an HR resume, project-management resume and an IT resume. It was my ability to tailor my resume to the job that landed the gig.”
Murray helps clients with resumes and career paths through her site, Personality on a Page. One of her tips: Your resume must feature quantifiable results that the specific employer will find useful.
For example, if the job requires managing a team, make sure to mention the size of the team you currently manage or teams you have managed. “If you read that sales have slipped 20 percent in a certain market that you’ve serviced, make sure to highlight your successes with that market using numbers, amounts, totals, etc.,” she said. “Once you score an interview it’s a good idea to do more research on the company and have talking points ready to illustrate why you could help the company expand in a certain area or address problems known to the public.
“Part of getting hired is proving that you will be an asset to the company,” she said. “Just having a certain skill set doesn’t always nail this for a hiring manager, but when you can articulate how you will make a difference,” you’ll capture their attention for sure.
Editor’s Note: A previous verison of this article mispelled the name of Tiffani Murray.
Lisa Vaas covers resume writing techniques and the technology behind the job search for TheLadders.