So there you are…staring at the Microsoft Word page. Maybe it is just a fresh document, or maybe you are trying out one of Word’s overused résumé/letter templates. You’ve read up on all the “rules,” the plethora of do’s and don’ts. You think you have a pretty good handle on how a résumé and cover letter should be put together. After all, people tell you that you’re a good writer. You know all about proper usage of white space on a page.
So why does everything you seem to write come out like a bad marketing promo? It ranges anywhere from bloated to desperate to not bad, but not you. In fact, you’ve pretty much just described everything you aren’t or don’t want to be.
Or perhaps you’ve gone the other way. You thought you created a masterpiece the first time around. It was so exquisite, you were just sure that someone would hire you without even bothering with an interview! But, alas, that did not happen, and the reaction has been lukewarm at best.
What went wrong? Why can’t you seem to capture your professional essence on paper?
Here are my three theories:
1. Self-writing is one of the hardest types of writing there is. A résumé is essentially an autobiography of sorts. (Although, it should by no means be as extensive or as personal as an autobiography!) Ask anyone who’s written an autobiography, and they will tell you that it is one of the hardest things to do. Either you come off sounding too arrogant (and, yes, you can do that with a résumé; marketing does NOT equal arrogance; marketing equals convincing your audience that you can solve its problems) or you come off too flat.
2. Your résumé is too self-focused. To avoid the problem in theory #1, the more you keep your audience at the forefront, the more effective you will be. And the easier the writing process will be. That is why a broad résumé doesn’t work too well for a job seeker. There is no direct audience with whom to connect.
3. All writing takes practice. Résumé writing is so different from any other form of writing. You don’t write in sentences, except with the cover letter. You don’t include the first person, again except with the cover letter (and even then you want to keep it minimal). There is a strategy to organizing the writing that often gets overlooked by job seekers. Contrary to some beliefs, it is not a laundry list of job descriptions. It can all sound simple, but unless it is something you do on a regular basis, it can be hard to implement.
So does this mean I think that a professional résumé writer is your only hope? No. But I do think you need to be realistic about it, and if you are going to do it yourself, you need to ask yourself the following questions:
1. How well do I really know my target market? Have I sufficiently researched my industry enough to know what hiring managers are looking for? Am I up-to-date on the latest keywords and terminology?
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you have spent the last 10 years in a particular field, you are necessarily well versed on that field on a global level. Corporations, even very large ones, often have their own verbiage and abbreviations that do not always translate into the field at large. Plus, many companies, again even very large ones, are not always up to the latest standards and trends.
2. Can I realistically match up my skills with the company’s needs? Is my audience too broad?
If your audience is too wide, you are going to end up all over the place, detailing things that no one but you cares about. Job seekers do this a lot. They get hung up on certain accomplishments or attributes that they think are really impressive. And for good reason; these were significant events in their careers. However, that doesn’t mean your target market will put as much emphasis on it as you do. If you don’t have a clear audience, then you won’t know for sure how to approach representing it.
3. What do I know about formatting a document?
Whatever you do, do not follow a Word template. Too many people do; plus, the templates are not very good. Many of them have objective statements, and you should no longer be using objective statements.
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