How to dramatically improve your resume…even if you don’t know how

By Scot Herrick | Resume Tips

Dec 06

Here is the frustrating question: “I need to redo my resume because I want a new job. What should I put in it?”

It’s a frustrating question…because I can’t answer it. So, I ask questions. And then I start frustrating the person asking the question, usually because they don’t know the answers.

You can’t blame the person, either — I was once like that in my career. I wanted out of a job, but I knew I needed to update my resume. Then, when I updated my resume, I started to go looking for jobs.

When I found something I thought I would like and would qualify for, I submitted my resume. This is especially true if you not only want out of a job, but out of the entire industry.

We start thinking we need to update our resume, so we try and figure out how to do that. Then we update the resume and send it out into the world.

Unfortunately, this is not a successful approach.

See more resume tips and my approach to building resumes. Check out my Resume Tips page.

When you’re redoing your resume, you start with a different question

The question is this: Does my resume match the job description of the job I want?

That drives a different set of actions on your part.

You need to find a job that appeals to you. Always a good thing, right? A job that appeals to you?

Now you have something to work with. Get ten of these job descriptions of jobs that appeal to you and now you really have something to work with.

Action Item -- find 10 job descriptions you like

Search for jobs that interest you, then find job descriptions of jobs that you believe you qualify for and interest you. Get 10 of them! It will show you common skills and requirements for the position and allow you to compare them with your resume.

Job descriptions drive resume building and/or modification

Remember that the only purpose of the resume is to get the interview. Nothing else. So the person actually reading your resume is going to do something very straightforward that few people remember: that person is going to look at your resume and compare it to the job description. The more check marks you get for job skills needed for the work on your resume compared to the job description, the bigger your chance of getting an interview.

It is as simple, and as complicated, as that.

You have a base set of skills, education, and experience to put in your resume, of course. But to have an effective resume, a set of job descriptions will drive your content, show your strengths, and highlight your weaknesses.

And having this rational look at your resume against job descriptions will show how you need to drive your career to gain the skills you need to get the jobs you want.

Job skills are the currency of job searches

The key here is that the person reading your resume and trying to decide if you deserve to get an interview will first try to answer this question: Can this person (you) DO the job? Do you have the job skills?

If the job description calls for advanced laser surgery for the eyes and you’ve never used a laser machine before, you won’t get the interview. “Can you do the job?” is the first big question that needs a ‘yes’ answer in order for you to move on in the process.

Let’s get specific steps for what to do - similar position

Do you have at least one job description of a job that appeals to you? Hopefully more than one from different companies for the same type of position so you can get a more complete picture for your resume.

Here’s what you do:

Look at the required job skills on the job description and see if they are on your resume. Look at each one on the job description and find it on your resume. Do you find each one? Great. You’re covered.

  1. If you have the job skill but it is not on your resume, you’ll need to add it on your resume
  2. If you don’t have the job skill, you’ll need to see how you can add this job skill to your portfolio

Look at the soft skills in the job description and see if they are on your resume. Soft skills are things like ‘team player,’ ‘works well in a fast-paced environment’ and all that ‘plays well in the sandbox’ stuff.

  1. If you have the soft skill but it is not on your resume, you’ll need to add it on your resume
  2. If you don’t have the soft skill, you’ll need to see how you can add this soft skill to your portfolio

Look at the certifications on the job description and see if they are on your resume. You see where this is going.

  1. If you have the certifications needed, add them to your resume
  2. If you don’t have the certifications, you’ll need to figure out how to get one

When you do this analysis — especially with multiple job descriptions for the same type of position — you’ll quickly discover how much is missing from your resume that should be in it.

Plus, you’ll quickly see what holes you need to fill in terms of your job skills and certifications in order to up the number of check marks you get when a person reading your resume starts comparing it to their job description.

Here's what to do -- promotion or new industry

What I’ve been demonstrating here is applying for a new job that is, essentially, the same as your own, just in a different company. It’s an important use case, for sure, and it will answer the critical question of “what should I put in my resume?”.

But there are other use cases. The two that come top of mind are these:

  • Going for the promotion. One of the great ways to know if you are ready for a promotion is that you already have the job skills to do the work in the promoted job. Comparing these promotion job descriptions to your resume gives you clear guidance on what you already have and what you still need to get. This helps you plan what skills you want to acquire so you can continue moving forward in your career.
  • Going to a new industry. Time to get out of the coal mining industry? Want to go into healthcare instead? (Not likely, but you get the idea). You can take job descriptions from that new industry and compare that to your current resume and see what needs to happen in order to have a shot at getting a position in your new, desired industry. Remember that many jobs have many transferrable skills, so it is not as far fetched as it may seem at first blush.

The job description drives the resume

Each of us has our own set of job skills, performance, and experience. We want recruiters to find us. The way to do that is to match our job skills and experience to the job descriptions. The better they match, the more likely you are to get the interview. 

The key points in the resume, then, are those that match the job description.

Going through this process will also show what you need to work on next to get that next position, whether it is in your own company, a promotion or something entirely new. 

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