I was chatting to a friend yesterday who was having some issues with getting anyone to respond to her job applications. This got me thinking about exactly what needs to be inside a resume or CV in order for someone to get an interview.
So what exactly needs to be in a resume to get the interview? Most people fill out their resume with a list of the jobs that they’ve held along with their qualifications. The problems with this are that such resumes don’t speak the language of the employer, and they tend to look the same as every other application that they have to process. The solution is to craft your resume in such a way that it speaks directly to the wants of the hiring manager, while using their own language to convince them that you’re the right choice.
How do we do that?
We begin with a simple reframe: Your resume or CV is not about you, it’s about your prospective employer.
Your resume or CV is not about you. It’s about your prospective employer and how you will help to solve their problems.
That probably sounds a little odd, and it’s my hope that by the end of this article it will make total sense to you.
What qualifies me to talk about this? Well, first I’m a hypnotist, so I have a good understanding of exactly how human minds work. On top of that, I’ve run small businesses where I’ve employed people, I’ve run marketing campaigns, and I’ve interviewed many people for roles in corporations.
And I’ve been on the other side of the equation as a prospective employee applying for those roles.
It’s safe to say that I have a reasonable idea of what’s required to make a resume work.
So without further ado, let’s get right into it!
A Resume Is A Marketing Exercise
Your resume is not really about you. It’s about your prospective employer and the problem they have that they hope you will be able to solve for them.
Once you know that, and take it fully onboard, it becomes much easier to figure out exactly what should be in it.
This has some consequences.
First, you are competing with everyone else who is applying for the same role. If your resume looks exactly the same as theirs, getting the interview becomes more or less random chance.
Second, since you know that your resume should be about the employer and their problems, rather than about you, you can take a different approach than the other candidates.
Whenever you carry out any marketing exercise, the very first thing you want to do is always to understand your customers. In the case of your resume, your customer is the potential employer.
When we’re designing a new product that we want to market, there are a few things that we want to understand about our customers.
Before anything else, understand what your customer (the hiring manager) wants.
So let’s step inside the mind of the hiring manager for a moment.
First, we need to know what they want.
This is usually different to what they need.
As an example, suppose you’re applying for a job as a software developer. What the hiring manager probably wants is for their projects to be completed on time and budget. So when you write your resume, it becomes important to indicate that you’ve done this in the past.
Second, we need to know what they need.
This is important, because we have to be able to do the job.
It doesn’t matter too much if we can’t do it right now, but we do have to be confident that we can learn it quickly enough that we’re not going to look bad.
In the case of our software developer, it probably doesn’t matter too much if we don’t know their specific language, since that’s something we can learn quite quickly. It probably does matter quite a lot if we don’t yet know how to develop software.
Third, we need to know what kinds of things really irritate them.
This can be anything at all. In the case of a software developer, this might be things like using a different style of formatting to everyone else, or not fixing misspellings in variable names, or anything else at all.
And fourth, we need to know what kinds of things they worry might go wrong if they hire the wrong person.
This one is absolutely critical, because if we can nail it, we can inoculate against them thinking it’s us!
Take a few moments and write all of these out on a sheet of paper. If you like, you can mine sites like quora to discover what people are talking about. Go deep.
It’s a good idea to also mine the job advertisement, and the company’s website for the same kinds of information. Look for common themes.
Now, when we think about things from the perspective of the hiring manager faced with a huge pile of resumes, you can quickly come to some realizations:
- Achievements are far more important than roles
- More recent stuff is more important than old stuff
- More relevant stuff is more important than irrelevant stuff
- The resume should be designed to flow in the order the hiring manager is asking questions
So take a moment and imagine that you’re the hiring manager and get inside their mind. You’re working through a pile of resumes, and each of them is more or less the same.
A name and some contact details.
A list of jobs and responsibilities.
So you’re sitting there reading all these resumes, and something seems a bit off.
What’s going on is that once someone’s in an industry, they generally know that specific roles typically have a certain set of responsibilities, and that the actual job requirements are totally different from that.
It sounds ridiculous, but think it through for a moment.
I’ve never once seen a job description that accurately reflected the job.
Not even immediately after it was rewritten in consultation with the people currently holding the job. I won’t go into why this happens here as there’s an entire blog post just in that.
It’s rare for job descriptions to accurately reflect the job.
Suffice it to say that when you think in terms of the hiring manager’s wants, you get to bypass all of this. They’re scanning through the pile of resumes, and then yours pops up. And it screams out at them: You’ve got this problem and here’s how to solve it!
Only more subtly.
It is of critical importance that your entire resume is written in this manner.
So how do we do that?
The Basic Structure Of Your Resume
There will be a typical structure for resumes in your location and industry. To some extent you can ignore this, but it’s important that your resume still looks professional for the industry and that it answers the hiring manager’s questions in the order they ask them.
The very first question they will have is: Who is this?
At the very top of the resume, put your name and contact details.
Make it consume as little space as possible while still loosely fitting the standards of your industry.
The key thing here is that your contact details are where they expect them to be so that they can find them easily when they call you to book your interview.
If the role for which you’re applying requires a certification or qualification, it’s sometimes a good idea to include this with the basic contact details. For example:
Name: Joe Smith, MD
You will know what is important and what isn’t in your own industry, and if you don’t, take a few moments to do some research and figure it out. Usually job advertisements will state if a qualification is required so it’s best to believe them.
The next question they will ask is: Can this person help me?
In copywriting there is a standard principle that the purpose of every sentence is to compel the reader to read the next one. You want to keep them hooked.
So immediately after your contact details, you want to put a bold statement that states exactly how you can solve their problem.
Remember earlier on when you worked out what the hiring manager wants? In the case of our software developer, it was potentially to have projects completed on time and budget, so your statement might read something like:
I strive to support my team by using agile methodologies to deliver on time and within budget every time.
It’s important that this be tailored to the specific role for which you’re applying. It has to solve their problem.
After reading that, they might be thinking: Hrm, really?
Following the copywriting principle of making them keep on reading, it’s sometimes a good idea to list some core skills. These should match whatever they’ve listed in their job advertisement, word for word.
Also, I shouldn’t have to say this, but don’t lie. Not even a little bit.
I once had a guy apply for a database support role and on his CV he had listed that he had lots of experience with networking in an operating system known as Linux. This was not related to the role he was applying for, but I was curious and asked him a simple question that anyone who had that experience could easily answer:
If you had to build a router out of a Linux box, what’s the minimum set of hardware it would require?
The answer I was looking for was that it would need two network devices, since it couldn’t be a router without that. He ended up hopelessly confused, never figured that out, and needless to say, did not get the job.
Had he not lied on his CV, I would never have asked that question.
Never lie on your resume.
Most job advertisements are idealized lists made up by someone who doesn’t know what’s needed. You want to make sure you at least mostly match their requirements, but you also don’t want to make stuff up.
So to be clear, your list of core skills should include things that are on their list and that are skills you have.
The hiring manager reads this right after you’ve told them that you’re going to solve their biggest problem, and their brain typically goes something like: check, check, check, check, hmmm… only missing two things, all good.
The fact that you left out some of the core skills they had listed in their advertisement is telling them that you are an honest person, without ever explicitly stating it.
When you omit some core skills that they have listed in their job ad, you are covertly telling them that you are an honest person.
Next, they will be asking themselves: Is there evidence that this person can do the job?
After the core skills, you want to start on your professional experience. Word this in whatever way suits your industry and role.
List each job you’ve had starting with the most recent and working backwards. For each, give a date range, job title, and company. Under each job list a set of achievements in terms of benefits for the organization or team.
You also want to start to give your prospective employer an experience of what it will be like to work with you. Show them how you will solve their problems.
Ideally, list only achievements that are relevant to the role that you’re applying for.
If any achievement doesn’t match exactly, provide a brief statement that maps it to the new role.
As a rule, you want to provide less information the further back in time you go. The only exception to this is if an older role demonstrates that you can do the role you’re applying for in a way that more recent roles cannot.
When you list your achievements, you’re supplying them with evidence that you can do the job.
Remember, the hiring manager is probably reading through hundreds of resumes. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to decide to interview you.
Now you’ve supplied evidence that you can do the job, they may be asking: Will we get into trouble for hiring this Person?
On your resume, you can partially convince your prospective employer that it’s safe to hire you by listing your qualifications and certifications.
Like with your professional experience, list them in order of newest first.
Don’t list any qualifications that are lower than tertiary level unless they are required for the job.
As a rule, only list tertiary and trade qualifications.
By this point, you’ve told them who you are, you’ve made a bold claim that you can solve their biggest problem, you’ve given them a list of core skills you possess that keep them reading after your bold claim, you’ve provided evidence that you can do it in the form of past experience, and you’ve helped them to set aside any fears they may have had that they might get in trouble for hiring you by pointing out that reputable learning establishments have said you’re okay.
So what’s left?
Well that depends on where you live in the world, and the expectations in your industry.
In New Zealand where I live, we have CVs instead of resumes, and we typically include information at the end to provide a more rounded picture.
For example, my CV has a list of interests at the end which includes among other things hypnosis, psychology, emergence, boatbuilding and theoretical physics.
If appropriate, include a list of interests that further support your claim that you’re the perfect person to solve their problem for them.
If it’s appropriate to have such a list, you can use it to further shape their idea that they want to hire you.
In some places, it’s important to include a list of referees. I never do since I can always supply these if they decide they want to hire me, but you should do whatever is appropriate in your location and industry.
Finally, tell them what to do next.
So the hiring manager reads through your resume, and gets to the very end.
Good marketing practice is to always end with a call to action. This is a short statement that tells them what to do next.
If it’s appropriate to do so for your industry where you live, you might want to try experimenting with adding a call to action. An example of this might be:
Thank you for reading my resume to the end. If you’d like to discover how I can help you to <repeat your bold statement about the problem they hope you will solve for them>, please email me on theMostAwesomeEmailAddressEver@example.com, or call me on xxx-xxx-xxxx.
Naturally make the appropriate changes to suit the industry, where you live, and your personal style.
Mining the job advertisement for their words
Now that you’ve built your resume it should be in good shape to get you that interview. However, there are a couple of closing points.
First, be aware that your resume could potentially be scanned by a robot and rejected before it is ever seen by a human.
To work around this, look through the job advertisement and pick out any keywords, then make sure you’ve used these near the top of your resume. Ideal locations include your core skills list and the achievements for your most recent job.
Include keywords for both robots and humans.
Second, be aware that ultimately your resume will be read by an actual human being.
This means that your language needs to flow, so after adding any keywords you’ve mined from their job ad, pick out any emotional words they’ve used. Find things that appear to be important to them, and make sure that you’ve used their exact words.
By this I mean that if you are applying for a job as an SQL Server Developer, and they refer to it as T-SQL Developer in their advertisement, you use the words T-SQL Developer.
One of the core principles in marketing is that people like people who are like themselves.
When you use their exact words like this, it fires up the pattern matching inside their mind which tells them that you’re the right person for the job.
Naturally this requires that the hiring manager was involved in writing the ad, which is not always the case, so use your judgment.
There is a heap more I could write here about hypnotic language patterns, but really all you need to do is shape your resume so that it answers the questions that the hiring manager will be asking, in the order they ask them, and you should be able to dramatically increase your chances of getting that interview.
And once you’ve got the interview, all you have to do is convince them to say yes.