Does Your Resume Distinguish or Extinguish?

All too often when collaborating with a client to further develop their resume, I receive summaries and lists that downplay their capabilities,  underrates their talents, and minimizes their accomplishments – much like the following which is an actual summary I once received from a new graduate.

Skills Summary

  • Experience in customer satisfaction
  • Works well with other people
  • Good communication skills
  • Strong verbal communication
  • Organized
  • Fast learner
  • Basic plumbing knowledge
  • Hand and power tools
  • Strong interpersonal skills

Does this summary give a full picture of this individual? Do you see what makes them unique; distinguishing them from the crowd? Are you confident that they even actually possess these skills? Are you enticed to call them for an interview or entrust them with your precious business or customers? Of course not!  On all counts!! If anything, it completely extinguishes any hope of finding an ideal candidate. It sorely undersells, even downplays, the individual and all that they have to offer. While this individual undoubtedly had very little formal experience, they radiated an almost palpable energy and demonstrated an adventurous, community-minded spirit which was clearly expressed through an affinity for hands on work combined with a multitude of valuable volunteer experiences.

So how do we distinguish ourselves on our resume rather than kill any chance we have for an interview?


What does your resume do for you?

There are many things to keep in mind but, here, we will focus on 10 essential ingredients to capturing an employer’s attention.

  1. Don’t make vague claims – back them up with specific examples to substantiate them. Dig deeply into work experience, academic projects, and any volunteer/ extracurricular activities to extract relevant items that demonstrate abilities, suitability and dedication. Too often we take our natural talents and skills for granted because they seem so easy or second nature to us – yet it may be the very thing to give you the edge over your competitors.
  2. Pack as much punch in the top first page as possible – briefly touch on highlights of experience, skills and education which can be elaborated on in the appropriate sections further along in the resume – view this section as the hook to entice the potential employer to continue reading and request an interview.
  3. Give concrete details, numbers, descriptions, etc. – the who, what, when, where and how, to add credibility and to create a full picture that is less open to interpretation and erroneous assumptions.
  4. Use current language that is more active – exuding energy, competence and enthusiasm.
  5. Don’t think in terms of mere job responsibilities – think in terms of the specific accomplishments, skills, attitudes and contributions you brought to the job.
  6. Include the results of your work in such a way as to convince the employer that you would bring the same value to their business to help them achieve their own business objectives.
  7. Think from the employers’ perspective – if you were hiring for your very own business – your pride and joy – what skills, experience, training and attitudes would YOUR ideal candidate possess?
  8. Don’t be modest but be honest! Bring it only to the level that will allow you to wholeheartedly look the employer in the eye and confidently provide evidence – if you lie or exaggerate, not only will your body language give you away, but you will also go into the interview feeling less comfortable with your resume. It has to fit!
  9. Keep it clean, allow sufficient white space, avoid busy fonts, too much bolding, underlining and italicizing (see, it’s distracting) – and whatever you do, make sure you keep it consistent.
  10. Get a second pair of eyes to check for spelling and grammatical errors and, more importantly, to see whether you’re underselling yourself – are you describing and validating your own unique value, or are you simply describing every other Tom, Dick and Harry looking for work?

Now look back briefly at the original summary, if you dig a little deeper, apply these tips and validate, validate, VALIDATE – in the end, it should look more like this:

Skills Summary

  • Trilingual international traveller who respects cultural diversity and promotes inclusion in the workplace and community; conversational Spanish; functional French
  • Well-developed customer service skills developed through 3 years of retail experience and extensive voluntary teaching of individuals with across-the-board academic and literacy levels
  • Fast learner; motivated and disciplined as demonstrated through fast-tracking Grade 12 with honors while engaging in full-time employment and volunteer activities
  • Award-winning woodworking abilities – placed 3rd in 2009 national skills competition for cabinetry
  • Trained in WHMIS & First Aid/ CPR; safety conscious and confident using power tools; assisted with plumbing, tiling and painting as a volunteer on 4 charitable community building projects
  • Strong rapport-building skills in multi-generational and multicultural teams in retail, community-based, and academic environments

Now who would not want to at least learn more about such a well-rounded and driven community contributor or possibly even hire them to engage in some customer-focused or hands-on ventures? I sure would, after all, it’s easier to hire for attitude and train for skill, than to hire for skill and then attempt to retrain deeply entrenched attitudes.

A resume that uniquely and accurately reflects who you are is a good investment. Not only can it help you secure the interview or assertively ask for that long overdue & much-deserved raise, it can also help you attract the right employer or opportunity that aligns with your long-term goals.

* Details in the developed summary have been slightly altered to protect client confidentiality & identity.