By Martin Yate
When you started your career the problem was that no one wanted entry-level candidates. Now, when you have a wealth of experience, the problem has reversed itself.
The challenge now becomes what to do in a job search when you are rejected, not for lack of experience but for too much experience. Almost every problem with a troubled job search can be traced back to a resume, and this problem is no exception.
You know that the customer is always right, and that whatever your job, finding out what the customer wants and giving it to them is the surest path to success. You have known this your entire adult life, yet when it comes to writing a resume, these two critical lessons fly right out of the window.
You sit down to create the most financially important document you will ever own,
You write a document that tries to capture everything you think is important and of which you are proud.
You strive to give it as much breadth as possible to widen the range of opportunities for which you might be suited.
The result is a one-size-fits-all document, and as you know from bitter personal experience, one-size-fits-all-never-fits-anyone.
Writing an old-fashioned general resume does not work. It will disappear into the resume databases and never be found because it lacks focus. Even if you do manage to get it in front of a headhunter, recruiter, or hiring manager, no one likes reading resumes because they turn a brain to mush in short order.
Writing a resume without the needs of the customer firmly in mind is a recipe for disaster and a waste of everyone's time. If your matching skills don’t jump off the page in the first 30 seconds, you are history.
The resume that works is one that focuses on what employers state in job postings as important. It delivers the information that qualifies you for this job.
In short, you don’t write a resume about all the wonderful things you can and have done.
You write a resume that addresses your ability to do just the things that the employer is asking for.
Give your resume a headline, right after the contact information at the top of the first page. That headline is the Target Job Title you are pursuing.
Everything that follows the Target Job Title is focused on your skills, experiences, and ability to deliver on the requirements of that job title.
This is the story you tell, nothing more and nothing less. Do this and your resume’s performance in database searches will dramatically increase, and your matching skills will jump off the page in the first few seconds of reading.
We seem to spend much of our lives striving for bigger and better job titles, because society attaches so much prestige to job titles. That is until age and wage discrimination sets in and the problems begin.
For example, you might face the problem of going after an individual contributor job after years of holding a management title. Just as that would give you, as a hiring manager, pause for concern, it will give potential employers the same concern.
There is a solution that builds on the idea of focusing on required skills rather than presenting yourself as a superhero.
For instance, I have owned my company for thirty years, so I am a president, CEO or whatever over-blown title comes to mind. But with a small company of less than a dozen people, I’m also the chief cook and bottle washer. We write resumes and coach people, so I spend a lot of time doing one-on-one coaching with people all over the world, and doing webinars.
Consequently, were I to pursue a job in training, which is my professional background, I could honestly give my company name and dates of employment followed by my job title as Training Specialist or Training Manager – whatever would be closest to the target job:
Global performance training company
I wouldn’t be lying, this would be true and defensible. It would also be infinitely more productive in a job search than:
Global performance training company
I have had one or two people over the years express a concern here about references and potential problems of downgrading a job title.
Mostly references are concerned with dates of employment and leaving salary, and I have honestly never heard of a job offer being retracted because someone minimized their achievements rather than exaggerating them.
Dates of employment are also part of the “overqualified” quagmire, but there is help here too. A resume that goes back more than 20 years can begin to speak of age, big money, old dogs, and (no) new tricks. This can also make you look like a know-it-all who might be tough to manage, and no one wants to hire someone who might be a management problem.
Opinions vary on this with some career people saying not to go back more than 10 years, but that can under qualify you for many jobs. My personal persuasion is to go back no more than 20-25 years. If the resume shows 25 years of work history, the Performance Summary that follows your Target Job Title will read "20+ years’ experience."
Not going back throughout what might be a long work history is defensible because of changes in technology. Every job in existence has changed beyond recognition in the last 20 years. Therefore, not listing experience prior to 20 years ago is defensible as being irrelevant to the skills necessary for the job. This is especially true if you are trying to keep the resume tight, succinct, and as short as the story you need to tell will allow.
Successful careers don't happen by accident. Professional resume writing expert Martin Yate CPC is a New York Times best-seller and the author of 17 Knock Em Dead career management books. As Dun & Bradstreet says, "He's about the best in the business." For FREE resume-building advice and to view Martin's resume samples, visit the Knock Em Dead website. Join Martin on Twitter at @KnockEmDead and also on Google+.