How to Make Your Résumé a Diamond in the Rough

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By Marcelle Yeager

What's a surefire way to have your résumé thrown aside within seconds of an employer reading it? Including overused, common phrases and words to describe yourself. Employers see this too often to make a positive impression. When you use such descriptions, you are saying absolutely nothing important or interesting about you. Almost everyone says these things in résumés, which is the whole problem.

If you want to be seen as unique and get called in for an interview, avoid those phrases at all costs. Here are several ways to make sure your résumé is a shining star in a pile of monotony:Let go of the objective. The Oxford dictionary defines "objective" as "a thing aimed at or sought; a goal." You may wish to work for someone who cares what your goal is, but that is highly unlikely to happen. Take a look at the following example:

"Seeking a challenging position that allows me to use my communications, problem-solving and marketing skills." Here's what you can learn about the applicant from this statement:
  • He wants a challenging role.
  • He has communications, problem-solving and marketing skills.
From an employer's perspective, she has seen statements like this so many times that they've become stale. Most people say they want to be challenged, and "communications" is a broad word. What types of communication is he good at – written, oral, corporate communications, crisis communications, conflict resolution? "Problem solving" is another widely used term. What kinds of problems is he adept at solving – analytical, social, strategic? "Marketing skills" is also vague. What type of marketing is he talking about – mass marketing, graphic design, copy?

If you are not specific, you are not helping the employer achieve her goal, which is to fill the role with a talented candidate. In other words, she wants to know if you can satisfy her objective, not your own. Whether you agree with this or not, it is the reality today as companies receive tons of applications, so you need to change your objective statement into a career profile or summary.

Get specific in your summary. Read the following statement, and think about what you've learned about the candidate: "Self-starter who thrives in a fast-paced, fluid environment and quickly contributes value." If true, you can assume this person is:
  • a self-starter
  • someone who thrives in fast-paced environments
  • a person who quickly contributes value
Unfortunately, many people claim to be self-starters, thrive in challenging environments and contribute value. The question is how you can make this statement unique and personal. The answer is making examples your best friend. If you are always telling an employer words and phrases to describe you, she doesn't get much from it. You need to show it, which means you need to use examples. How can you prove these things? Think about an instance or two when you demonstrated certain characteristics at school or on the job.

Replace the overused words and phrases with these examples. Here's a sample of what it might look like: "Initiated development and implementation of a new online training program in six weeks, staying within budget." What have you learned from reading this?
  • The person is a self-starter.
  • The person can accomplish a major task in a short time frame.
  • The person made a valuable contribution and saved company resources.
Which candidate would you choose to interview?

Don't use your job description as your résumé bullets. This is a big mistake that lots of people make. Job descriptions rarely encompass everything you do, and most are by nature very generic. You are not doing yourself any favors by copying your job description into your résumé. Your bullets need to tell the story of exactly what you've achieved in your job, both inside and outside the scope of your formal job responsibilities. (Use those examples above to help with this step.)

Don't let stale phrasing and wording prevent you from getting called for interviews. Phrases such as "dedicated team player," "well-organized and committed," and "results-oriented" are used too frequently. If something sounds bad to you, it probably sounds even worse to an employer who reads a lot of résumés that sound exactly the same.

Do yourself a favor and incorporate specific examples to demonstrate why you have the characteristics you say you do. That kind of résumé will be unique and stand out to a potential employer. A vague, cliched version is simply going to be glanced at and tossed aside. Don't let that be you.

Marcelle Yeager is the president of Career Valet, which delivers personalized career navigation services. Her goal is to enable people to recognize skills and job possibilities they didn't know they had to make a career change or progress in their current career. She worked for more than 10 years as a strategic communications consultant, including four years overseas. Marcelle holds an MBA from the University of Maryland.
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