4 Essential Functions of a Resume
Donald Asher, author of "The Overnight Résumé: The Fastest Way to Your Next Job"
Everybody knows that résumés are useful for getting interviews, but not everybody realizes the résumé's other, equally important, functions: It structures the interview process, reminds the interviewer of you after you are gone, and justifies the hiring decision to others. So a good résumé can do four things, each distinctly separate and distinctly important:
1. First, you gotta get that interview
The biggest challenge your résumé will ever face is direct competition. It needs to win the interview in the shoulder-to-shoulder battle with other résumés, many of which are from candidates with better qualifications than yours. Some glamour industries, such as the hottest and most successful tech companies, receive in excess of 1,000 unsolicited résumés per day. Following some smart guidelines, you can get interviews and jobs at odds well in excess of 1,000 to one.
Writing résumés that win interviews requires an understanding of what happens to your résumé when it hits XYZ Corp. It is usually screened by résumé-sorting software and then a human being. These different constituencies for your magnum opus require different strategies.
Software is patient, and it will read to the bottom of a résumé. You can take keywords from a job posting and mix them in anywhere and the software will find them. A smart résumé writer will find creative, truthful ways to insert all the words that the software might be programmed to seek. These can include major competitors to the hiring company, certain degrees, technical skills and even certain cities, zip codes or area codes. This is a skill that you can learn if you start to think hard about it. Always tell the truth, but find a way to get the sought-after words into your document. The software will find them wherever you put in them in your résumé.
But humans read differently. They spend only a few seconds before deciding to reject a résumé. With humans, you win or lose in the first 10 lines. Never make a human read more than a few lines to know what you can do for them.
2. The résumé will structure the interview
Most interviewers will go right down your employment history, asking questions about each job. Your résumé should not tell the whole story; it should pique curiosity, begging for a clarifying question. (It should not, however, be confusing or obtuse.)
Incidentally, you should take plenty of extra copies of your résumé to any interview. Your interviewer will often ask for one, and some interviewers ask for several as a ploy to get all of yours away from you. Then they can test your memory. Have plenty of copies and pass this test.
3. The résumé reminds the interviewer of you after you are gone
Research has shown that after you are gone, the résumé can overwhelm the interviewer's memory of you in person. A candidate with a good written presentation will be remembered as articulate, well groomed and intelligent; one with a poor written presentation will be remembered as unkempt, inarticulate and ill prepared, regardless of how the candidates actually performed in the interview. Few candidates realize how important this résumé function is.
The one major exception to the above occurs when an interviewer decides you are lying or grossly exaggerating. In this case all credibility is lost and your written presentation is discounted entirely. Don't cross that line.
4. Finally, your résumé can justify the hiring decision to others.
The hiring cycle is getting longer and longer. More people are involved, and everyone is afraid to make a mistake. If you are the wrong hire, it can be very difficult to get rid of you. There are people higher up in the organization who rubber stamp your hire decision without ever meeting you. The better you look on paper, the more comfortable they are with making a decision. Here the wrong résumé can undo every right thing about you.
Candidates who are referred by friends, or who are interviewing with people they know, may not realize how critical it is to write a winning résumé anyway. Your friend may love you, but somebody upstairs has to be fully satisfied. The résumé better live up to the rest of your presentation, or you could get nixed by someone who never even meets you.
As you are writing your résumé, keep in mind what you want it to do for you. If you understand what your goals are, and what you want your résumé to accomplish each time you use it, you will do a better job of achieving those goals.
Donald Asher is the author of 11 books on careers and higher education. His most recent titles include "The Overnight Résumé" from which this article is excerpted, "How to Get Any Job: Life Launch and Re-Launch for Everyone Under 30" and "Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn't, and Why." He speaks at more than 100 colleges and universities every year.