Does your resume describe all the things you could do?
… Or does it describe what you do better than anyone else?
What you put at the top of your resume brands you – it forms your readers’ first impression of you. These first impressions are nearly impossible to change when the average reader spends 15 seconds on average on your resume.
So the question comes down to how you want to brand yourself? Do you want to brand yourself as a broad-skilled generalist, or as a subject matter expert?
Many of you describe all the things you could do when they have a “throw a bunch of stuff against the wall to see what sticks” strategy. This is what candidates do when they don’t know what the target employer is looking for.
This is a high volume resume strategy, when you plan to send out thousands of resumes and hope that somewhere in those thousand companies, a few employers will find your resume. Candidates who describe themselves as generalists typically try to describe all the things they could do.
This is the strategy I see most candidates use – describing all the things you could do. Most candidates use this strategy because it’s what all of us were taught – We learned how to write resumes when there was much low hanging fruit … when there were candidate shortages.
This is still being taught by most college placement offices today, because the job market changed just a few years ago … and collegiate education is notoriously slow to embrace change.
Describing all the things you could do:
Many candidates use a profile or summary section at the beginning of their resume, that describes all the things they could do. These candidates look like they are all things to all people.
Candidates who describe all the things they could do hope that they will randomly find an employer who is randomly looking for a combination of skills listed on their resume. Candidates who describe themselves as generalists hope that a wide variety of skills will attract employers.
When you describe all the things you could do, you’re probably using one of the two basic styles for this strategy: Paragraph and key skills.
- Paragraph profile or summary section:
- Key skills profile or summary section
Most resumes with a paragraph profile or summary section list a paragraph or two about all the things the candidate could do. When analyzed, these paragraphs can include 25+ things the candidate could do.
A key skills structure lists in a bullet point, column, or comma/slash separated listing of skills – typically a list of 25 – 30+ skills of all the things the candidate could do.
Describing what you do better than anyone else:
When you describe what you do better than anyone else, you use a focused strategy. This focused strategy can work well today, since you choose a subject matter expertise.
For a focused, Subject Matter Expert strategy, use the one or two things you do better than anyone else.
In today’s job market, employers look for candidates who are subject matter experts, even for generalist positions. When it’s difficult to find experts in solving an employer’s specific problems (translation: shortage of candidates or skills), employers choose generalists, who can adapt and learn to solve many types of problems. However, when it’s easy to find candidates who have already solved an employer’s specific problems (translation: job shortage), employers demand subject matter experts.
Doesn’t this make sense – when it’s easy to find an expert who doesn’t need training or ramp-up time and who has already solved similar problems, why would an employer choose someone who needed training, ramp-up time, or with little (or no) experience with the problem at hand? To learn more about why employers look for subject matter expertise over general skills, see “Who needs Generalists Anymore?” at http://www.recareered.com/blog/2010/01/16/who-needs-generalists-anymore-best-of-recareered/.
Even for generalist positions, today’s employers first look for someone who has already solved specific problems (in the resume) and then choose the candidate (from those with the desired specific experience) with the best ability to adapt and solve numerous problem. However, employers don’t find these general skills on the resume, they find them through the interview … of candidates with the subject matter expertise desired.
Which strategy should you use?
Traditional job search suggests a generalist approach, where you list all the things you could do. Since traditional job search strategies were developed in times of candidate and skills shortages, it’s no wonder they suggest this approach. This is why you’ll find many career advisers recommending profile, summary and/r key skills sections at the tip of your resume.
However, today’s employers don’t face candidate or skills shortages, when 84% of currently employed workers are searching for a job (see: “84% Of Currently Employed Workers Compete For Your Job” at http://www.recareered.com/blog/2012/04/16/84-of-currently-employed-workers-compete-for-your-job/) and when employers get an an average 1,000 resumes for each job advertised or posted (see: “Just How Many Job Seekers Are Looking For Work?” at http://www.recareered.com/blog/2012/03/13/just-how-many-job-seekers-are-looking-for-work/).
These figures don’t suggest candidate shortages – they describe job shortages.
As suggested above, when employers see job shortages (instead of candidate shortages), they look for Subject Matter Experts who have already solved their specific problems. Why? Because they can.
Since employers search for Subject Matter Experts, why would you think that a “throw everything against the wall to see what sticks” strategy will be successful? In times of job shortages, employers don’t look for broad listings of skills – they look for deep domain expertise (translation: what you do better than anyone else).
This isn’t an exhaustive list – there’s no way you do 25 things better than anyone else. Instead, list the one or two things you do better than anyone else.
For example, I can play football – but is it something I can do better than a High School player (P.S. I’m in my 50’s)? So why would I list this at the top of my resume? I run marathons and triathlons – I’m not a competitive runner, I do it to stay healthy. Would I really think my 10:00 mile (or slower) pace will to impress anyone looking at my resume? It’s not what I do better than anyone else.
In my distant past I’ve been a programmer, an accountant and a banker. Do I do any of these jobs better than anyone else, when I haven’t worked in the fields in over 20 years? Of course not – so why would I feature these on my resume?
When the job market features mass competition and job shortages, describe what you do best – so hiring managers can find you based on your subject matter expertise.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
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