Resumes Revisited

Resumes Revisited

It always surprises me to see people's resumes and how little effort goes into them. While the resume is the only, and thus critical, point of contact when you first apply for a job, most people write it like they would an obituary. They include the main data points but no marketing as to their real value. Thus it's no wonder then that their submission-to-interview ratio is low.

The best resumes are those which are tailored for the job you are applying for, and have been rewritten to fit the specific needs of the job. Content, structure, and key words are the way to make your resume work for you and get you into an interview.

First let's look at content. To decide what to write, carefully read the job description. Especially from large companies, although the job title may be something generic such as "Unix Systems Administrator" by looking through the description, you'll come across key words such as Legato, or storage systems. These technical references would have come from the business or line manager, not the HR team, and thus tell you what is really important to the hirer. In rewriting your resume, you need to highlight your experience in this area. If you don't have Legato experience, that's OK. Highlight instead your experience with other products and data storage systems in general. But make sure that you address those key words.

If the job description comes from a recruiter, or really is generic (i.e. it came from HR), don't just send in your resume. Get on the phone and call the advertiser and ask what is important. Especially if they are a smaller company, the job description probably came directly from the business manager, and thus getting 5 minutes on the phone with them can really help you understand what they are looking for.

Next, the structure. Once you know what content you have to write, you need to make sure it gets communicated properly. I recently received a resume from a Japanese candidate who was returning to Japan after studying overseas. Coming fresh from a college course, this person had not had a job in the field of study. However, I noticed that she did have a strong practical component to her B.Sc. degree, where she'd been actively supporting other students with desktop usage problems. It turned out that she had done quite a bit of unpaid support and knew the technology pretty well. I had her move her education experience to the bottom of the resume (don't put it at the top unless you're applying to become an academic), and create a new work experience section. I had her write in some detail her desktop support duties, making a note in parenthesis besides "Employer" saying that this was part of her course.

The effect on her resume was dramatic. Even though it still said that she had no paid work experience, the list of duties that she'd engaged in read like a proper job. Within a couple of weeks of coming back to Japan, she was accepted by a famous international company as a junior desk side engineer. The company hired for her language and personality, but originally chose to meet her because she seemed to have sufficient technical background.

I often get JETs applying for jobs with no work experience apart from teaching. I've said before that if you are teaching in Japan and are seriously thinking to stay on and work here, then you need to get some work experience somehow, to go on the resume. Else, even if you speak good Japanese, you'll be limited to sales and headhunting roles. The way to do this is the volunteer for a local non-profit organization and do whatever tasks will make your resume read the right content and keywords. If you can't find a non-profit, then organize a club. Again, the point is to create that essential list of duties which will be relevant to your eventual job of choice.

Lastly, on a resume, keywords are just so important - so don't lose them in a 5-page tome. Instead keep your resume to just 1-2 pages, and let your key words speak for you.

One key word is clearly "bilingual", Specify just how bilingual, but nonetheless, use that word. Others, if you're applying to a financial institution, are "bank" or "finance." Some people try to avoid writing down the name of the company they are currently working for, because they worry that word will get back. This is misguided and seldom happens. Instead, be sure to put the company name down - since it proves that you are already good enough for the industry and thus short-cuts you into the interview process.

Also, especially if you're going for an entry level position in a smaller company, although it may sound corny, be sure add a cover letter loaded with the same key words and phrases. Tell the company how you like to roll your sleeves up, you're a dedicated, loyal, hard-working person, and a quick learner. All employers who are going to have to train someone worry about the person jumping ship as soon as the training investment is done. So "loyalty" is a powerful key word that will at least make small company hirers want to meet you.