3 questions to help focus your resume

Time to create or update your resume? It can be tempting to jump right in with a list of job titles and employment dates.

Man writing resumeSeriously, it’s almost as easy to locate a blank resume template online as it is to find a cat video—but if you resist the urge and instead spend a few hours thinking about your resume’s key message you’ll be far more likely to end up with a document that will help land you a job.

You wouldn’t prepare any other document or report without at least reviewing your facts and sources—why would you skimp on something as important as your resume?  Luckily, resume research is not rocket-science research. You can usually sit down and uncover your key messages by answering the following three questions:

1)  What’s your job target?

One key to a great resume is knowing what you’re trying to achieve. And one of the biggest complaints employers have about resumes is a lack of focus. Add focus to your resume by thinking about your goals:

  • What’s the purpose of the resume you’re preparing? Is it to attract employers who may have opportunities, or are you applying for a specific, advertised position?
  • What’s your current career objective? Are you in a field that you enjoy, or are you looking to change careers? What’s the next logical step in your career?
  • What kind of company or organization do you want to work for? Where are the employers in your field, and how much do you know about them?
  • What do you want to achieve in your work? Are you looking for greater responsibility? Higher income? More meaningful work? What’s most important to you?

2)  What are employers looking for?

You don’t have to guess at what employers are looking for—instead, take a look at any of these resources:

  • Job boards and job ads. Study postings on several job boards or job search sites. Pay attention to the skills, education, and other qualifications employers are looking for.
  • Employer websites. Company websites can be a rich source of information. Along with job postings and other career information, you’ll find information on a company’s history, mission, and more.
  • Professional association websites. These websites and related publications are a great way to track trends in your field, learn what skills are in demand, and even view job postings. Find professional associations in any field.
  • Reference tools. The U.S. Department of Labor publishes two resources that are excellent sources of information for your resume: the Occupational Outlook Handbook and O*NET OnLine.
  • Social media. Tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are great for research. For example, you can use LinkedIn to research companies and hiring managers you’ve identified.

3)  How do you stand out from the crowd of applicants?

Once you know what employers are looking for, it’s time to see how you match up. Consider both your basic career assets, such as jobs you’ve held and courses you’ve taken, and your unique-to-you assets, like your strongest skills and values. Here are some examples of what you’ll want to think about in each category:

Your basic career assets:

  • Employment history. Positions you’ve held or projects you’ve worked on, including volunteer or recreational activities.
  • Education, continuing education. Degrees, certifications, or diplomas you’ve earned, and any additional courses or training you’ve received.
  • Technical skills. Computer or other technical skills you’re proficient in and would like to use in your next position.
  • Other information. Professional associations, service awards, publications or presentations, relevant hobbies, or volunteer activities.

The unique assets you offer:

  • Your strongest skills. Things that you’re good at and particularly enjoy doing. Pay special attention to transferable skills.
  • Your accomplishments. Achievements you’re proud of, whether they’re from jobs, volunteer work, or recreational activities.
  • Your values. Things that are important to you, such as helping others, learning new skills, or preserving the environment.
  • Your special knowledge and interests. Unique contributions you can make as a result of your career history, education, and life experience.

Ready to start crafting your resume?  Once you’ve answered these three key questions, it’s time to watch some cat videos!  Just kidding: it’s time to start writing. Visit CareerOneStop’s Resume Guide for tips on writing your resume, ideas for marketing your resume, and lots of sample resumes to get you started!


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