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Optimizing your Resume Presentation

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One of the unfortunate realities of the job search process is often, people who are a good fit for a job get passed over because of an inadequate resume. In this age of online recruitment, hiring managers and recruiters may review a hundred or more resumes before deciding on who they want to interview. Given this high volume, they are only able to spend 30 seconds (or sometimes less) scanning a resume to determine whether the candidate could be a good fit for the position.

When a recruiter sees your resume, they want to quickly determine which of the following four categories the resume belongs in:

1. Resume is not appropriate for the job at all - for example, a bookkeeper applying for an accounting job. Recruiters hate it when job seekers send in resumes for positions they're completely unqualified for. Some job seekers think it doesn't hurt to send a resume even if the position isn't a match. They think maybe they will be considered for other positions they're qualified for. A recruiter's attitude is often that if the job seeker can't read directions and applies for the wrong position, the person can't be a great candidate anyway and will throw the resume in the garbage.

2. The person is not experienced or skilled enough to do the job. For example, if the job calls for someone who can work independently and the resume only shows experience working as part of a team.

3. The person is too senior or too expensive. This is kind of the "overqualified" scenario. If you apply for a job that pays $50,000, but the recruiter thinks from looking at your resume that you could make $60,000 -- or thinks from looking at your previous positions that you had been earning $60,000 in the past, they will shy away from selecting you. Recruiters don't want to place someone who will end up leaving for a better paying position after just a couple of months on the job. With third party recruiters, they don't get paid their placement fee if this happens, plus it may ruin their relationship with the client company. With direct employers, they will incur the opportunity cost of having to get another person up to speed if you quit prematurely.

4. The person's background matches the position and they would be happy to take the salary being offered. This is the category you want to fall in.


Your most recent job title should be about the same as the position you're applying for. If you're applying for a position as a Senior Accountant, your last position should ideally have been a senior accountant. Or if your last position was slightly junior to the position you're applying for, the recruiter will be looking to see that you spent enough time in that position to learn the skills and gain the experience someone with the more senior title would be expected to have. Your most recent job title should *not* be more senior than the position you're applying for. If it is, you may want to consider "downgrading" it. While lying on your resume is generally a bad idea, this kind of presentation change, which does not promise that you're qualified for something you're not, may be necessary to overcome the "overqualified" reaction.

If the position you're applying for requires specialized experience or knowledge, it is important that your resume communicate that you have that experience and knowledge. Here is where going into details is helpful. Going into details about work you did that is not relevant to the position you're asking the recruiter to consider you for could be detrimental because it can make your resume seem dauntingly long.


The best ways to get advice on improving your resume are to talk to recruiters and hiring managers. And not just any recruiters and hiring managers: they should be people who are currently hiring or have recently hired someone with your background. You can find these people through networking with people you know, or through cold calling/cold emailing. With hiring managers, you can contact a company that hires people with your skills and try to get an informational interview with someone who manages people with your background. Even if this person is not hiring at the moment, an informational interview will give you a chance to learn about the industry and for you to ask them to critique your resume. You could present it that you want to learn about their company for future employment opportunities, even if they're not hiring now. People feel flattered if you tell them you like their company and want to learn more about it.

With recruiters, you can probably find one in your field by networking. You can also access directories of recruiters on sites like these:

Another avenue for networking to find hiring managers and recruiters is through the various professional networking online forums. With these forums you can contact people working at specific companies and sometimes you can connect with a hiring manager or HR rep who might be willing to help give you feedback and information. WetFeet's site has some good forums along these lines:

While not as good as getting information from the "horse's mouth," another option is to connect with someone who recently landed the same kind of job you're going for. You can do this through networking. After looking at their resume, you may notice things that may have given them an edge in getting noticed and considered by the employer who ultimately hired them.

Resume writers and job coaches can be another source of information. The caveat here though is that many resume writers and job coaches have expertise in only certain fields. The ideal situation is to find a resume writer or job coach who has recently helped someone get placed in the same position, or at least the same field, that you're going for. You may be able to get a prospective resume writer to let you talk to someone they helped get placed recently as a reference to vouch for the quality of their services.

About the Author

Scott Brown is the author of the Job Search Handbook (http://www.JobSearchHandbook.com). As editor of the HireSites.com weekly newsletter on job searching, Scott has written many articles on the subject. He wrote the Job Search Handbook to provide job seekers with a complete yet easy to use guide to finding a job effectively.


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