When you created (or last updated) your resume, did you open up a word document and start typing in or editing bullets? If you are like most people, you didn't spend time planning your resume so much as you started writing your resume. The result may be highly professional and accurate, which puts you in good company with the other 300 people applying for the job who also have professional and accurate resumes.
How can you stand out in the crowd? Edgar Allan Poe has some tips. In 1846, he wrote an essay, The Philosophy of Composition. In it, he provides the advice:
"Nothing is more clear than that every plot, worth the name, must be elaborated to its dénouement before anything be attempted with the pen."
In plain English, Poe advocated that writers first plan how their story ends before they start writing. He then takes this a step further, and suggests that you should start by understanding what you are trying to accomplish, and then develop a plan to write something that will achieve that objective.
Poe did not start by trying to write a story about a Raven. He started by deciding he wanted to create an impression, and therefore he would write a poem that was about one hundred lines long. He wanted his poem to appeal to everyone, so he honed in on beauty, and sadness. The topic and words followed in similar rational fashion.
How does this apply to a resume? Don't start by writing. Instead, follow these five steps:
- Establish goals. Jot down (on paper) what you want to accomplish. Do you want to make more money? Do something you enjoy? Take a next step in your career? List everything you want to accomplish, then circle the most important items.
- Inventory. What do you have that will help you reach the goals you circled? Make lists of your experience, skills, and accomplishments throughout your career. Write down job titles you have had, and job titles that you believe you want.
- Research. Go to a site like Beyond.com, and search the job titles above, as well as related titles that show up in your searches. Print out the job descriptions you like best, and circle everything in the job description that relates to something you listed in step 2.
- Plan. Choose the job description with the most things circled. Write the following sentence: "I am a JOB TITLE (from description). I deserve this job because (write down the things you circled in the job description).
- Write! Okay, now you can move to the computer. Find a resume template you like, and then start writing your career summary/objective and experience. BUT, use what you wrote in Step 4 as your guide. Focus your resume on the skills, experience, and accomplishments that demonstrate why you are right for this job, and use the terminology from the job description.
Now you are ready to apply to that job, or jobs just like it. Follow an abbreviated version of the above process for other jobs. If it sounds complex, don't worry. It isn't important to follow every step exactly. In fact, if you simply think and research before you write, you'll be a step ahead.