By Michelle Aikman
Résumés are tricky. There really is no debate in that fact. However, there is great debate on what makes a great résumé and how to go about building one.
If you already have a stellar résumé and it is producing the results you want, fantastic! For most of us, we know our résumé is not quite where it needs to be, but we aren't exactly sure how to get it there. I am going to share a secret with you - the process is complex and can feel very overwhelming!
[RELATED: MOAA's Transition and Career Center]
My journey to understand résumés started a long time ago. In high school, I created a half-page résumé. I included my GPA, when I expected to graduate, my job titles, a list of my duties, and the dates for each employment. I might have even had a short list of words to describe myself like “responsible” and “dependable.” I scored a lot of points in interviews because I had a résumé when most teenagers didn't even know what it was. The bar was low.
In college, my résumé started getting a little meatier, with the additions of special projects, internships, and educational focus. After college, the market was down and I wasn't sure how to compete with experienced professionals, so I did a lot of research on résumé writing and job searching. I was intrigued. Over the years, we moved a lot, and my experience became varied to the point that when presented in a list, most people, even those skilled in analyzing talent, had a difficult time seeing how my experience was related or relevant to any one type of job or industry. I became determined to learn how to create the résumé I needed to get through the online filters and win people over.
In 2010, I started dedicating my full-time energy to this endeavor so I could help myself and people like me understand what it really takes. In 2013, I earned the Nationally Certified Résumé Writer (NCRW) certification from the National Résumé Writers' Association. I can't stress the “earned” part enough because the certification process was intense. It truly challenged my knowledge and abilities to prepare résumés that adhere to a long list of best practices but also present individuals in a compelling way for their desired targets.
[SAVE THE DATE: MOAA's 2019 Military and Veteran Networking Forum]
Sitting here today, I feel tremendous satisfaction because I have helped many people break through their own fears and the unknowns to move forward in their careers the way they wanted and set them up to continue to progress in their chosen career paths. Through this work, I came to the realization that résumés are just as much about self-actualization as they are about words purposefully and artfully arranged on a piece of paper.
I also came to the realization that very few people fully recognize the tremendous amount of work that is needed to get to this place until they have put in the work and reaped the benefits.
If you wonder what exactly you need to do to get your résumé revamped into a more polished and powerful document, but you aren't quite ready to quit your job and dedicate your energy to learning the craft or fork out the cash to hire a skilled résumé writer, I share with you the following advice:
1. Ask for feedback from a variety of sources. No one person is going to be able to provide you with all the feedback and advice you need. Many people mistakenly believe recruiters, hiring managers, and human resource professionals are the best and only source of feedback needed because they are the decision makers. They are important, especially because corporate cultures, values, and hiring processes and preferences vary, but if you take a look back at the paragraph about what résumés are really about, you will see friends, coworkers, past reporting managers, and résumé experts can provide you with helpful perspectives. Your résumé needs to reflect you in the best light, and those who know you can help make sure you are including everything that is awesome and important about you. If you receive conflicting feedback, which you will, remember to filter it according to their perspective. A word of caution - not every self-proclaimed expert is, in fact, an expert so take the time to understand who is giving you advice.
2. Ask for feedback often. Odds are, your résumé can be improved a lot, so be prepared for a lot of suggestions on areas to improve each and every time you ask for feedback. This can be hard to bear after putting hours of work into improvements, but an open mind is needed if you are truly interested in improving your document. The more feedback you get, the more information you have to decide how to put your best foot forward. If you start to feel overwhelmed, ask your reviewers to point out what they feel are the top three and start there. Building a stellar résumé takes time, sometimes a lot of it, so patience and perseverance will serve you well.
3. Ask questions to get to the heart of what you feel each reviewer can help you improve. Here are a few good ones to get your started: Do you see any errors? Do you see anything that might jeopardize my candidacy or concern someone at [your target company]? Does anything seem missing? Can you think of a better word for [a word that you have used too many times or you feel is weak] or a way to phrase [a statement in your résumé that you think could be improved]? Do you feel my résumé reflects what is unique about me?
If you want to get the most out of a résumé review, make it easy on yourself by remembering résumé reviews are much more than asking your friend who is a hiring manager to take a look. Ask for feedback often from a variety of sources, and you will be on your way to a building a better résumé.
A friendly tip: When you get feedback that is valuable, buy your reviewer coffee, send them a thank-you card, or make a donation to their favorite charity in their honor. If they are a career services professional, compensate them. Take the time and make the effort to let them know you recognize and value their time and effort. Appreciation makes the world a better place. Give back to those who help you move forward.