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Paint a Portrait with Your Resume

By Guest Writer Ron Sathoff

If you asked most people to define a resume, you would probably find the phrase "list of qualifications" showing its ugly head quite often. I say "ugly" because I think that the idea of a resume as just a list reduces its effectiveness and deprives it of its elegance. Yes, even a resume can be elegant!

I suggest that you shouldn't think of your resume as a stale, historical documentation of your accomplishments and qualifications. Instead, you should think of it as a form of autobiography, or better yet, a self-portrait.

How do you do this? By first understanding that no piece of paper can represent the entirety of who you are. We are all very complex folks, and even if you have just graduated from high school and have had only one job, there is more about you than just one or two pages of a resume can present. Therefore, as with a self-portrait, you will have to choose which characteristics about "you" that you want to portray. Here are a few tips on deciding how to make this decision:

  • Do your homework. When you are researching a job or a company, try to go beyond basic job requirements and qualifications. Research the company itself to try to determine what personal qualities are valued. Do they pride themselves on having innovative, creative "rebels," or do they prefer steadfast, loyal workers with traditional values? Finding out this information will not only help you decide how to present yourself in your resume; it will help you decide if you will even fit in at all at the company.

  • Remember that it's not all about expertise: As the above tip shows, companies are not just looking for areas of expertise or experience -- they are also looking for more general, abstract qualities (even if they aren't mentioned in the job ad). Keep these qualities in mind when you make an assessment of your strong points. For instance, in an industry that goes through constant change and upheaval, it would probably be better to be "adaptable" or a "quick learner" than it would to have experience with a particular piece of equipment.

  • Realize that each situation is different: Even if all the jobs you apply for are similar, that does not mean that you will be focusing on the same characteristics in each resume. As was mentioned before, companies will differ, as will situations. Other factors you could look at that might affect how you portray yourself include: the size of the company, the location of the company, how new the company is, the relationship between your present employer and the company you are applying to, and the number and type of applicants you will be competing with.

    Once you have a good idea of what characteristics you want to portray in your resume, then you can begin painting your portrait. Just as in a painting, you want each element of your resume to add up to one distinct image. You can help yourself do this in a number of ways:

  • Be specific and consistent in the qualities you want to show. I advise my students and clients to actually write down the top 3 or 4 qualities that they want to portray in their resume. Doing this will help keep you focused -- everything in the resume should point to somewhere on your list. Having this kind of list will also allow you to "test-drive" your resume -- Have a friend read your resume and write down the qualities it shows best; if their list matches yours, you can feel comfortable that you are headed in the right direction.

  • Rethink your experiences. One area where people seem to be especially rigid in their thinking is when it comes to describing past jobs. The tendency is to just list what their explicit duties were and maybe any particular accomplishments they achieved. Instead of being locked into this model, you should try to think back on the entire experience of your work (or education, or volunteer work, etc) with an eye toward how you showed the qualities that you are trying to communicate. If this is just business experience, doing this will be easy. If, however, one of your characteristics is "quick learner," you will have to look back on your work experience to see if you can find examples of where this was useful, or where you had to use the characteristic to perform your job.

  • Prove your qualities instead of just claiming them. This is just another version of the REALLY old cliché of "Show, don't tell," but it is an important rule to follow, especially if you are dealing with more abstract qualities. ANYONE can say that they are creative; it is a completely different thing to give examples of how you used your creativity in past jobs or experiences. In other words, always back up statements about yourself with some sort of proof.

    I've found that a pointed, specific resume that uses these techniques is a much more powerful document than a generic list of qualifications. Some people may disagree with me, especially those who see a resume as just a "foot in the door" on the way to an interview. I personally think a resume makes more of a first impression than this, especially these days when resumes are being faxed from the across the world or being perused on the Internet. Painting a portrait with your resume will show WHO you are, rather than just WHAT you know or WHAT you've done, and this will help you stand out as an individual in a sea of applicants.

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    Ron Sathoff is a noted speaker and manager of DrNunley's InternetWriters.com Ron provides help for speakers, marketing, and Internet promotion. Reach him at ron@drnunley.com or 801-328-9006 (USA).

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