Drawing the Resume Reader a Map

Show me a clear-cut sense of direction. I keep seeing resumes that are little more than buckets into which a lot of data has been dumped in the apparent belief that I will fill in the gaps, synthesize diverse information, connect the dots and tell you what kind of product you are. I have no incentive to do this, given the number of knights eager to enter the lists. It isn’t my job to make sense out of your life.

When stating your objectives, be brief and tell me how your skills can be applied. I know my own needs. Your objectives or aspirations interest me only to the extent they correspond with what I’m looking for. Here, for example, are three objectives I’ve seen lately, together with my gut reaction to each:

  1. OBJECTIVE: responsible, challenging position that will allow me to grow, realize my potential, and make a meaningful contribution to the achievement of corporate goals.
    • Does anyone want an irresponsible position with no challenge or room for growth?
    • What do you mean by “meaningful contribution”? Give me facts, so I can really test our goal congruence.
    • Do you know specifically what my corporate goals are, or do you say that to all the girls?
    • IMPRESSION: No data; no concrete direction; no way, José.
  2. OBJECTIVE: Technical Product Sales Support
    • I know where you want to work, but I don’t know what role you want …or what responsibility.
    • IMPRESSION: You’re in the running, but you’re forcing me to read on specifically to find your level of experience and competence. Nothing else will be absorbed until I answer that question for myself.
  3. TARGET POSITION: Managing a manufacturing operation with full profit-and-loss responsibility. Business should be rapidly growing and/or implementing new technologies.
    • Good goal clarity; if I make buggywhips, we won’t waste each other’s time.
    • Clear statement of level of authority sought.
    • Good, confident “voice.”
    • IMPRESSION: This will be a good interview, and it won’t be hard to get to the point.

People changing careers often complain that it’s hard for them to write a good objective because there are many potential arenas for their skills. They’re right. In such cases, profiles or summaries work better than objectives because they emphasize what you offer, not what you want. Whatever you use, you’ve got to show me that you’ve given the whole career-change thing some thought and aren’t careening around aimlessly or escaping past catastrophes.

If you use a summary, don’t let it be just a list. It must still serve as your mission statement, offering a view of where your past is steering your present. Here’s one where the mission remains undefined:

SUMMARY: Progressive development of “people skills” through six years as an elementary-school teacher, three years in retail sales, publication of articles, work in financial-market analysis and ongoing graduate work in psychology.

Since I can’t tell where this person is going, I assume that the writer doesn’t know either. I’ve seen a lot of smart people who can’t put the power to the road, so I think always in terms of how skills will be applied, not simply what skills are possessed.

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