As I’ve started to do more networking through one on one Zoom meetings, I have talked with many colleagues who are interested in switching jobs and are dusting off their resumes. After we talk a little about what type of a position interests them, I usually give them a little bit of resume feedback. As a many-time hiring manager, I have seen lots of bad, and lots of sort of okay, and just a few resumes that were really, really good. For me, I think a resume needs to answer three very important questions. Having a resume that addresses these questions gets you out off the no pile and into the “I am excited to talk with them” pile.
Question 1: Does this person want this job?
A few years ago, I was working on filling an instructional designer position on my team at a software company. I received one resume where the person’s career objective stated that they wanted to be a curator at a museum. The good news: this person knew what they wanted and made it very clear in their resume. The bad news: they didn’t want the job I had available.
Most (like maybe a good half) of resumes that end up in the “no” pile are so nondescript, they could be applying for any number of office positions. Once, when I was hiring a technical trainer position. I received a resume for someone who had a lot of experience in corrections working as a prison guard. The good news: this person had many potentially transferable skills. The bad news: I didn’t know if this person was interested in this particular role, or was mass applying for anything that wasn’t their current job.
For many people, it may be easy enough to tell if a person wants the job based on their past job titles. If they have always been a project manager, and this is a project manager position, or a senior project manager position, it’s a pretty good bet that they are interested in this job. Then there are the rest of us, who are decidedly less well-behaved. Some people have a lot of job titles that don’t necessarily logically flow together (like people who have changed careers). Others have careers where positions went from managing people, to being an individual contributor, to freelancing, to being at a VP level, to being an individual contributor again. No career path is wrong per say, but when applying for a job, be sure to make it clear what you are looking for now—and that it is, indeed, the open position.
Overall, do just enough tailoring on your resume that the hiring manager knows that you are interested in the available job and applied for it on purpose. Given how costly a bad hire can be, help the hiring manager know that you for real want to do the job in question.
Question 2: Can this person do the job?
Once I know a given candidate want the job, next, I look for some indication that the person has the skills to do the job. With some candidates, their work experience is neat and tidy and in the order one might expect. For example, they were a call center representative, then a senior call center representative, then a call center supervisor, then a call center manager. If they were applying for a call center manager position, from their job titles alone, I can be reasonably sure they can do the job. With that, adding in keywords from the job description and adding details about their previous education and work responsibilities as they relate to this specific position, it’s not a stretch to think they are qualified.
If the candidate didn’t have a lot of experience in a similar role, I’d expect them to describe what they did in previous positions and show how their work experience prepared them for this role. For example, if I’m hiring for an instructional designer position, the job description might include something like “collaborates with subject matter experts to assess training needs and create learning materials for client-facing courses.” If someone with a background as an elementary school teacher applied, they should show how their previous work experience relates to the available position. For example, they might include “collaborated with subject matter experts in the media center to assess training needs and create learning materials for a course for parents on encouraging their children to read more.” Without emphasizing those transferable skills, I might not be convinced that they could perform the tasks required.
Overall, be sure to make it as obvious as you can that you are able to do the core tasks that the job requires.
Question 3: If they take the job, will they be happy and stick around?
Filling an open position takes a long time and is a huge gamble. The goal is to find someone who wants the position, can do it, and who will want to be in that position (or a part of your organization) for a good, long time. Never, with certainty, can you be happy that a candidate will take the position if offered to them or stay in that role (or with your company).
This part of resume assessment is really teeing up the phone screen, and honing the questions I’ll need to ask. Will this salary be in line with their desired salary range? Will they be happy working from the office or working from home the amount required? Will they work well with the level of structure and formality at this organization? Will they want to travel as much (or as little) as is needed with this job? Are they going to be happy managing or not managing people? As a hiring manager, details in the resume is helpful as a starting point for those questions.
What Do You Think?
What do you think? What questions do you think a resume needs to answer? Include your insights in the comments.
Brenda is an adaptable learning & development leader, innovative instructional designer, and job search coach.