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Your Job-Search Resume Needs a Focal Point:
How Job-Seekers Can Add Focus to Resumes
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Every resume needs a focal point -- a device (or set of devices) that instantly tells a hiring decision-maker what job or type of job the candidate seeks and what his or her top selling points are.
At no time has the need for a resume focal point been more apparent than when The Ladders conducted an "eye-tracking" study that pinpoints 6 seconds as the average time recruiters spend looking at a resume before they make the initial "fit/no fit" decision.
For many years, the objective statement served the purpose of providing a focal point for resumes. Objectives, however are out of fashion with employers -- largely because they have tended to be poorly written and woefully vague, thus defeating the purpose of presenting an objective. Job-seekers also often mistook the objective as an invitation to list everything wanted, needed, and desired from the sought-after job, instead of an opportunity to describe potential contributions to the employer's bottom line.
Before we address the Resume Focal Point as the replacement for the objective statement, it's important to understand that employers today expect resumes to be tailored to the targeted position. That means you do not send the same resume in response to each job you target; you tweak it to align with each job. You do not need to rewrite all of -- or even most of -- your resume for every job you apply for; but you do need to adjust it to show that you are a fit for any vacancy to which you send your resume.
How do you do that? With a Resume Focal Point.
It's also important to understand that the Resume Focal Point is not any one entity or section or your resume; it may be one or more of several possible sections, and the choice of which sections to include will vary from job-seeker to job-seeker and situation to situation. For the most part, though, your Resume Focal Point will appear in the top third of the first page of your resume, where it will -- within 6 seconds -- attract the attention of the hiring decision-maker and provide the crucial information about whether you fit the job opening.
Here is your menu of choices for your Resume Focal Point:
Resume HeadlineThis line atop your resume (right under your contact information) identifies the name of the job or type of job you seek. Responding to a specific job posting? Use the exact position title of the job as your headline. Networking or prospecting employers/recruiters where you're not sure about specific openings? Use a headline that describes the type of job you seek as specifically as possible. Networking or prospecting but open to more than one kind of job? Have a resume with a headline for each type of job you're considering and use each resume version with its appropriate audience. You can see some sample headlines at the bottom of this article.
Resume Branding StatementThis statement defines who you are, your promise of value, and why you should be sought out. A branding statement is a punchy "ad-like" statement that tells immediately what you can bring to an employer. Your branding statement should sum up your value proposition, encapsulate your reputation, showcase what sets you apart from others, and describe the added value you bring to a situation. Think of it as a sales pitch. Consider integrating these elements into the brief synopsis that is your branding statement:
- What makes you different?
- What qualities or characteristics make you distinctive?
- What have you accomplished?
- What is your most noteworthy personal trait?
- What benefits (problems solved) do you offer?
See some branding-statement samples. Don't be afraid to use the targeted employer's name in your branding statement, for example: "Eager to lead innovative strategic marketing initiatives that aggressively increase SolarBright's market share, sustain growth, and maximize profitability."
Resume Headline in Combination with Branding StatementHere's one example:
VICE PRESIDENT, OPERATIONS
Specialize in raising the bar, creating strategy, managing risk, and improving the quality and caliber of operations.
"Objectiveless" Resume ObjectiveIf you already have a well-written objective statement, it's not hard to convert it to a Resume Focal Point that employers won't -- pardon the pun -- "object" to. First, remove the word "Objective." Then change the typical objective language; eliminate the infinitive phrase -- "To play key role ...", "To contribute ...", "To lead ...", "To maximize ...", "To add value ..." -- that objectives often start with.
Here are two examples of objectives converted to "objectiveless" objectives:
Objective: To bring out-of-the-box vision to a fast-track position on a creative advertising team with particular interest in copywriting.
Revised Resume Focal Point: Bringing out-of-the-box vision to a fast-track position on a creative advertising team with particular interest in copywriting.
Objective: To improve company profits by contributing bilingual skills and knowledge of civil-law countries in the legal department of a firm that engages in business in Latin America.
Revised Resume Focal Point: Committed to improving company profits by contributing bilingual skills and knowledge of civil-law countries in the legal department of a firm that engages in business in Latin America.
You will notice that an "objectiveless" objective is very much like a branding statement.
Using a "Summary of Qualifications" or "Professional Profile" SectionSuch a section, in a reader-friendly bulleted format, showcases your best selling points, catches the prospective employer's attention, and immediately demonstrates your value as a candidate. Even these sections have fallen somewhat out of favor with employers in recent years, with many saying they don't read them. We still recommend them because they are a good way to front-load your resume with keywords.
Our article, FAKTSA: An Easy Acronym for Remembering Key Resume Enhancers, contains a good list of possible bullet points for this section. If you use a section such as a Summary of Qualifications or Professional Profile, ensure that:
- You keep it brief -- a maximum of 3-4 bullet points.
- It is not unsubstantiated fluff. You must substantiate any skills or qualifications you tout in this section by giving examples or evidence of how you demonstrated the qualification.
Resume Keyword SectionKeywords are exceedingly important for today's resumes because they are what employers' Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) look for when resumes are placed in keyword-searchable databases after you submit them electronically. Keywords should be industry-specific and job-specific and taken right from the job posting. See our article, Tapping the Power of Keywords to Enhance Your Resume, for more ways to identify keywords and what keywords to use when not targeting a specific opening.
Most of the samples of in this portion of our sample resume section contain keyword sections in a table format.
A section of keywords can use one of many possible headings, such as "Key Skills," "Core Competencies," "Key Proficiencies," and "Areas of Expertise." A big note of caution here: Keyword sections are beneficial on resumes when they are entered into Applicant Tracking Systems, but "disembodied" keywords do not rank as highly in the systems as keywords used in context. "More advanced ATS systems will evaluate the context in which each keyword is used," advises resume writer Karen Siwak, "and will give higher ranking to a keyword that is included within the description of a career accomplishment, compared to one that is included in a keyword table." Thus, also consider keywords in bullet points in your Summary of Qualifications/Professional Profile, if you have one, and in the bullet points under each of your jobs.
Focusing the Rest of Your ResumeWhile the top third of your resume's first page is the most important spot for its Resume Focal Point, you can sharpen the focus of the balance of your resume in various ways. You can strategically organize your resume to position you for the job you seek. Remember that a resume is a marketing document that should highlight the aspects of your experience that best sell you for a particular position. You may also consider placing other sections of your resume before your Experience section to showcase your best selling points. For example, do you have a newly minted MBA degree that adds value to your candidacy?
You may want to re-prioritize the bullet points you present under each job, giving greater emphasis to an accomplishment that will be meaningful to the employer you're targeting. You've undoubtedly held jobs that encompassed a broad scope, many accountabilities, and numerous achievements. Fine-tune these to a razor-sharp list of those that are most relevant to the job you seek next. Eliminate any bullet point that fails to support what you seek to do next. You may find our accomplishments article and Accomplishments Worksheet helpful here.
Final Thoughts on Adding Focus to Your ResumeThe best way to ensure a Resume Focal Point and a sharp focus throughout your resume is to ask yourself at every point in your resume preparation: What does the targeted employer most want to see? What information can I quickly convey that will show the employer how well I fit this job (or this type of job, or this industry)? What content should jump out at an employer spending just 6 seconds looking at my resume?
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
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