Before Writing Your Resume…

Put First Things First (written as a guest post for Jay Heinlein at http://heinleingroup.com/)

The job market is tough these days. Really tough. And the bad news is that it’s not likely to get a whole lot easier any time soon. As a job seeker (or future job seeker), where does that leave you? In an ideal world, you could count on one of your personal connections or past employers to walk you into your next job. After all, references are still the preferred method of hiring for just about every employer in the world.

For most job seekers, that’s not how things are going to play out. They’re going to have to do some work to land their next role. References aside, the next best alternative is to attract the attention of motivated talent hunters who will take on and champion your cause. A great resume – and fantastic attitude – are the best way to make that happen.

The next logical question is “what are talent hunters looking for when they read a resume?” Unfortunately, it’s a question that can’t be answered – not in a broad sense anyway. Every industry, company, and hiring professional looks at things a little bit differently. They just do. Not very helpful, right? No, definitely not. So what can you do if you’re looking at a job or career change and want to get positioned for success?

I say start at the beginning and get your priorities straight. Before you do anything resembling job search, spend some time getting clear about what you want. What’s the point of starting a search that leads you into a job or career track that doesn’t light your fire – or at least point you in the direction of a larger goal (and yes, sometimes just earning a paycheck can be part of that bigger plan).

Once you have an idea about where you’re going, things start to get a little simpler. You may not be able to figure out what everyone wants, but you absolutely CAN look at a given industry, company, or job category and identify key skills and attributes that would make you a relevant candidate for employment.

How, you might ask? Excellent question. There are tons of tools out there to help research what’s relevant in a given niche. You can query your favorite search engine, visit Careerbuilder or Monster.com, or check out any one of a thousand niche job posting sites. One of my favorite tools is Indeed.com, a site that aggregates job postings from across the web and enables quick access to a huge number of relevant listings. Read a couple dozen job descriptions and you’ll start seeing consistent themes and patterns that can be used to help build a more effective resume.

Another great resource is LinkedIn, which can be used to view the profiles of others who work in companies, industries, or job categories you find interesting. If someone else landed the sort of job you want, there’s a good chance there’s something you can learn by reading their profile.

Long story short, it pays to start at the beginning. Figure out what you want; Do your homework; Write your resume.

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