When you hire me to write your resume, you’ll get a lot more than just an edited version of the one you send in. If I am going to succeed at presenting your accomplishments and character traits, I need to know who you are. I can only uncover this information by performing a professional interview.
I’ll usually start by asking questions about specific achievements that have helped employers. Clients usually reply with, “I really didn’t do all that much,” and don’t see much value in their accomplishments.
Psychologically, there are reasons for this. First, there is that “Don’t boast!” command our parents drummed into our heads when we were children. Second, the way our memories work also contributes to the problem. Since we do our jobs on a daily basis, our memories classify what we do and how we do it among many other routine events. When someone asks us about our professional achievements, we search the box of significant memories rather than the box of routine memories – and we find little or nothing there. Finally, many of us don’t know how to open our routine box and identify what constitutes an achievement.
Consequently, we find it hard to write powerfully persuasive resumes. Take these client stories, for example. Two very qualified people in their own right, but ultimately, they were unable to remember these accomplishments and put them down on paper. Thanks to the skills learned from my journalist father, within minutes I uncovered their accomplishments and was able to construct persuasive resumes that won them interviews within days.
This young lady was a marketing graduate who wanted a position in high-end hotel marketing or public relations. She was very worried about her situation because she had no experience in either of her desired fields; her only work experience was a couple of part time jobs. But as I talked with her, I quickly realized that she’d forgotten a few things. The key part of the conversation went like this:
“Did you ever put on, or help put on, any kind of event.”
“Well, I helped with a couple of conferences in Beijing, and I ran an art exhibition in Athens.”
“Tell me about the conferences.”
“Um . . . some importers from country X wanted to import Chinese goods to X, and some exporters from X wanted to export their goods to China.”
“So what did you do at the conferences?”
“Set up the PowerPoint, got the food and set up the chairs.”
“And the art exhibit?”
“Ah . . . the idea was to introduce the Greek arts community in Athens to some major painters from X.”
“So this reception, was it an official X-embassy sponsored event?”
“Yes, it was.”
“And what did you do?”
“I booked the gallery, hired the caterer and the wine merchant. Then, I helped the artists hang their paintings and I also acted as hostess on opening night.”
“So how did you get this job?”
“I got it because my father was the Ambassador to Greece from Country X.
“Oh. And did he say anything to you after it was all over?”
“Yes. He said: ‘Well done.’”
With that, I knew I had what I needed to make this client’s resume effective – and she later received five interview calls in less than three weeks.
This client was a veteran project manager and technical executive who planned to apply for a C-level opening at one of Canada’s largest and best-run companies. He came to me because he wanted to stand out from the other applicants. One of the biggest improvements we made to his resume came out of this exchange:
“You are an engineer and you manage projects. On projects, things sometimes go wrong, and therefore you, the leader, have to manage the crisis and solve the problem. So did this ever happen to you in a major way? Did a situation arise that threatened to derail completion of a big project? For instance, a subcontractor bailing out?”
His jaw literally dropped, and he asked, “How did you know about that?” (I’d seen the same thing happen a few years earlier while working for an engineering firm.)
After I explained, he said:
“We were building the signaling system for a new line in one of the world’s top five subway systems. The new system not only included new features, but it also had to be integrated with the old system. The interfacing component of the two systems had been subcontracted, and right before the deadline the subcontractor called and told me they couldn’t deliver the component. Without that component, the new system wouldn’t work. So I had to design and make the component on short notice – which I did.”
“And what happened?”
“We met our deadline: the system integrated perfectly with the old system. As a result, my employer won additional contracts worth hundreds of millions.”
Three days after submitting his resume, my client was called for his interview.