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How to write a persuasive resume

Whether for essays or emails, I’ve always been the designated editor for my friends and family. But my favourite genre to edit has always been the resume. I think I enjoy editing resumes because they are such highly persuasive documents, hence the title of this blog post. But most of us have some very common misconceptions about resumes—and here I’m speaking from experience, not just as an editor.

I was turned down by six companies in a row before I was finally hired at a marketing company as part of the co-op program I enrolled in during grad school. With schoolwork mounting, I was very frustrated that six potential employers turned me down. So I booked an appointment with a co-op advisor, I attended a practice interview session, and I had my resume edited by a professional. Along the way, I asked a lot of questions and received a lot of helpful advice. I changed my resume to fit the advice of the experts and I was hired after my next interview. I realize now I wasn’t hired at those first six jobs because editorial hubris got the better of me. I couldn’t get a job because I didn’t realize the potential power of my resume.

What you’re probably doing right

Most of the resumes I edit have the header nearly perfect. Everyone understands that your name should be the central focus of your resume. Under their names, everyone understands that your contact information (street address, phone number, email address, and website) is also included in the header. (Don’t have a website? The least you can do is list your linkedin profile. Don’t have a linkedin profile? Go create a linkedin profile right now—and don’t forget to add me to your network.)

Everyone also understands the general structure of the resume. First you list your job objective, then you list your education (by the way, don’t list your high school education—it’s a given), next you list a summary of your qualifications, followed by work experience. This is the structure of a resume at its most general. But this structure on its own won’t lead to many recruitment calls.

What you’re probably doing wrong

The history lessonresume_stack

Misunderstanding a resume’s purpose is the first major resume misconception. When composing a resume, people tend to write a historical document. Their resume tells their education history, their employment history, and perhaps a bit of their personal history. But resumes aren’t historical documents; resumes are persuasive documents. The purpose of a resume isn’t to tell your life story. The purpose of a resume is to persuade a recruiter that you deserve an interview—and remember the recruiter has a stack of other resumes to choose from.

In order to earn you a job interview, your resume needs to focus on three main things: accomplishments, skills, and attributes. Every single sentence of your resume needs to be an accomplishment, an attribute, or a skill. If information isn’t an accomplishment, attribute, or skill, then it doesn’t belong in your resume.

Erase the irrelevant

Now the question is, can you distinguish irrelevant information from accomplishments, skills, and attributes? Try this quick test:

Which of these pieces of information are irrelevant?

  • Consulted with management daily to update website information
  • Provided outstanding guest service to hotel guests
  • Created weekly schedule for 63 employees

I guess it was a trick question: all three of these are irrelevant because they aren’t accomplishments, skills or attributes. While they each certainly provide relevant information about a job description, they’re nothing more than historical information about your past work. This information does not demonstrate what makes you special, what makes you necessary, or what makes you valuable.

Accomplishments, attributes, and skills

Your resume should at all times aim to detail unique actions and benefits that you offered your former organization. Here’s how I would reframe the above list to highlight accomplishments, skills, and attributes:

  • Created daily website update system to relay current information from management to clients
  • Consistently earned 5 out of 5 stars for outstanding guest services
  • Generated $1500 per week in additional revenue by eliminating unnecessary shifts.

For some reason, people reflect on their past work experience in generalities. But you need to be specific. Before writing your resume, sit down and make a list of all of the special things you did at your past jobs. At first you may find this exercise difficult, but the longer you think about it, the easier it gets. Were you ever recognized for a special achievement? Was one of your suggestions ever enacted upon? Were you promoted? Did you somehow save the company money (actual statistics and figures are VERY persuasive)? What skills did you use regularly or acquire?

Activities and Interests

Finally, for some reason nobody ever includes an “Activities and Interests” section in their resume. Yet three bullet points about your life outside of work can so much to set you apart from other applicants. Employers ARE interested in your experiences with music, drama, dance, sports, and any other type of collaborative enterprise that demonstrates teamwork, creativity, or coordination abilities. You might also want to tweak this section of your resume depending on the job for which you’re applying. For example: demonstrate an interest in technology if you’re applying for a job as a technical writer.

So, friends, will I edit your resume? With pleasure! But now that I’ve written this piece I’m sending you to read it first. I hope you’ll also read the other article I wrote on more general job hunting advice. Good luck in your search!

Comments

  1. Debbi Piech says:

    Hey Al, I saw your post and was curious, having been on the other end, with the tedious task of trying to screen 250 resumes to find 8-10 ppl to interview. I’ve seen resumes that were 25 pages long (mostly from consultants who tend to move around alot, and feel they need to describe every two month assignment they were on).

    The only other suggestion I’d make is to try to tailor your resume to the job you are applying for. The advertisement will give you a summary of what skill set they are looking for and what the job entails. Tailor your accomplishments to match what the employer is looking for, remembering that skills are transferrable.

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  2. Heliogabalus says:

    Some people use the “mandate” or “mission statement” as the preface to their CV/resume. Although this can be rhetorically persuasive, a caveat ought to be in place such as not for it to rely heavily on fad buzzwords given that they go stale rather quickly.

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  3. Nice article Al, perfect for the unemployed, or soon to be unemployed! Was wondering if you have any tips for translators up your sleeve as well?

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  4. Hi Al! Enjoyed this, very helpful. If I was still teaching Business Communication, I’d ask the class to read it (we created resumes in that class). I thought the hardest thing for them to understand was the concept of presenting information to persuade, not just to list. This is helpful for me to read right now as well, as I prepare to start applying for jobs….

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  5. I cannnot read your a word. Your font size is too small. A resume like this will fail

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  6. for writing a resume we must make fist ruff work on notebook for our over all carrier and knowledge wit proper time management. each and every thing which related to you and related to applying post.

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  7. I totally agree with you!Having managed a business where I would often get a look at 50-60 resumes a week during our peak hiring season I can tell you that most of them end up in the recycle bin. A simple eye catching resume is all thats needed and it needs to be tailored to the company your applying to. Check out my review on resume writing guides at blueskyresumes.net

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Trackbacks

  1. […] about my own professional development, and moving on to posting about career advice for Arts grads, resume writing, and, more recently, academic PR (Part 1, Part 2 and Part […]

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  2. […] about my own professional development, and moving on to posting about career advice for Arts grads, resume writing, and, more recently, academic PR (Part 1, Part 2 and Part […]

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