The 2009 Recession: Can't remember how to write a résumé?

If you are a retrenched professional who has forgotten what to include in a résumé, fret not. Here are some tips on what a résumé is for, and how you can get started on putting one together.

By Tan Yan Shuo

On your first Monday morning not at work, you surf JobsCentral for suitable job openings. This one catches your eye: “Management Executive wanted at Utopia Pte Ltd, lucrative pay and benefits, flexible working hours, fast-tracked development plan.” Excited, you send in your résumé to Utopia’s boss Mr. Lee Tow Kay, and wait for that phone call… which never comes. What happened?

Consider that the rest of Singapore read the papers that Monday morning and everyone saw Utopia’s ad. Hundreds of other people thought that the job was ideal and sent in their résumés, so chances are that yours got lost somewhere in the enormous pile on the Mr. Lee’s desk.

Marketing yourself
Given each résumé probably gets less than a minute’s attention, how do you make yours stand out? The first thing you need to learn is that a résumé is not a mere listing of your qualifications and achievements. It is in effect a tool of persuasion, a marketing pitch for the most important product of all – yourself. Plenty of free guides on the internet will tell you the science of making polished résumés, but following them will merely give you one that is run-of-the-mill. Instead, blow Mr. Lee away by making your résumé a piece of art.

The first principle of marketing is to know what the consumer wants. In your case, you need to know what Utopia wants in its Management Executive. To do this effectively, do not constrain yourself to the qualifications listed in the advertisement, for very often, these are highly generalised and inadequate. To elicit more specific information, you must do some homework – using the internet, annual reports, or personal contacts, find out everything that you can about the company and its industry. The knowledge you gain from this exercise will allow you to construct a list of qualities prioritised by importance.

Now that you know what the prospective employer wants, it is time to find out what you have to offer. For each of the desired qualities on your list, brainstorm for all the things that you have done that justify that you have that particular quality. Here, a list of your professional achievements will come in handy, but is not exhaustive. You may even list things that you have done as part of leisure or in your personal life, especially if you are switching to a different career track.

At this point you should be brimming with ideas (if not you may want to reconsider the wisdom of whether Utopia’s job opening is suitable for you). After letting your imagination run riot, it is time to rein it in, and pare down your achievements for each quality to only the most significant.

Making the pitch
Congratulations! Now you have all the raw materials, and may finally begin writing the résumé proper. Throughout this phase, bear in mind that Mr. Lee will probably give it only a minute of attention. Those 60 seconds are all you’ve got to impress him, so use them wisely.

One way to do this is to break up your résumé into two parts: the pitch section, in which you extol your virtues, and the evidence section, which will contain the long and boring explanations of your achievements and qualifications. You can probably draw inspiration for the latter section from conventional résumés, so I shall go into further detail only for the former.

The pitch section first has to catch the eye. To do this, it would help to write down a very specific job description that you understand from the research you conducted. Doing so will be a not-very-subtle statement that you know what Utopia wants, and are hence more likely to provide it.

Next, using brainstorming you did earlier, describe the skills, achievements, and qualifications you have that are most in line with those desired by Utopia. There is no fixed way to organize this. Instead, use your intuition and determine what kind of format will be the most impressive.

Finally, go back to the top of this segment and write down a one paragraph personal summary, describing very briefly your profession and expertise, and listing only the most significant and pertinent of your skills, achievements, experiences, awards, references, etc. If done right, will serve to maintain Mr. Lee’s attention, and entice him to read on.

Wait a minute, you say, does this mean that I have to craft a different résumé for each prospective employer? My answer is an unconditional YES. Good résumé writing is an art; customizing your pitch to each prospective employer is the only way to be pitch perfect.

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