Jul 082011

Vivian was despondent. Two days earlier she had learned that she was going to be laid off. “I haven’t written a resume in more than ten years,” she cried. “I don’t have a clue on where to begin.”

Vivian had come to me for advice. In addition to being everybody’s gay best friend, I help professionals package, present, and promote themselves. I’m told I’m pretty good at it.

“Sweet pea, you’ve got to stand out,” I began. “Research shows that only one interview is granted for every two hundred resumes received. Plus, most employers rarely take more than fifteen to twenty seconds to review a resume.”

Vivian groaned.

“No worries. You can distinguish yourself in five ways.” I rattled them off. “First, customize your resume for each position. Next, focus on employers’ needs, not your own. Third, use bullets often and begin each with an action verb. Fourth, create your resume in MS Word so that it can be easily e-mailed and posted on the internet. And finally, conduct a test to ensure that it can be faxed.” I’ve given this advice many times.

I continued. “Always include a cover letter, and remember that cover letters give employers their first impression of you.”

I told Vivian about my first cover letter; I wrote it when I was just out of college. It was so good I still use it today. It begins, “The attached will prove that I can do an excellent job for you and for me. It will demonstrate…” I then list three bullets summarizing my unique selling proposition. Unique selling propositions are skills, attributes, experience, or education that sets you apart from your competition.

I end the letter with a handwritten P.S. that directs the reader to an item in the resume. The P.S. reads, “I think you’ll be particularly interested in…”

When it comes to writing resumes, I don’t profess to be an expert, but I do advise clients to begin a resume with a summary of qualifications composed of three to five bullets that showcase their unique selling propositions.

They should follow this with a section entitled “Accomplishments.” In it, list no more than seven to ten bullets that outline the top accomplishments in your career. These should be proofs that reinforce your unique selling propositions.

Proofs can be case studies, results, statistics, testimonials and other stories, but the best proofs contain problem-action-results. Begin by stating the problem that existed in your workplace; then describe what you did about it; and, finally, present beneficial results. This is not a time to be modest.

    Here’s an example: Turnover had reached an all-time high at 36 percent. I conducted a confidential survey of all staff, drafted a list of twelve recommendations, and presented them to top management. Ten of the recommendations were accepted and implemented. Turnover decreased by 76 percent within six weeks.

“Trust me, sweet pea, these first two sections are crucial. It’s the top half of your resume that will determine if you get an interview or not.”

“This is so helpful, Randy!” Vivian said. “Now I’ve got a place to start.”