You’ve probably read article after article about how to prepare a winning résumé. Various pieces discuss how to design your document, which fonts and color to choose, key words, formats, and length.
But fewer discuss the deeper structure of that document—the set of interlocking arguments that enable you to persuade the reader. Contrary to popular belief, recruiters do give résumés more than a passing glance, spending an average of three to six minutes on each. To impress, you need to make your case to them. Most decision makers say they value substance over style.
Here are five ways to make yours more persuasive:
1. MAKE SURE THERE’S A FIT
First, make sure you have a case. Your job experience must align with what the employer is looking for.
This need to find the fit between the job posting and your background does not mean “fake it till you make it” as the expression goes. Nor does it mean telling white lies and inventing experience or inserting key words that you can’t defend. It does mean applying only for those positions that align with your experience and achievements.
Better to go after jobs that are a great fit with your experience, than respond to every posting and get turned down time after time. Indiscriminate applications lead to frustration, they waste the recruiter’s time, and won’t land you the right job.
2. CREATE A SINGLE, POWERFUL MESSAGE
If you want to persuade, create a single, powerful message.
Ask, “What’s the one idea I want to get across about myself?” Put it at the top of your résumé, just under your name.
I’ve seen résumés that begin with four or five descriptive sentences. They are a jumble of ideas, and provide a blurry, unfocused picture of the candidate. Instead, write something like this:
“I am a seasoned HR professional who has led teams of high achievers in three successive retail industry positions.”
Or, if you are an executive, your one liner might be: “An experienced executive with a strong track record in managing, building, and leading a major commercial real estate firm in a series of increasingly senior positions.”
As you can see, these are targeted statements, not general ones. The first applicant is probably applying for an HR position in the retail industry, the second for a top post in a commercial real estate company. The better the fit you can make, the more likely the recruiter will read on and take your application seriously. This one sentence message about yourself is also the basis for a great elevator pitch and interview script.
3. DEVELOP A MESSAGE FOR EACH JOB YOU’VE HELD
The third step is to look at each of the jobs you’ve held, and write a one-sentence message about your role in that position.
Put it just under the title of the job it’s referring to and make sure it aligns with your overall message. For example, the seasoned HR professional mentioned above might have this message for her most recent (and current) job: “I lead a team of six HR managers who together have contributed new programs, bold initiatives, and bottom line results for our company.”
Create such a message for each job you’ve held. Once you do that, you’ll have a set of interlocking messages, one main message and a supporting statement for each job. This creates a flow that shows your work experience points to the job you’re applying for.
4. BULLET YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS
Fourth, create a set of bullet points for each job you’ve held, showing your accomplishments.
For example, the HR professional might have the following bullets for her current job:
- Developed plan that provided childcare support to 50+ WFH managers
- Introduced company-wide mental health plan for all 380 employees
- Oversaw initiatives that strengthened employee retention by 25%
The bullets should all start with a verb or action word. They should be as specific as possible about the impact of the programs you’ve developed or overseen. Eighty five percent of recruiters say it’s important to provide metrics that illustrate your accomplishments. The bullets above all have quantifiable results, either explaining numbers of people reached, or the financial impact of the programs.
5. PROOFREAD YOUR RÉSUMÉ
Fifth, carefully proofread your résumé. You’re unlikely to be considered if the employer finds your text is poorly worded or has errors.
Check and recheck to eliminate typos. I’ve heard of applicants misspelling their own names or that of the company to which they are applying. Proper names are not picked up by spell check, so you need to look particularly closely at them. Imagine your chances with an employer who sees her company’s name misspelled.
Also look for ways to eliminate excess jargon. For example, if you have a bullet point like this: “Built best-in-class business case to ramp up after-market sales in several leading edge geographies.” This sentence cries out to be simplified. A better wording would be: “Created and implemented a plan that accelerated sales by 20% in our North American market.” Cut the chaff and speak in a clear, natural voice.