Executive recruiters, resume writers, and career specialists recommend that job seekers spend at least three to four hours customizing each resume for each opportunity. Tailoring your resume to each opportunity is even more critical in a sluggish economy and competitive job market: Employers want specialists with specific, creative solutions, not generalists with vague ideas.
To ensure that your resume works for (and not against) you, I recommend writing it more like a proposal than a job description. Focus on the immediate results you can offer as well as the long-term benefits you bring. Explain how your subject matter expertise can help your target firm address its specific challenges and opportunities and how your leadership and executive skills achieve bottom-line results. The key is to make your points relevant to the employer, not to your ego. In other words, it doesn't matter if you were top dog in your prior firm; you need to clearly show how your experience as the top dog will benefit your prospective employer.
One way to present challenges you've addressed on your resume is using the STAR analysis process, which breaks your challenges into situations, tasks, actions, and results. What was the initial situation you walked into? What task or responsibility did you take on? What actions did you undertake? What were the immediate and big-picture results? A shorter version calls for simply noting each major challenge and accomplishment, generally in a case study-like format. The point is to present the greatest information relevant to the prospective employer's needs in the briefest context.
Also, use search engine optimization (SEO) techniques to make your resume keywords from the job specification and from your research on the firm and the industry. You want your resume to repeatedly stress "company insider" terms and keywords can differentiate you and your resume from all the others. ReCareered's Rosenberg says your resume will get more hits from scanning software and more eye contact from humans (and you'll get more interviews) when your strongest keywords are in the top one-third of your resume.
After putting all that time and effort into your resume, it would be a shame for a recruiter or hiring manager to reject it on the basis of a spelling or grammatical error -- or to have it get trapped in a spam filter. If you aren't using a professional resume writer, then at least have one other person review your resume. If you are in a crunch and must send your resume without another reviewer, here's a trick I learned from a Discovery Channel article on brain functionality: reading text backwards forces your brain to re-review each word individually. Use Lyris Content Checker to pre-scan your resume and cover letter to ensure that innocuous words don't get blocked as spam.
8. Try to be perfect.
With so many job seekers available, recruiters are being told to keep looking until they find an exact match. Candidates who are landing positions in today's economy are -- by strategy or by luck -- perceived to be "ideal" candidates. Such ideal candidates are confident and they're genuinely passionate about the job, company, and industry. Hiring managers consider confidence and passion top qualities.
To make sure you're playing your A-game on interview day, spend time beforehand scripting and rehearsing your answers to interview questions about your strengths and weaknesses, says Chris McCann of Gregory Laka and Company executive search.