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Why Your Resume Isn't That Important

By Taunee Besson

Larry woke up full of anticipation. Today, he was to begin his career as chief financial officer for Acme Software Systems, a position ideally suited to his background and skills. In the past four months, Larry had pursued his job search full time, networking with at least 50 people, collaborating with headhunters, responding to postings on and other web sites, and following up on potential leads. To stay balanced, he also scheduled time to relax, play ball with his daughter, and work off that extra 10 pounds he'd been wanting to shed for the past two years.

He's both enthusiastic and a little nervous about moving into a challenging position where he will be working with a team that fits him like a glove. While the past few months have had their ups and downs, Larry knows his job-search approach produces real results. Should he ever need to use it again, he's confident his winning formula will find him a great match.

Meanwhile, across town, Joe looks at the clock and notices it's already 9:30 a.m. He sighs, stares at the ceiling and tries to convince himself to get out of bed and face another day unemployed. After six months of effort, Joe doesn't feel any closer to finding work than he did when he began looking for a job. In fact, when he was laid off, he was a lot more confident about moving easily into another mid-management position than he is today. With his seemingly marketable experience, excellent reviews, sterling references, and dynamite resume that took days to perfect, he can't help wondering, "Where did I go wrong?"

Joe's problems stem from a combination of erroneous assumptions and macho attitudes. He's made a series of mistakes that have sabotaged his opportunities and heightened his depression. Unless he changes his approach, he'll spend many more mornings under the covers pondering his fate.

Let's take a look at Joe's job search versus Larry's. The differences should speak for themselves.

To Whom It May Concern

After he was laid off, Joe worked to perfect his resume like a man possessed. He carefully constructed a chronological listing of his job responsibilities to impress even the fussiest employer. He consulted his thesaurus, fine-tuning every phrase for maximum impact.

After days of exhaustive labor, he pronounced his masterpiece complete and ready to catapult him into any position a contact, executive search firm, ad or direct-mail campaign might offer. He honestly believed this resume was one of his life's proudest achievements.

Having produced the perfect resume and an equally perfect cover letter, Joe spent several hundred dollars on typesetting and laser printing to make hundreds of perfect copies at a local graphics firm.

While Joe put a lot of effort into his resume, he confined his networking effort to just a few friends and relatives. He was embarrassed about being laid off, so he didn't want to broadcast his unfortunate situation to people who respected him, or put his friends in an awkward position by asking for their help.

Instead he decided to make extensive use of executive-search firms. In fact, he was really enthusiastic about other people's marketing him to potential corporations. To get names of qualified headhunters, he Googled Employment Recruiters and Executive Search Consultants, checked out some Web sites and e-mailed all but the specialized ones his all-purpose resume and cover letter addressed: To Whom It May Concern. Then he waited for them to call.

Like many job seekers, Joe spent most of his job search poring over job postings online, his local newspaper and the Web sites for major dailies in other cities where he was willing to relocate. He responded to every ad remotely similar to his experience, assuming that at least a few would bear fruit.

Joe targeted companies in his industry as well. He did an Internet search for a list of the top 250 software firms in the United States, and e-mailed the human-resources department at each company an identical resume and cover letter with a note asking them to call him if they wanted more information.

Joe, confident in the knowledge he had "papered the world" with his resume, decreased his job-search efforts and eagerly anticipated an avalanche of calls and letters from prospective employers. Much to his surprise and frustration, 400 resumes generated six responses and one job offer he didn't want.

Joe started his job search believing his experience would be marketable in any number of places. In a burst of frenzied activity, he sent hundreds of unsolicited resumes to search firms and companies, answered many job postings, and did a little networking with friends. By the second month, when he began receiving rejection letters, he experienced the sinking feeling his job search would be more difficult than expected. In fact, the task began to loom larger and larger until Joe felt crushed by its weight and scope. Was he really as good as he thought? Would he ever find another job? Negative expectations overwhelmed him, crowding out all the positive feelings he had about himself, and usurping the time and effort he should have been spending looking for a job.

Every time he searched a job board and saw nothing worthwhile; every time he read about another layoff; and every time receipt of his resume went unacknowledged, he sank deeper into despair. Yet he did nothing to seek support from his family, friends and community because he was embarrassed and afraid.

Why didn't Joe talk to his minister, a career counselor or a therapist? Pride. Strong men don't need help. They solve their own problems.

I'm Available

When he started his job search, the first thing Larry did was list contacts who might be able to help him find a new position. Then he systematically met with each of them to explore a new career.

Recognizing that roughly two-thirds of jobs are filled through networking, he talked extensively with potential employers. When he uncovered an opportunity, he constructed a resume to parallel the position's requirements and sent it along with a "Thank you for the appointment" note. As you might imagine, Larry eventually developed quite a stack of resume variations. But the thought and effort he put into them paid major dividends by showing potential employers how his background uniquely fit their particular needs.

While Larry knew most job seekers found positions through networking, he recognized that executive-search firms, ads and targeted resume campaigns sometimes yield results as well. Consequently, he researched headhunters and selected several who specialized in his field. Before he left his position at Snyder Systems, he talked to each of them to find out what they prefer in a resume and how they match candidates to search assignments. Then, focusing on his most relevant experience, he followed each firm's favored format and sent a copy of his resume to be edited, revised and resubmitted.

Perusing his local paper and online job postings, he selected a few that required his particular combination of skills and experience. He carefully tailored his resume to parallel what each ad requested by rearranging the priority of his accomplishments, altering jargon phrases, highlighting key personality traits, and even changing his objective to match the position, title and company name. He became a dedicated stickler for detail. Friends in human-resources positions had forewarned him, "Resumes are screening tools. Even one 'off the mark' element can be the kiss of death."

Instead of beginning his cover letter with the usual, "I am sending my resume in response to your ad for a CFO," he did some online research that enabled him to focus his first paragraph on why the company interested him. Having attracted the attention of the human-resources department with this unique approach, Larry summarized his most relevant experiences in his second paragraph. At the end of the letter, he promised a follow-up call to answer any immediate questions and discuss the mutual benefit of scheduling an initial interview. Of course, he addressed the letter to a specific person, even if it required a little sleuthing to discover the name, while also sending a copy to the CEO when possible.

To launch his very selective direct-mail campaign, Larry spent several days researching companies to determine his best corporate candidates, and even visited his local library to access its premium databases. He looked for those whose philosophy, growth, organization, and products or services intrigued him. As he read annual reports and trade-journal articles, he searched for specific needs or niches he might uniquely fill. After having tailored his cover letters and resumes, he sent them to the targeted CEOs most likely to hire him, then followed up on the phone to find out if a get-acquainted interview would be worthwhile.

By carefully pursuing chosen markets through networking, search firms, ads and direct mail, Larry maximized his chances for generating serious responses. By the time his job search ended, he had produced 20 inquiries, 10 initial interviews, six second interviews and four job offers, all of which were good matches for his background and interests.

I'm OK

Larry knew his job search would be a roller coaster of "king of the hill" highs and "crawl under a snake with a high hat on" lows. Consequently, he built a variety of activities into his days to keep himself on an even keel.

While he pursued a new job five days a week, he didn't obsess about it. As a recovering workaholic, he didn't want to backslide by concentrating on his job search every waking hour. He knew actively seeking a balance of work, fun and learning was a healthy approach whether he was employed or not. And he was hoping if he practiced his new lifestyle during his job search, he would be more likely to maintain it when he returned to work.

A Resume Doesn't a Job Search Make

Larry's and Joe's stories illustrate that a perfect resume doesn't produce a satisfying career. Unless your job search strategy combines a savvy resume with lots of networking, targeted marketing, persistent follow-up and psychological support, you, too, may find yourself depressed, unemployed and wondering what went wrong.

The saga of Larry and Joe has alluded to a number of activities and attitudes involving resumes. Now that you have read it, here's a quiz to test your resume acumen. Don't worry if you don't answer all the questions correctly. If you were an expert, you would be writing this article, not reading it.

Ms. Besson is president of Career Dimensions, a Dallas-based career consulting firm. She's the author of "The NBEW Guide to Resume Writing" (John Wiley & Sons, 1996), from which this article was excerpted.

Article from – January 2005