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How To Construct a Resume That Beats Your Competitor's

First build Master Resume Inventory 

Inventory your brain for all the work-related experiences, knowledge, skills, insights, results and compliments you gained from all of your paid and non-paid work.  Non-paid work counts because it shows new knowledge and greater depth, regardless if you got a paycheck for it.  

Use a the pattern below on computer so that you could easily add to it now and throughout your career. No one can remember all these things when he or she is rushing to get a resume done for the job they just heard about.   If you don't want to use the pattern below, try the table example here.

By building a
comprehensive inventory, you can easily adapt your next resume to the specific requirements of the next job you apply for.  I repeat, you are very unlikely to be one of the 3 or 5 applicants to be called for an interview (out of a 100 or 200 applicants) if you submit a generalized, all-purpose resume.   For motivation on this point, see "Work This Hard To Get a Job -- Be Un-stoppable."

Most resumes only describe the applicants' duties, time periods, and how important their work was. Make yours more competitive by adding:
  • how you improved your knowledge and skills,
  • how often you did certain things, 
  • how well you did them, 
  • what results you helped achieve (almost no one gets results alone today; therefore, we all helped as a team of sorts),
  • What praise, awards or compliments you earned (verifies your good work)
Take a look at the difference below for a consumer service manager:

This is the typical resume statement about a duty or responsibility:

"Managed consumer service office of regulatory agency that receives and resolves consumer complaints and responds to consumer inquiries."

Now let's look at part of a resume inventory.   See how it leads to a more powerful paragraph in a draft resume.  Here is how you build the resume inventory.  We have color-coded the extra items in so that you can see how they show up in the subsequent resume paragraph farther below.

This is just part of the resume inventory for this person.

Responsibility:  Manage consumer service office for utility commission

How many, how often:  11 staff.  Handled 10,000 complaint appeals not settled by lower staff; More than 500 presentations at meetings; handled more than 10,000 news media inquiries.

Results, accomplishments: Reduced 6-month backlog to less than 20 days in four months; formed public-private partnerships that built public-private cooperation and were model for nation. Revised state rules to improve consumer protection while improving collections. 

Knowledge, experience gained:  Gained extensive knowledge of about state and federal rules and statutes on utility regulation, consumer rights; and knowledge of billing, collection, capital financing, power plant and transmission line construction, and also legislative and budget process on state and federal levels.  Gained knowledge of civil service and labor rules and laws and processes. Obtained solid understanding of major computer systems supporting consumer services.

Skills improved:  Improved skills for mediating among very upset people; facilitating meetings to be more productive; leading diverse staff of all races, age, and gender; public speaking and responding to media inquiries.

Insights:  Gained insights about the difficulty and limitations of implementing a concept such as protecting poor families from the danger of winter utility disconnection while trying to fashion rules and procedures that can protect those who need it while not allowing others to abuse the rules.

Honors, awards, compliments:  Won formal awards locally and nationally for improved programs; received many thank-you letters from satisfied consumers as well as public statements of commendation from utility executives.

Now let's see how the above resume inventory was used to target a resume paragraph for this person (not everything was used because it was not all needed to fit the job specs).  The example below is color-coded for emphasis here  so you more easily which type of information was added.  (of course, don't do that in an actual resume).  

  • Managed consumer service office of 11 staff members for award-winning nationally-recognized regulatory agency that received and resolved more than 100,000 complaints and inquiries over 17 years.   Eliminated 6-month backlog in just two months.  
  • Gained extensive experience in leading diverse work force of men and women of varied ages and educational and cultural backgrounds; gained comprehensive knowledge of state and federal regulatory laws and rules, and legal process.
  • Improved skills in mediating highly-charged disputes between consumers and regulated industries.  Obtained understanding of complex computer support systems underlying agency's consumer service systems. 
  • Gained insights about the difficulty and limitations of implementing a policy concept intended to protect those who need it while not allowing others to abuse it.  Received frequent compliments and thank-you calls, emails and letters from satisfied consumers.
This is where the hard work starts, but it vital to beating the competition.  You need to build a resume inventory for each major task or duty in all your work experiences, including non-paid and volunteer.  Yes, yes, it's a lot of work, but how bad do you want the best job, or any job?  You won't get there without an interview, and you are unlikely to get an interview without a bringing out the best of your best.  And this process can help you do that.  

You can use a table to help you on this exercise if the above format does not work for you.  Click here.

Here is another real example (which is disguised to protect privacy).  This was was drawn from a master resume inventory. See if you can pick out the extras such as how many, how often, how well, knowledge gained, skills improved and so on.

Director of Channel Marketing - USA, Aug. 2008 - Sept. 2012.  Responsible for channel marketing strategy development, budget prioritization and team leadership to drive product revenue, volume and share at industry-leading levels with channel partners. Partners include major Wireless Carriers and national Retailers.  Responsible for channel marketing strategy development, budget prioritization and team leadership to drive product revenue, volume and share at industry-leading levels with channel partners.
  • Partners include major Wireless Carriers and national Retailers  Provided direction and leadership to team of 13 marketing managers to develop/deliver effective co-marketing business plans that helped deliver AT&T's USA market share leadership position and generate sales revenue in excess of $3 billion.
  • Collaborated cross-functionally with AT&T Sales, Business Development, Brand and Finance organizations to develop integrated marketing strategies/plans that delivered comprehensive solutions to channel partners and consumers.  

  • Planned, prioritized, allocated and managed $60 million annual marketing budget to drive co-marketing programs & sell through activities. 

  • Worked with Agency partners and conducted ongoing review of budget forecasts and ROI evaluation.
Do you see how adding such things as numbers, scope, results, and recognition can legitimately add power and substance to the same person?  This powerful resume was drawn from a master resume inventory, which is what you need to develop.

These concepts apply even to someone who may think he or she has done very little.  Here is a draft resume for an actual recent college graduate who was sure he didn't have much to put in his resume.  See how his work experiences gained him knowledge and proved his trustworthiness (for example, accurate accounting and depositing of money on an little-supervised night shift of pizza restaurant).  Again, the resume is disguised for privacy.

Examples of other successful resumes built from master resume inventories

Should resumes be longer than one page?  
Generally yes.  Make your resume longer than a page if you have a lot to say.  We have never seen anyone rejected for an interview because they had a resume longer than one page.  However, if the job announcement specifies the application or resume should be limited to one page, you must comply with that instruction, because if you don't comply the employer may conclude you don’t read or follow instructions.

Some resume writers contend that a harried employer might not get to the second or third page, which often is their major reason for recommending just one page.  We don’t agree.  If you have a targeted offering or career objective statement at the top of your first page, it will give the employer a quick summary of you.  There isn’t a right or wrong to this choice; it is just a matter of your best guess.  Go with your own gut feeling.

How fancy should the format be? 
Make it simple, clean, and easy to follow. If you were employer, you wouldn’t be fooled with fancy or overly cute formats.  Neither will most people who interview you.  The applicants whose disguised resumes are reflected on this site all used very simple formats. 

There is no “best” format.  Use one you like and that helps bring out the best of you.  We often just use MSWord’s table instead of a resume template.  If you don’t have MSWord, you probably have MSWorks with your computer, which also has several templates you can easily use. The internet has hundreds of samples, most of which seem too fancy or elaborate.

Avoid big thick lines and large graphics.  They distract the reader’s eye from your substance and take up valuable space you need to get information across.   Don’t use font smaller than 10 point; try to use 11 or 12 point if you can.  Many managers are older than 40, their eyes often can’t easily focus down to read 9 or 10 point font.  

Don’t make the page so full it looks dull and gray.  Leave some open space so that it is inviting to the reader’s eyes.  Who wants to read a resume that looks like dense phone-book text?

Choice between “Offering” or “Career Objective” statement 
We suggest putting a summary offering statement at the top of the resume.  The offering statement shows what you have to offer instead of what you want (like the career objective).  Most employers want to know what you have that will help them get work done very well at a price they can afford.   

Additionally, the offering statement can be a powerful tool that immediately shows why you should be part of the 3% who get interviews.  This is another reason why your resume should be revised, targeted and also use the nouns and verbs of the job announcement.

Here is a real examples for applicants who won the jobs:

OFFERING:  Top-performing finance professional with strategic vision and award-winning initiatives that significantly improved financial results affecting more than $1 billion in revenue.  Strong financial adviser with organization-wide perspective of operations, sales, marketing, legal and human resources.  Superior team leader with very strong work ethic and excellent relationship-building skills leading to steady growth in responsibilities and promotions.  

OFFERING:  Seasoned professional skilled in understanding complex logistical systems and computer interfacing along with ability to uncover and quickly resolve problems to ensure products and services are delivered with high quality and on time.  Team leadership experience in large companies and small organizations.  Super strong work ethic with very positive attitude combined with ability to quickly switch from one task to the next priority.
Sometimes a career objective statement that says what your career goals are can be useful.  this can be effective when your temporary, general resume is not targeted to any specific job, and you are just tossing out a line, hoping to get a bite from someone.  

Sample career objective statement from successful resume:

CAREER OBJECTIVE:  To excel and advance in an industry that seeks to improve health care. Seeking a position and career path where I can utilize my critical thinking, problem solving, mentoring, teaching, presentation and writing skills to improve an important industry.  I seek an opportunity to collaborate with others to increase the efficiency of the health care industry and help my colleagues achieve their professional goals.

Emphasize your work ethic  
Say directly that you have a strong work ethic.  Then prove in the body of the resume by showing volume, duration, and special achievements.  If you are still young, consider saying that you had a good GPA in college while working to finance your education.   If you show that you have been a hard worker elsewhere, the interviewer is likely to think you’ll work hard in the new job, too.  Review the two offering statements two paragraphs above to see where they emphasize work ethic.  
Use the nouns and verbs of job announcement 
Your resume should use the key nouns and verbs that appear in the job announcement. That’s because large piles of resumes are often screened by underlings who are told to look for key items to cull out a smaller number of resumes.  The smaller pile is often reviewed by higher managers.

Those underlings often rely on the key words about duties, knowledge, experience, etc.  If your resume shows you have it all, but you use your own terms, then your resume may lose the competition to others that have words closer to the job announcement.  And some employers or search firms use software to mine the internet for prospective candidates.  The software uses key words to cull out resumes for human to review.

This is yet another reason why you should tailor your resume each time to the specific job requirements.  Why run hard for 95% of a mile race but slow down the last 300 yards?  Run hard all the way.  Revise each resume!

What if you don’t have everything in job announcement? 
Don’t worry about it.  Very few applicants have it all.  And the very few that do have it all, well, they probably want more money than the employer can pay.  Or they are so conceited that no one can stand them.  In other words, don’t worry about not having everything specified in the announcement. 

Most people who get hired don’t have it all.  Most people learn the full job on the job.  More than 50% of college graduates work outside their "degrees" by 35 years old. So they must have been hired without having everything specified on job announcements!  So, prepare a great resume and give them a reason to hire you during the interview.  Give yourself a chance to be "lucky."  Here’s how you can honestly fill some of the gaps.

There are at least four ways about knowing about job task or activity.  The best, of course, is that you have performed it—the best way to know anything.  

But if you have not performed the key task, can you say helped someone who did  -- you “assisted” someone doing that task.  We learn a lot of things by assisting someone doing the main task. 

If those two don’t apply, you might be able to say you “observed” another person doing the work.  If that isn’t the case, then you might say that you studied or at least read about the function.  (This is another reason why you must do your research homework on the organization before tailoring your master resume).    If you have done your homework and read everything you could find about the organization and talked to people who know the organization, you will learn something about the job tasks.  That will give something to say at the interview instead of "I don't know about that."

You may think that is a little thin, but it isn’t.  Your effort to really study the organization before the interview can show initiative, drive, work ethic.  It will help you look slightly superior to the applicants who failed to do their homework. We have seen that impress many employers.

All you need is at least one person in the interview panel to become your champion after you leave and the selection process begins.  If you can at least say you have some knowledge about most key activities, you help your champion argue your case

If the interviewer(s) like you and your qualifications enough, they will subconsciously find ways to rationalize why you should have be hired even if you don’t have all direct experience on every single requirement.  We have seen many people get hired that way.  So, by filling gaps with at least knowledge from reading or observing, you help them convince themselves to overlook some shortcomings (which, again, all applicants have).

Bring out the hidden “transferables”  
If you really want to stand out from your competitors, give this part a lot of thought.  And ask friends for their thoughts.

Say, for example, you were a college student when you were in charge of the night shift of a small pizza restaurant with 3 to 5 employees, who also were high school or college students.  

There are many “transferables” you gained in that seemingly low-skill job.

You learned how to get results on deadline despite high turnover in staff or worker absences.  You learned how to teach some kid how to work after his mommy or daddy did everything for him until the day he was hired for your crew.  You gained experience in accounting for daily cash receipts, and you didn’t steal the receipts—demonstrating you are trustworthy. 

Say the crew had teens and retirees, males and females, and diverse cultures and races.  Then you gained insight and skills working with multiple generations and employee diversity.  All such things are valuable (transferable) to most other jobs.  Consequently, you need discover the somewhat hidden but very valuable transferables, and put them into your master resume inventory for use when a specific job seeks such items.  You will never think of all these things the night before the application is due.  

Identifying the transferables is the hardest thing for non-resume professionals to do.  That is one area we excel in.  But your friends and co-workers can help you do this for free.  Or beg some time from your current human resources staff, who generally are pretty good at spotting transferables, even if they call them skill sets and so forth.  If you want our help on this, see the choices at this link for how that might be done.

What if you’ve been out of paid workforce for years? 
Many women in their 30s to 50s haven’t been in the “paid” workforce for decades and wrongly think that they don’t have much to offer in the job market.  The same goes for the millions of moms who worked part-time at the local supermarket or discount store.  The master resume process often gives them some of the biggest boosts of confidence.  

First, they are valued because they have best work ethics an employer can find. And they actually come to work regularly, on time, and ready to actually work, which really is a darn big deal. They often have learned a lot about handling difficult people, and that is a skill most young employees haven’t yet acquired.  It just takes time and many difficult days and years to master that skill.

Don’t be embarrassed about having been out of the “paid” workforce; just say you took a number of years to raise your kids and now you want a job.  You are intelligent and can learn just about any job (see above: What if you don’t have everything in job announcement?).

Your unpaid volunteer work can be a great source of new knowledge, organizing skills, people skills, management insights and so on.  Here is a disguised resume of a middle-aged mom who actually had been in successful sales before quitting to raise her kids.   She had thought she had been gone too long to be valuable, but she still is quite marketable

What do all employers want in an applicant? 

No one knows.

Don’t believe anyone who says he knows.

Sometimes employers don’t know what they want until they see it.  We alleged experts give you our best guess based on decades of experience and what some employers say.  Don’t make yourself crazy by trying to figure out what
all employers want.  They vary from person to person, just like we all do.  Just give it your best shot and get ready for the next application.

What if you’ve been fired? Been in Jail? How to build a new reference 
Nearly everyone who gets fired somehow gets another job someday.  So will you.  When are interviewed, you can decide whether to hide that or not.  Generally, hiding it won’t work, so you need to consider if it is a better gamble to explain that you made a mistake and have learned from it.  Chances are that the person you are talking to was fired from a job in the past, and he or she might appreciate your honestly and sincerity.  

One way to build a new and strong work reference while you are seeking a new job is to volunteer your time at one of the millions of local groups that need help: food pantries, soup kitchens, community groups, and so forth.  Work hard at the volunteer site and you will almost certainly get a glowing reference when you need to show an interested employer that you are ready to work hard and be a good person to have around.

Yes, include references! 
We cannot figure out why anyone starting saying you shouldn’t include references with your resume.  Why not?  How can it hurt?  It takes only a few lines of type.  

We have never seen any applicant be harmed by including references, but we have seen the lack of references on the resume hurt applicants.  Unless the job announcement says you should not include reference, we urge you to include them. 

We have seen a few over-stretched employers check references before considering anyone for interviews.  That led to fast hires when the employers concluded they had good candidates and don't need to spend time checking on other applicants whose resumes don't include references.  
In any case, make sure the people who you list as references give their permission and will be enthusiastic about you.  And make sure the references have some idea about the job so they can link your work ethic, knowledge, skills and experiences to one or more parts of the position you seek.

What is my reference is from the last century? 
So what?  If you had a good work ethic 30 years ago, you probably have one now, too.  If you were a fast learner then, you could be today.  Yes, some of the knowledge and skills you developed 30 years ago might be out dated, but it shows you can and will learn.  All knowledge and skills are bases for adding new knowledge and skills.   Again, we say most people learn the job on the job.  Tell the interviewer you can and will learn anything needed.

Fatal flaws in a resume  
Don’t leave typos and spelling errors or similar minor mistakes in the resume.  Make sure your starting and ending dates make sense.  If you aren’t concerned enough to make your resume error free, then an employer might think you’ll be careless on the job.  So, get at least two friends to proof your material before you send it.  Don’t trust yourself.  Our minds play sneaky tricks on us when we try to proof our own writing.  Get help.  Don’t fall out of the 3% who get interviews just because of simple fatal flaws.

Don't include too many social or recreational interests.  One to three are fine.  But any more than that can suggest that you will be too tired from having sooooo much fun that you might be too worn out to good work back at the job.  

Leave out
any hint or direct statements of your political affiliation or religion or connections, unless you are trying to get a position with a political or religious group reflected in your experience.  Would your politics or religion cost you the job?  Too often, yes, particularly if the employer is down to you and one other applicant.  Of course, you have right to your views, and no employer should let that affect a decision. But it still happens. 

Clever cover letter strategy, example 
While most cover letters are a waste of time, here is a smart strategy we learned from a college student 30 years ago.  She made her cover letter into a mini resume that highlighted a few of our requirements for an internship and her matching qualifications.  She used a table format that made her key points jump off the page. 

This style typically has three main parts.  The first paragraph says you have got what the employer is looking for.  It says you are a hard and smart worker yearning to help the employer achieve what he or she needs done.  It does not say anything about how the job will help or benefit you (yes, it is nice that a job benefits you, but the employer isn’t trying to create a job to help you; he or she is creating a job to help him or her.)

The middle part selects two or three job requirements that match several of your qualifications.  That is something the employer really wants to know about, and creates an incentive for the employer to read more.  Use a two-column format to show you have some of what they seek (see link to example bellow).  You obviously don’t need to include a requirement where you are weak.  

The third part of this style letter typically says you are ready for action, that you really are excited to join the new organization, and that you look forward to explaining more about how you can be really useful and helpful.  You look forward to an interview (not that you “hope” to be interviewed).

Click here to see example of three-part cover letter.

Don’t believe everything you read here or elsewhere  
No expert on this or any other topic knows so much that he or she is absolutely right.  We give our experienced and best guesses here regarding what we have seen work well with many employers.
Yes, listen to what we and other resume experts have to say.  But always go with your gut feeling.  Otherwise, you will be in an interview trying to explain a part of your resume that you are not comfortable with.  You will look uncertain or confused, which may look like incompetence or dishonesty to an interviewer.  Make sure you can comfortably discuss and explain every word in your resume.  When in doubt, take it out.

One free phone call for you 
If you want to better understand any of the explanations on this website, give me a call.  I am a semi-retired friendly guy.  I would be happy to answer a few questions about how this works.  It won’t cost you a dollar.  You can find out more about where I start to charge and where I don’t.  I have enough work and don’t need or want it all.

If you insist on paying me -- choices, levels, process, prices, guarantee 
I charge $30 per hour.  I will give an estimate of time before starting, and I will stick to that no matter what.  If you are not satisfied, I will immediately refund 100% without question.  

Level one:  Free!!
Do it by yourself with friends.  The entire process will probably take 20 to 40 hours to do it well enough to reach the top 3% of competitors.  This includes searching your brain for the master resume inventory, culling out segments for a targeted resume, drafting a cover letter, and revising both several times after friends and family critique them.  

Level Two:  Phone or online improvement of a resume you have produced:  typically $30 to $90.

If you have done a thorough job of building a master resume inventory and produced a resume that brings out your experiences, knowledge gained, skills improved, results achieved, awards and compliments earned and so forth, it may take only an hour to help you polish the final product.  I could even do that together with you online using Google Docs or similar online simultaneous editing programs.

I would give you a firm commitment of how much time (and money) it would take to improve your resume after I have seen it and the mastery resume inventory (and the job announcement for any specific job you are seeking, if any).  Most people choose this option.   My job would be to suggest ways you could make improvements, but you would responsible for final formatting and proofing unless we arranged a different plan.  I am very accommodating and flexible, so feel welcome to ask or suggest.

Level Three:  We do almost all of it:  typically $200 to $400. 
At this level, you would submit a bare-bones list of your past jobs, major duties and dates.  I would then do extensive phone interviews with you to discover your transferables, knowledge gained, skills improved and so on, and then build the master resume inventory.  That process will discover your hidden or forgotten assets.

The calls typically last an hour or two at a time.  I would need at least two or three calls with you.  I would draft and revise the resume until you were satisfied, regardless if it took longer than the estimate we set before starting out.  I would do this to help you apply for one specific job or produce one generalized resume for broad distribution.

Level Four:  Some other approach.  I am very flexible and accommodating, so I would be happy to explore any variation of service that might interest you.  Give me a call or send an email to start the discussion.  Of course, there is no charge to explore options, which just might be fun to do.

Payment:  To protect you and me, you have a choice to mail payment (check or money order) while while we work over the phone, or you can pay via Paypal.  If you are not familiar with this very trustworthy system, see  In any case, all payments are 100% refundable for any reason at anytime.

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