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Summary: We all hate sales, but must be good at one aspect of selling.
I wish I had saved all of the quirky resumes that have come across my desk over the decades. One was printed on bright pink paper, an obvious gambit to make it stand out from the rest of the pile. Others were long. really long, sometimes over 100 pages.
One that I did save twenty years ago (the rest is equally priceless) contains this nugget:
Do you think this person got an interview?
A job opening often results in a deluge of resumes. If you've never hired anyone you might think that the evaluator would carefully dig through the stack, weighing and evaluating each candidate's skills. You'd be wrong. There are usually too many submissions for that. No, the goal is to find a reason to toss out as many as possible, fast. Find one full of typos? Probably means the person isn't careful, so it goes into the bin. A lack of skills critical to the opening means the resume instantly goes in the reject pile. And a hint of crazy (or more than a hint as in the one above) nets a sure pass.
A resume has two purposes: first, to get an interview. And second, to serve as a reference used by the interviewers during the selection process. The resume of candidates who aren't immediately rejected get annotated throughout the courtship to aid feeble memory.
Above all it's a sales document, meant to sell you. Relentlessly scrutinize your resume from the perspective of a potential employer. Have your friends and family attack it. Every line should scream "I am experienced and competent at all of these things!"
The resume is a living document, updated regularly even if you're not looking for work. It may be in a less-than-perfect format if you're happily employed, but keep notes in it about your accomplishments as they develop. Then tidy it up when it's needed.
A resume can also be a career blueprint. If there's a gapping hole in your experience perhaps it's time to take some action. Resume management is part of career management.
And what about the cover letter? Its only raison d'etre is to get the resume read. The cover letter is vital, and must be tailored to the prospective job. Give the reader a reason to think you're a match. If the company is hiring someone to build colorimeters, stress (briefly) the skills you have that align with that. If you have much experience, surely your resume will list a variety of CPUs you've used, but if the job ad talks about ARM experience, the cover letter should highlight that.
Too many engineers neglect their resumes instead of continuously managing them. I have some more thoughts about this here: http://www.ganssle.com/sellurself.htm .
Published March 5, 2012