Get Your Resume Into Gear in 2019

Keith Lawrence Miller '14TC
January 08, 2019

Columbia Career Coach Keith Lawrence Miller '14TC shares why it's worth seeking professional help to improve your resume, properly showcase your professional brand, and transform your career in 2019. 

During the job application process, the resume is your first impression, which introduces your knowledge and skills in alignment with the position requirements. The resume has to meet the Application Tracking System (ATS) requirements before anyone has the chance to review your resume and everything operates on the 80/20 rule: Approximately 20% of applications will meet the requirements, which means 80% of resumes are not evaluated by a human, the ultimate decision-maker. Rejection ensues and low self-esteem follows with questions of why and how since you were the ideal person for the position.

You, the individual with the great personality and ability to lead an organization to greatness if you just got the opportunity, are not being evaluated on those terms, but rather, on your ability to perform the target position requirements better than your competition. Only one person can be selected as the first pick in the NFL draft and only one person can be selected per available position. Therefore, we have to understand the concept of predicting performance which is based on cognitive ability, social intelligence, and repeatable patterns or behaviors. Therefore, what you have done in the past is predictive of what you can do in the future, and this potential is valuable. However, communicating your potential is even more valuable since having potential is only part of the equation. 

There is so much content purporting myths, legends, and monsters regarding applications, like top keywords or terms to avoid, or why the resume should only be one page, it is only viewed for five seconds, or use KISS (keep it simple stupid), and on, and on, and on, but… this advice is silly and wrong. Using common sense quickly clarifies these issues. For example, how can someone review a resume within five seconds when most people cannot write their name in five seconds? Why submit a one-page resume and limit the content when the computer (ATS system) scans the document for content and keywords? Anyone with a college degree should not have difficulty reviewing a two-page document especially when it is part of their work requirements. This would be like suggesting a CFO not review the company P&L, financial statements, or balance sheets because there are too many numbers.

The "human" workforce is the life-blood and competitive advantage in the current knowledge economy and hiring the right personnel for the right positions is critical for organizational success. How would you feel if you were the company owner, who hired an HR team responsible for hiring, and found out your team determined reviewing resumes with more than one page is a waste of time because it takes too much effort to review? Allowing top talent to be discarded because your well-paid HR team is not doing its basic job is a significant roadblock for your company’s success. Ultimately, the one page and five-second rule are total nonsense crafted to create fear and trickery for providers to deliver a document that is less than desired, while making their job a lot easier in the process.

Crafting a resume is not only about creating a professional document, but also about building a personal brand, pairing achievements and abilities with target career goals, and translating the content in an action-focused and engaging way that connects the dots for your target audience. People will rave about a three-hour movie or 1,000-page novel, which generates trilogies and spin-offs because the story is captivating and "sticky," but then there are short stories people never want to experience again or simply lose interest within seconds. As it relates to you and your professional documentation or brand, the length is not as important as the story being told. What type of story are you communicating, and how is your professional brand perceived?

Do you find it difficult to build your story? You are not alone. This is a distinct feature of our collective limitations similar to not being able to eat a pile of cinnamon or survive breathing underwater without scuba gear. People undoubtedly try, and even though everyone has failed before them, they are still willing to take a chance. During my career, helping thousands from all professional levels, cultures, and industries, there has been a common denominator: people are unable to correctly craft their own professional story or brand. Time and again, high potentials who travel the road of self-development drastically under-achieve while others without a college degree proceed to the executive-level at top organizations because they understood the value of having someone else communicate their brand and value early into their careers, which consistently pays dividends well beyond the cost of entry.

Unfortunately, the greatest overachievers are the ones who suffer the most because they are accustomed to overcoming obstacles or persevering through difficult situations, but this delays the inevitable and increases the pain associated with the resume process. They read dozens of books, review online literature, get involved in discussion boards, and poll friends and co-workers, but continue on the path of self-developing their professional document only to experience a position where they are undervalued, underpaid, and overworked. This creates shame, discomfort, financial loss, broken relationships, and regret in old age rather than a purpose-driven life full of achievement, work/life balance, healthy relationships, and financial independence. Yes, a resume can sometimes be the lynchpin for this significant discrepancy in life. There are many people with Ivy League degrees operating as consultants, going from contract position to contract position, because they are not able to communicate their value in alignment with their dream positions. The first step is realistically identifying the position, but people can get confused, overwhelmed, and are unable to see the sunlight out of the fog of introspection and translation. 

Sometimes great value comes at a price. We can choose to spend less and get a Kia which is a functional car that gets you from A to B or we can spend a bit more and travel in a premium vehicle such as a Mercedes Benz or Range Rover. There is perceived value and a positive feedback loop acquired through premium products that is unrealized when choosing to save on initial costs. Sometimes the price can seem steep, but most of the time, the costs are far more significant when initially spending less on a lower-quality product since the unforeseen issues are not taken into account during the transaction. This is the same "concept" that occurs during the resume development process. Time and again, people choose a provider based on price and end up paying a higher cost of not getting quality interviews, having to settle for lower paying positions, traveling further, working in a less satisfying position with a mediocre company—all in the name of saving $100. The resume is an investment when money is spent correctly, but can be a significant cost if the choices are made incorrectly. Every choice has a consequence and being forewarned is forearmed. Making an educated decision greatly increases your chances of success.

Beware, many resume writers outsource work to ghostwriters or pose as resume writers, but operate as sales agents with an aim to close agreements with clients, and then reroute clients to low-quality or under-qualified writers. Avoid these type of providers because you will end back at the beginning. You should have your professional documentation developed by a proven and credible professional. It is never too late to throw in the white flag and get the support you need to achieve the greatness you deserve. Would you be your own legal advocate in a courtroom? Perform open heart surgery on yourself? Fly a 747 airplane while traveling? You want someone highly skilled, knowledgeable, experienced, reputable, and consistent to manage your needs in these situations since your life is on the line, and your life matters more to you than anyone else in the world.

Miller is a Board-Certified Coach (BCC), ICF Credentialed Certified Career Coach (PCC), and Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) with subject matter expertise in executive career coaching, business and leadership coaching, and resume and LinkedIn optimization. He holds a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Organizational Psychology and an Advanced Certificate in Collective Intelligences from Teachers College. He served as a Columbia University Senator (2011-2013). Connect with Miller and other members of the Columbia Career Coaches Network.