When people are assembling their resumes, they tend to get obsessed with finding the right format, the right fonts, and the right “power words.” But the biggest key to writing a successful resume is knowing your personal brand before you ever set fingers to keyboard. Even though, for most people, the best resume format is a reverse-chronological listing of your past positions and responsibilities, this doesn’t mean your resume should read like a list. On the contrary, it means that you need to communicate your brand message so clearly that it connects with the reader, no matter the format. It’s Not About Power Words You can’t communicate a distinctive brand message by littering it indiscriminately with so-called “power words.” While certainly your description of past accomplishments should be driven by action verbs, too many people go too far with words like “optimized,” “enhanced,” “revitalized” and “solidified.” You’ll only succeed in making the hiring manager’s eyes glaze over. How about coming up with words that really describe you? If you’re a sales executive, maybe you’re a “sales turnaround expert” who’s “tough-minded” and “thrives under pressure” but is still “popular for having an even hand.” If I’m a company struggling to get my sales organization off the ground, would I rather know these things about you – or that you have X years of experience “solidifying, optimizing and revitalizing”? You can think of these words as your personal brand characteristics — and they should be reflected in all your communications to prospective employers. Three Steps to Success Here are three steps I recommend when you are ready to prepare your resume:

  • Come up with three to five personal brand characteristics that make you stand out from the competition.
  • Make sure these brand characteristics come through in your overview paragraph (every resume should have one), as well as in the accomplishments you list for each job you’ve held.
  • Connect these brand characteristics to the specific job you’re applying for with a well thought-out cover letter.

Hiring managers are busy people. They’re not trying to understand your “brand”; they’re mainly looking to find people whose experiences meet their checklist of requirements. But by taking a personal-branding approach to preparing your resume, you’ll give that hiring manager a strong sense of who you are — and what you bring to the table — even before that first telephone interview. The powerful narrative you are communicating about yourself will click in, and you will quickly separate yourself from the job applicants focused on formats and power words. What’s more, as you get closer to landing your desired job, your positioning will be reinforced each time your resume is read and re-read. So don’t settle for a resume that reads like a list. Create a resume that reads like you. [This article also appears in Personal Branding Magazine.]

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