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It may sound trite to say that resumes are changing because technology is changing, but here we are in 2008, and, daily, I still see resumes built for the 1980s.
Resumes changed significantly in the 90s, when online applications became common, but now, with Web 2.0, thousands of firmly established online job boards are out there and super-efficient resume-screening software are being used even by small companies. The need for resumes based on relevant content has never been greater, because you may now be competing with thousands of applicants around the globe.
Resumes used to be most acceptable when you described each job you had held, in reverse chronology, starting with your current work. One resume was enough and it could be broadcast widely, because your work history never changed, and hiring managers would guess whether you could do the job they had open, based on your previous work duties.
Naturally, that tended to keep people from changing careers, because the next job was supposed to be a continuation (and maybe an expansion) of the current job. So, what is an academic supposed to do when he/she decides to leave academics for another line of work?
Consider a functional resume, or at least, add elements of function. (Warning, it does make a resume more difficult, because you have to analyze your own strengths and organize them into a coherent statement of what you can do, AND it has to be related strongly to the job you’re applying to.)
I’ll assume that you’re applying for a job that 1) you know you could do and 2) you want to do because you have the skills and strengths to demonstrate that. “Demonstrate?” you say. “How can I demonstrate what I’ve never done?”
Begin with a thorough analysis of the job description. You may have to “read between the lines” to find the significant tasks, and list them along with the defined duties on one side of a 2-column page. “Job requirements” may be in a different section, but list all of them, too. Opposite each task, duty or requirement, list what you have to offer that answers or parallels that item. (For example, if the job requires managing employees, consider whether the way you managed a class or individuals doing projects or teams has parallels.)
The parallels that you see are very important. Even though you may see a parallel as obvious, you’ll probably have to translate it into their terminology before hiring managers can “see” it, to understand that you can “do” that task. To them, the fact that you have written a dozen research papers does not mean that you could write a marketing analysis, when in fact, you probably could.
It may take research on your part to find out what elements within the kind of research papers you’ve done has in common with marketing analyses, but it is vital for you to find out and make that parallel evident. It is your responsibility to demonstrate (i.e., explain sufficiently) that you have the skills and strengths to do that job, and to do it well. The hiring manager doesn’t have to do it, because that person has hundreds or thousands or resumes to pick from – it’s easier to just go to the next one.
For your own sake, demonstrate that you understand how resumes have changed.