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Résumé Rules, Part 1

The Job Hunter

By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger

“Could you take a look at my résumé?”

That would have to be the winner in the “Awkward Questions Most Frequently Asked” contest. The conversation usually goes something like this:

“Well, Rabbi Kruger, what do you do?”

“I teach people how to choose the right career and find the best possible job.”

“Really? Oh, great! Could you . . . ?”

You’ve heard this before.

So, why is this an awkward question? After all, a well-constructed résumé is valuable in job hunting, and everyone could use a little help to make their résumé stand out in the crowd. I do put a lot of effort into writing résumés for my clients, so if that’s what a person wants, well, why not just take a look at it?

There’s a good reason why not. Imagine meeting a skilled baker whose cakes are both beautiful and delicious. If you ask him to teach you how to make chocolate frosting, he may answer, “Sure, after I teach you how to bake a cake.” You see, great frosting doesn’t function by itself (except when you’re licking the beaters). It has to be part of a great cake.

In job hunting, a résumé can’t do anything on its own. It has to be part of the message that goes out to each potential employer, saying, in as few words as possible, “I am the best possible person to do your job.” That message has to be the focus of a 20-second “elevator pitch,” of a 90-second “sales pitch,” of a cover letter, and of a résumé. All of them have to reach the same point, clearly and succinctly. So before I can evaluate a résumé, I have to ask, what is the message you want your résumé to deliver? At the bottom line, why are you the best person for the job?

Many of my clients don’t have an answer to that question. Maybe because we teach our children to be modest and humble, they don’t feel comfortable talking about their strengths, afraid of being a show-off. The truth is that someone who merely wants to attract attention by displaying his or her superior skills is a show-off. But someone who shows empathy for the potential employer, assuring him that his problems are understood and will be solved in a professional way, is about to be an employee.

In every type of work, there are people who win the admiration of their peers. They are the stars, the go-to type that everyone relies on. Anyone who’s been in the field knows how to spot them. So the first thing to think about when writing a résumé is, Who are these people, and what really makes them stand out? There probably is some expertise in one skill or another, but there is probably a lot more of what’s called “soft skills.” Whatever those may be, those are the things that your next employer wants to know about you. Your résumé must show that you have the makings of a star.

Read that last sentence carefully. Not “say you have the makings of a star,” but show it. Almost every résumé I see starts with a “personal statement,” which asserts that the job hunter is “a self-motivated team player, blah, blah . . .” And maybe it’s true. But as we said down South where I grew up, “Sayin’ so don’t make it so.” So don’t say it, show it. Think of examples of things you have done where your good traits contributed to success. Those are the points that have to be part of your message.

One of the hardest things to learn about résumés is that your résumé is not about you. Your résumé is about the job that needs to be done and how you are the person who can do it best. It shows that you understand the job, but even more important, that you understand the employer’s needs and that you cared enough to learn about them and write a résumé that addresses them. That you won’t waste his time with needless verbiage and distractions. That you are thoughtful enough to present your points in a format that is clear and attractive. And, in the (increasingly rare) event that you are actually handing someone a printed copy, that you took the time and effort to use a clear font and quality paper.

The message that every résumé—indeed, that every job hunter—must communicate is, “I’m not here because I need a job. I’m here because I can do the job that you need done. Whether a novice or seasoned veteran, I’m ready to show you what I can do. I am the solution to your problem.”

How do you fit all that into 20 seconds, or 90, or the opening lines of a résumé? That’s why this article is titled “Part 1.” v

Rabbi Mordechai Kruger is the founder and director of Pathways to Parnassa, an organization providing job-search and career coaching to our community. He can be reached at

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Posted by on May 22, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.