Sometimes the job hunt can feel like a numbers game: the average job search takes 43 days…92% of recruiters use social media…the average resume gets 6 seconds of attention. And our current obsession with data-driven decisions doesn’t stop there. We’re all walking, talking data points. But even though we’re up against numbers, don’t forget that there’s a human element to resumes: they’re written and read by humans (uh, after they make it through the automated keyword parsing systems, that is). And as such, there’s a huge mental game component to resumes: who’s reading this, and what will make them remember me?
How can I present myself as a feeling, thinking, interesting person perfect for the job? Here is your guide on how to get a job by accomplish this.
Pre-Game: Psych Yourself Up
Before you even write your resume, it’s important to get yourself into shape for this mental game. It sounds a little goofy, I know, but the more confident and winner-ish you feel going into the job search Olympics, the better you’ll feel about the whole thing. Now, you could start going to bed early and rising at 4:30 a.m. for sunrise jogs across town, but that kind of training isn’t necessary here (unless you’re applying for the actual Olympics). It’s more about adjusting your mindset and getting your plan in order so you can feel good about what you’re sending out.
Set up the game.
Thinking of your job search as a game is more than just a distraction—it can help you focus more on a successful outcome, believe it or not. It can be as easy as naming your goal, and setting personal rewards for making progress toward that goal (milestones). Maybe you give yourself bonus points along the way for doing well in an interview, or getting a call or email response for a resume you submit online.
Think long game, not sudden death.
Think of your job search as a long process, with every step and challenge along the way as progress toward an eventual win. If your goal is to find a job within 6 months, don’t get frustrated if your first few promising opportunities don’t pan out. Take it as an extended training exercise, where you get to practice honing your resume and interview skills.
Concentrate on the present.
You can’t control what happens in the future, and shouldn’t dwell on what happened before. There’s only the present and what you can do in it. So while you can reflect on the past to learn from it, and think about what your goals are in the future, it’s most important to concentrate on your present, and what you need to be doing right now to make sure you make progress.
Remember that you have choices.
Part of envisioning your job search as a mental game is remembering that as a player, you have options—plays to make, pieces to move. Nobody else is doing that for you. That puts all of the power in your hands to make this job search something that represents you, and your best abilities.
It also helps if you feel stuck. If your career goal feels far away because you’re missing something (experience, the right network, etc.), what can you do to change that in the short term? There could be many ways to get to your goal, if you keep your thinking flexible. You can take a class to get more expertise. You could start trying to link up with movers and shakers on social media, or look for special networking events in your industry. Waiting around for things to happen to you is rarely a winning strategy.
Game Time: Revamping Your Resume
It’s time to play offense in the mental game, and that means working with your resume itself and prepping your application package. Here are 7 strategies you can use to try to reach the real person on the other end (recruiter, HR professional, hiring manager).
Find a teammate.
As you get started tailoring your resume for a particular job opening, try to network with someone already at the company where you’re applying. Not in, like, a creepy and ingratiating way so you can drop their name in an interview, but in a “hey, I’m applying to your company’s marketing department and I’d love to have a chat about what it’s like to work there” way.
You can also ask this person for feedback on your resume—e.g. does my resume match the company culture? It may not be a lifelong friendship, but if you find someone willing to be your networking buddy, it can give you good insight into what kind of people this place hires. And if this small request for a few minutes of insight opens the door to a word in the right ear or an introduction, then you definitely owe this person a beverage of their choosing to celebrate this new friendship.
Quantity in addition to quality.
If you have numbers to back up any point on your resume, use them! For example:
Instead of: “Saved the company money by switching vendors”
Try: “Coordinated a vendor change that saved 8% on office supplies in 2015.”
Instead of: “Mentored new hires”
Try: “Mentored 16-20 new hires per year.”
Instead of: “Organized a fundraiser”
Try: “Spearheaded an event that raised $12,000 from 250 participants”
Don’t be afraid to be quirky…within reason.
There’s not much leeway for jokes within your resume, because you want to present yourself as a genuine, serious candidate. But you can show some of your personality if you include your interests. This can catch the reader’s eye, and help them set you apart in their head as they sift through candidate resumes.
For example, if your skills include being a world-class fly fisherperson, add it. If you won your company’s bake-off over 30 other people (true story!), list it along with any other awards. Little bits like this, used sparingly, can really sparkle in an otherwise straightforward resume—and again, you want to make yourself memorable to the person reading, kind of like a mnemonic device you set off in his or her head. “The pie guy—I liked him!” could get you to the next level.
Don’t use fancy fonts or visual tricks.
This one might run counter to the kinds of psychological trickery you might expect…after all, you want to stand out, right? Red Comic Sans might be the way to do that. Except it’s not. For one thing, your carefully chosen visual stunnery might be for naught if your resume translates through their system as plain text. Also, you run the real risk of an eye roll and being remembered for the wrong reasons. So you should try to stand out within the system, rather than showing what a rebel you are (design-wise).
Follow the Rule of Seven.
Jon Youshaei of Forbes recommends adapting the old “Rule of Seven” marketing policy, where your customer needs to hear your product name or message seven times before it really sinks in. You can use it here to create a kind of subliminal messaging. If you go to the company’s website and read it’s mission statement/About Us section, find buzzwords that are clearly important to the company, and use them (or variations on them) seven times in your resume. It should be done pretty subtly, though…you don’t want the reader to feel like he or she’s just reading the same thing over and over.
For example, if the company puts a high priority on its status as an innovator, make sure to sprinkle in words like “changed,” “disrupted,” “modernized,” etc. throughout the resume. These kinds of keywords may or may not curry favor with the automated digital reader, but the human one will likely pick up on subtle connections to the company.
Align yourself with bigger brands.
Name-dropping can be insufferable (as George Clooney and mentioned to me the other day) in everyday conversation, but if you use some big names in your resume, it can help increase the impressiveness factor. For example, if the last company you worked for won an award or had a major client, try to (artfully) insert that information. “Arranged sponsorship from Pepsi, Foxwoods, and Toys ‘R Us.”
Emphasize what you want them to see.
If you’re a little thin on experience but have a ton of skills, use a top-loaded skills-based resume. If you want to emphasize your work with notable companies, put the experience first. If the company has a reputation for hiring grads from schools with good basketball programs, put your UConn education front and center. There’s no single format for a resume—you find the one that works best with what you’re working with and how you want to say it.
Whether you do see the job application process as a data exercise (collecting all your professional data) or more of a psychological give-and-take between you and The System, you want to put in as much work as possible to get to your goal. And either way, you’ll want to have your end zone dance ready for when you win the game, job offer in hand.
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