Resumes & Cover Letters

How to prove your skills on your resume with the SPARK formula


Correcting hundreds of resumes has taught me that most applicants write their resume with no specific skillset in mind. They think about the main tasks they had in a role, write them up and that’s it. The result is often a weak resume that doesn’t highlight what makes them the dream candidate for the position and firm they’re targeting. Which is really too bad, because they’re usually qualified!

To short circuit this line of thinking and better structure the way applicants tell their experiences, I came up with what I like to call the SPARK formula. Spark as in ‘spark interest’ and ‘spark your resume’, yes, but more importantly spark as in: Skill, Problem, Action, Result, Keyword.

And here’s how to apply the formula:

SKILL: Compose your skillset strategically

As you can see, ‘skill’ is the first part of the formula. This is because the first thing you do is choosing a specific skill you wish to add to your resume. Preferably one from the job description. Not a task or a process, not even an achievement or a result. A skill.

There are two types of skills you can include on your resume: your transferable soft skills, which are soft skills that ‘transfer’ across industries, such as communication and leadership skills. And then there are industry-specific technical skills, which are only relevant in their industry. For example, SEO analysis is a digital marketing skill that cannot be transferred to a job, let’s say, in customer service. However, even a skilled SEO analyst needs to demonstrate strong communication skills in order to communicate his findings and recommendations to the marketing and content creation teams.

So to compose your skillset strategically, you have to extract the transferable and industry-specific skills the job posting lists and match them as close as you can!

PROBLEM: Identify a problem you helped solve

Step two consists in defining a problem (either yours or your previous employer’s) that is related to the skill you chose above. This should be a problem you might also encounter at the job you’re targeting, should they decide to hire you.

In our SEO analysis example, the problem would be that the website doesn’t get enough traffic, for example.

ACTION: Describe the action you took to solve the problem (with an action verb)

So what did you do exactly to solve the problem? Be specific when describing your experience. Focus on actions you took and tools you used.

To write it out, start each bullet point of what you accomplished with an action-oriented, skills-based verb. For example, ‘Launched a social media campaign and coordinated its implementation across Google+, Linkedin, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook.’

And here’s a tip: don’t use the same action verb twice throughout your resume! To make sure you have enough inspiration, check out this list of 250 action verbs (PDF).

RESULT: Quantify your results with numbers

To make your resume really stand out, you have to quantify your results as much as you can. What was the direct result of your action? What did you accomplish? Give concrete results by quantifying them with numbers.

So our previous example becomes: ‘Launched a social media campaign and coordinated its implementation across Google+, Linkedin, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook, attracting 2000+ new leads. Increased sales by 22%.’

Doesn’t this sound more impressive already?

KEYWORDS: Tweak your vocabulary to include relevant keywords

Keywords are descriptive words, mostly nouns, that capture hard skills acquired through education and experience and associated to specific industries. And while some keywords can apply to skills within a variety of industries - like Project Management or Customer Service - others are more sector-specific, like SEO Analysis, Lean Manufacturing or Product Design.

This is important because Linkedin Recruit and Applicant Tracking Software scan for these words, as do recruiters!, to select only the candidates with relevant experience. So failure to integrate appropriate keywords into the resume (and your cover letter!) can make you lose the opportunity to interview.

So study the job posting carefully and make a list of the keywords in it. Employers spend a lot of time writing these postings, telling you exactly what they need. Your job is to show them that you are the closest match to their ideal applicant - and the best way of doing that is by using the same words they’re using. So feed their keywords back to them!

Now it’s your turn to ‘spark’ your resume!

About the author:

As a co-founder at Build Your Tomorrow, Mirona Agachi enables millennial job seekers to build job applications that will open the door to their dream careers with step-by-step and word-for-word resources. Start building your own career with her popular ebook ‘10 Steps to Give Your Resume The Ultimate Upgrade' or by following her on Twitter.

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