The Eastern-oriented philosopher Alan Watts once said “trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.”

He was right, and if you’re like me, the first time you saw that quote, you tried to bite your own teeth. I suppose if you have dentures, you could do it, but you get the point. It’s generally impossible, frustrating, and hard to resist attempting.

I happen to think resume’s fall into the same bucket. We’re taught for our entire business lives that we need to have a resume, keep it updated, list our accomplishments, skills, education and merit badges. Bullet points describing all of our jobs and duties. Not on pink paper. Keep it to one page (well, two is apparently permissible now). Blah blah blah.

Here’s the thing: if you can’t define yourself to yourself, how in the hell are you supposed to define yourself in two pages or less to a massive variety of strangers? That’s like trying to bite somebody else’s teeth, via e-mail. Utter rubbish to even attempt it.

So, don’t.

Let me ask you a question – how much time do you think you spend, on average, each time you revise your resume? I’m betting if you were to sum it up, you’ve lost days of your life on the bloody thing. Agonizing over font, margins, the objective, where to put your education, etc etc etc. Then, you get it done, and read a blog post by some idiot in Boston about the “proper” way to write a resume, panic when it doesn’t agree with how your resume looks, and restart the whole process.

Only to read a blog post by some other idiot that contradicts the guy in Boston.

Rinse. Cycle. Repeat. Vomit from stress as needed.

So. What to do?

Here’s my humble thought: stop. Stop trying to bite your teeth. Beyond being frustrating, you’ll probably clip your tongue in the process, and that’s no fun.

Now, you still need something to send in when you see that dream job (or, job – not all of them are the stuff of dreams). It’s still called a “resume”, and it’s still relevant to what you need to accomplish (ie: get job). It’s just less teeth-biting, and more move on to what matters. Which is better.

See, when I’m looking at a resume of a candidate, there’s usually a whole ton of stuff I don’t give a crap about on there – I mean, it’s not a ding on the person, but I have certain needs that I need met, and I’m selfish. So are you, by the way – it’s the human condition. Embrace it and all of that. What I need will be relevant to the job I’m trying to fill, and the more excited I get about your resume will be directly proportional to how close a match your resume is to that job.

That, my friend, is called a clue. A pointer to where I’m going, in what is a somewhat rambling and incoherent blog post.

If your resume has the skills/ words I’m looking for – giggity! I’m excited. You will be, too, since it means you’re going to get an interview. One step closer to “get job, do happy dance” time.

If you’re saying/ thinking “What the hell – does this guy recruit mind readers?”, well, fantastic as that would be, no. I don’t. What I do do, is make it easy for you to match your resume to my needs: by putting it in writing, and publishing it. The job description, in other words. A bulleted list of what I need. There for the taking.

You should. Take the help.

To break it down a little, it’s a couple of steps.

  • Create a template
  • Your name, contact info (you really should have your LinkedIn or online bio in there) at the top
  • A section called “Relevant Skills Summary”
  • Leave this blank
  • In between, work history
  • Just title, company, location, dates of employment – that’s it
  • Basic educational info at the bottom (school, degree, year of graduation)
  • Stop. “Save As” “Resume Template”
  • Or call it “Angry Badger” I really don’t care
  • Find a job you want
  • Take the job description, and look at it bullet by bullet
  • For every bullet where you say “I’ve done that (or, something close to it)”, add that skill in where it’s relevant on your template (ie, if they want, say .NET and you developed applications using C# .NET, ASP.NET, etc at a job, put that under that job, and talk about what you did that was cool about it, maybe it won an award, or made your boss look good)
  • In the “Relevant Skills Summary”, put in “.NET 4.0” (or whatever  this isn’t redundant, it’s emphasis)
  • As you go through the list, cross off the qualifications you’ve added into your resume
  • At the end, look at the list – if you’ve only connected yourself with 2 out of 10 requirements, you may be in trouble – look again, and ask yourself why you’re qualified for the job
  • If there’s something in the description that you can’t quantify with a relevant match to your past experience, but that you think makes you a fit, develop a compelling argument around it – use your cover letter, or relevant skills section to make that point
  • Cruel reality: if your answer is “I’m a quick learner, I can figure this stuff out, I just need some training”, well, that’s not a qualification I can quantify – and, frankly, it means you’re technically qualified for every stinking job on the planet.
  • Look over your customized resume – there’s probably a fair amount blank under some of your jobs. It’s okay at this point to add an accomplishment or two under each – but, try and keep it quick since A: less is more B: you’re going to spend too much time working on those, and I’m barely going to absorb them. Too much effort on your side for what amounts to a sideshow on mine.
  • I like that you’ve accomplished things, but I’m not going to dive too deep into them if they’re not relevant to my needs
  • Remember: selfish
  • In the eduction section, think about if you need more than what you have. If you have certifications or training that are relevant to the job (ie, Microsoft MVP, Ruby on Rails Boot Camp, etc), it’s worth adding
  • But, generally people don’t care if you’re in Mensa, or Toast Masters. Or went to clown school (I am not making that one up, by the way – and, no, I wasn’t recruiting for Cirque du Soleil)
  • Recruiting clowns with ESP for Cirque du Soleil would be pretty bad-ass, though
  • Save the resume with a name that’s relevant to the job (ie, Burns, Martin – Mind Reading Clown Recruiter Resume – CdS)

Alright – I know, that seems like a lot of “work” to do a custom resume for each job. But, the thing is, it’s not. It’s efficient. You’re much more likely to get noticed if your resume matches the job (just, don’t copy and paste, that’s a bit too obvious), which ultimately means less time spent sending out resumes and more time in the interview chair.

Where I highly recommend you wear a clown suit. A mind reading clown suit.