What’s in the Typical Résumé?

I’ve been writing résumés professionally since 2011. Before that, I helped dozens of friends and colleagues on a casual basis. Back then, I couldn’t say I knew what worked, but friends of friends kept coming to me for help and getting new jobs.

As a marketing writer, I naturally focused on benefits, not features. So, I applied the same strategy for résumés – and it worked. My benefit-centered approach made their résumés qualitatively different from competing résumés. People noticed, my friends got hired.

Once I invested myself fully into writing résumés, cover letters and LinkedIn profiles, I had to answer many questions for potential clients. “Why will working with you work for me?” ” Help me understand why my current résumé isn’t working.” “What missing?”

I’ve answered those questions repeatedly and as a result, I had an epiphany: All the things I say about strategy, technique, good writing and creating a value proposition, comes down to a simple reality – your résumé isn’t about you, it’s about the reader.  

So, who is this Reader? A resume must work for at least three different audiences, each looking for something different. That means there are three different levels of comprehension being used for your one résumé. Most resumes are written to speak to the hiring manager. However, your resume must first appeal to the two readers who stand between you and the hiring manager in order to keep you moving through the hiring process. And here they are:

The Machine – Applicant tracking systems (ATS) are database programs that receive your résumé when you apply online. When you know you are eminently qualified for a position but never hear back from the employer, it’s the ATS that holds you hostage. Even though you just spent two hours of your life meticulously handing over every scrap of your professional history and given permissions for background checks, credit checks and even drug screening, it comes to nothing if your resume remains in this cyber void. The sad part here is this shapeless, insensitive cyborg ignored your résumé and you’re not feeling too good about the slight. Reason for failure; the résumé didn’t “speak” to Reader #1 and its impersonal criteria.

The Admin – So let’s say, your résumé makes it past Reader #1, the ATS. Now it’s in a queue of competing résumés that an HR admin or manager must review and forward on to the hiring manager, and quickly. To give you an idea of what their life is like, look at the screen capture:

how to write a resume
The Sea of Redundancy

With a limited number of templates and a lack of creative daring by the person writing, résumés start to look alike. Day in, day out, job after job, the HR person must endure a sea of redundancy. What’s key here is they also don’t know the job as intimately as the hiring manager. Your résumé must work for Reader #2, who will give it a 20 second scan. It needs to indicate you are worth learning more about. If your resume doesn’t communicate this quickly, it fails. Reader #2 needs to understand, in simple terms, that you may be qualified for this job. If he or she doesn’t, you get rejected.

The Hiring Manager. So that we can discuss what comes next, your résumé did pass Reader #2, the HR Admin. Now, in the hands of the hiring manager, your résumé must be about Reader #3. It has to answer in detail, Reader #3’s question; “Can this person do what I need them to do?” Does the hiring manager learn from your previous achievements that you can do the job? Is this decision maker noticing measurable outcomes and a strong value proposition?


Your résumé must work for each of the three readers and their varying criteria and I’ve just briefly touched on the challenges of doing so. Writing a résumé may seem like a relatively straight-forward task, however, writing one that’ll be effective is another matter altogether. For three readers, a three-target presentation is required, which is a complex writing strategy to draft and execute.

If your writing strategy isn’t directed at three readers in one document, then another dream job may be escaping your grasp. Don’t let that happen. Go from the job you got to the job you want. Visit www.rez-builder.com and contact me. I’ll happy to answer your questions.