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It’s happened to each of us. You’re at a party, networking, on a date, or even at an interview. You extend your hand to meet a contact, excited about the possibilities associated with this new person—

—and get a weak, listless handshake. Even if only for a split second, your attention shifts to the handshake and not the person behind it.

A resume at its core is a document that lists your education and work experience. However, it’s also the equivalent of a strong handshake: In this age of applicant tracking systems, overwhelmed hiring managers, and hundreds of applications per position, it’s vital that your resume create a great first impression. So just what IS a resume in 2015?

Let’s start with what a resume isn’t.

  • A LinkedIn profile is now a necessary tool for any job seeker. As Alexandra Samuel of the Harvard Business Review puts it, “a solid LinkedIn profile includes not only your self-proclaimed qualifications, but testimonials from colleagues, clients, and employers.” It’s easy to update, detailed, and shows off past work. Yet you still, as we believe and Forbes agrees, need a good resume in addition to your LinkedIn profile.
  • If a resume is a handshake, a CV (curriculum vitae) is a full dating profile. This document is often used in applying for jobs internationally or in academia. Rather than focusing on specific employers and job titles, a CV details your professional and/or academic accomplishments and provides a venue for describing research endeavors, awards, and other notable details. Job seekers in the United States should definitely use a comprehensive career management document for their own records, but skip the storytelling seen in a CV (unless a CV is specifically called for).

With that cleared up, let’s examine what a resume really is: a set of opportunities. A well-written resume gives you the opportunity to:

1. Showcase crucial keywords. Including the correct keywords in your resume is the most important part of today’s job search. Keywording not only serves the purpose of getting that resume past an applicant tracking system (ATS), but also helps show your attention to detail. Use Jobscan’s resume analysis tool to see how well your resume matches with an individual job description. And to keep the appropriate keywords front and center, tailor each resume you submit.

What is a resume? Your chance to highlight your qualifications through keywords.
Keywords unlock applicant tracking systems and lead to interviews. (Photo Credit: blog.vwriter.com)

2. Prove you’re the best candidate. There are many reasons a person may need a job: making money, pursuing a passion, or perhaps gaining experience to bolster a degree. When an employer posts a job, it means they need something, too. Lisa Rangel, of Chameleon Resumes and Fast Company, says it bluntly but best: “Simply put: nobody really cares what you want only.” A resume is your way of showing how you, and not one of the other (sometimes hundreds!) applicants, will fully address the company’s needs. Set yourself apart from the pack!

3. Own your career story. Although an employer’s keywords and proper resume format are important considerations, don’t forget that your resume is just that—yours. Don’t be shy about touting accomplishments (don’t stretch the truth, of course). Using the resume as a vehicle for articulating the arc of your career will both show an employer what you’ve done and help you remember where you’re headed.

Don’t submit a limp fish of a resume. Instead, see it as an opportunity to put forth a strong handshake…and start a career conversation.

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