Magnified ResumeGone are the days of the single resume set in stone, blasted to every job ad that seemed to match your talents. Today the resume is a living document, constantly updated with newly acquired skills and experiences. It's an open secret that resumes are reverse engineered to fit a particular job description. It's not unethical to highlight the most appropriate traits and skills that match with what the employer is seeking. Yes, it's unethical to say you have skills you don't possess, but competition being what it is, you need to look for an edge. And an important place to look for one is in the job description. Job descriptions aren't written by machines. They're written by people and often reveal a specific need for soft skills or people skills. Looking closer, you'll discover clues that can help make your resume stand out. For example, if the job description demands evening and weekend work, you'd include the fact that you provided round the clock support during an upgrade. Many job descriptions are as generic as the resumes they get in response. Phrases like detail oriented, meticulous, takes ownership in a job description are as generic as resume buzzwords like developed, implemented, deployed. Still, that job description may hold clues about the employee who vacated the position and the manager who's looking to improve upon it. For example, consider this job description:

... is looking for experienced Business Development Managers. We are a fast growing company, will reach 100 employees capacity soon. Looking for an enthusiastic, energetic and honest BDM who will share our vision and help us to go to the next big step.

Wouldn't honest be assumed? Could it be the person who vacated the position was less than honest? Of course in responding, you don't list honest as one of your best traits. Not only is it disingenuous, but honesty is assumed in applicants. Instead, use an example of what you've done that could be considered an honest act. Something like: Developed a method for HR to maintain their own documents that was inaccessible to those in IT. Here's another one. This was buried in a 950 word job description:

Composure: Is cool under pressure; does not become defensive or irritated when times are tough; is considered mature; can be counted on to hold things together during tough times; can handle stress; is not knocked off balance by the unexpected; doesn't show frustration when resisted or blocked; is a settling influence in a crisis.

You might skip over that, thinking it's not as important as implementing SharePoint. But it's in the job description for a reason. Try to elegantly combine the SharePoint implementation and the rough patches that you coolly overcame. And another:

Excellent communication skills. Willing to put ideas out in the open without fear of being wrong, and to stand up for ideas you believe in. Open debate and discussion is strongly encouraged on the team. Strong analytic and design capabilities. Ability to think about and decompose a problem into simpler parts. Demonstrated preference for simple, cohesive, decoupled, and practical solutions.

Again, they're stressing skills that have nothing to do with IT. Clearly they're looking for a courageous, imaginative, intellectually secure person. How do you demonstrate you're the one? If they want out-of-the-box thinking, give it to them. Include a paragraph demonstrating those skills in your cover letter. There's no science to this, and I've only discussed soft skills. There are many ways to imaginatively weave your unique skills into your resume, but first you must understand what the hiring manager is looking for. So don't skip over what may at first appear to be fluff. First pubished January 29, 2010.