Creating A Focal Point For Your Resume

Rachel Schneebaum

Let’s assume that your resume has reached the stage in the job-searching process where, for the first time, it’s being read by a real human. Maybe it was among the most keyword-rich resumes selected by a database search (for more information on preparing your resume for a database search process, see our articles about finding and using the right keywords), or maybe your email/cover letter convinced the hiring manager that you might have what it takes to be considered for the position. In any case, once you’ve arrived at this point in the process, it’s important that your resume be able to catch and hold the attention of its human reader as quickly and efficiently as possible. After all, even though you’re now part of a smaller list of candidates, hiring managers still have a lot of reading and culling to do in order to fill a single job opening.

So, how do you do this? Even if your resume is brimming with impressive skills and achievements, how to you ensure that your potential employer keeps reading long enough to see those skills and achievements? The most important thing you can do is start your resume off with a clear focus. In this article, I’ll describe several ways you can give your resume a focal point. I’ll also provide some tips for making your focal point as strong and compelling as you can.

Let’s start by going through the different types of focal points you might use:

1. Objective

(Note: though the point of this article is to show you how you should give your resume a focal point, this first method is an exception – here, I’ll describe what not to do.)

In the past—that is, even just a few years ago—most applicants relied on an “Objective” section at the beginning of their resume to give that resume focus. However, in today’s job market, this practice is generally frowned upon and probably will not get your resume through to the next stage of consideration. This is because most job seekers used their “Objective” section to describe what they wanted out of the position instead of what they could contribute to the company. This early in the selection process, employers don’t really care what you want; they’re just trying to find the best fit for their job opening and their company. So, don’t make this same mistake! The easiest way to avoid it is to get rid of the “Objective” section of your resume and replace it with one of the following types of focal points:

2. Headline

This is a single line in your resume, directly below your contact information, that identifies the position you’re looking for. One way to give your resume a focus as early on as possible is to make this headline as specific as you can. Are you submitting an application in response to a particular job opening? If so, use the exact title of the position you’re applying for as your headline. Are you uploading your resume to a site where it can be accessed and considered by recruiters and employers? In this case, you should describe the type of job you’re looking for with as much specific information as you can. Are you unsure about the specific type of job you want; instead, you’re interested in and open to several job possibilities? If so, this doesn’t mean you should write a more general headline! Instead, you can compose several different versions of your resume—each with a headline specific to one of the types of jobs that you’re considering. Submit these different versions to different recruiting sites and hand them out at different networking events: always choose the one with the headline most directly geared toward that site or that event.

3. Branding statement

Another option is to include a branding statement in your resume: think of this as the resume equivalent of a several-seconds-long elevator sales pitch. In your branding statement, your goal is to showcase your skills, reputation, and uniqueness—and you want to do this as concisely and “punchily” as possible. In drafting your branding statement, think about things like the following: what specific achievements are you most proud of? How—specifically—have you been a benefit to your past employers/companies? What qualities or personality traits set you apart and add to your ability to excel at the job you’re seeking? A focused and effective branding statement packs all this information into a single phrase or sentence. For example, your branding statement might look something like this:

Online content expert specializing in innovative approaches to SEO and analytics tools, proven to increase traffic flow and customer interest

Note that if you already have a resume with an “Objective” section, it can be easy to turn that information into an effective branding statement. To do this, first remove the “Objective” heading. Next, remove any information about what you’re looking to get out of the position, and focus on what you say you can offer the company. Finally, you just need to change the wording (objectives tend to use infinitive phrases while branding statements tend to me made up of gerund statements—the terminology isn’t important, though). So, if your “Objective” section included the phrase, “To increase traffic flow and customer interest,” you can just change it to something like, “increasing traffic flow and customer interest.” Do the same for the rest of the information in your objective, and then combine all that information into something short and punchy as described above.

Finally, if you’re applying for a specific job opening, you can make your branding statement more personalized (and therefore more focused) by including the company name or position title directly inside it. You can even combine a headline and a branding statement to pack as much specific, focused information as you can—both about yourself and about the opening you’re looking to fill—into the beginning of your resume. If you choose to combine these options, your example might end up looking more like this:

Online content expert specializing in innovative approaches to SEO and analytics tools, guaranteed to increase [company name]’s traffic flow and customer interest

4. “Professional Profile,” “Essential Skills and Qualifications,” etc.

This is a section at the beginning of your resume where you can list your skills and qualifications. In addition to front-loading your resume with keywords, including a section like this in your resume can quickly give your potential employer a sense of who you are and what you can offer the company. The more specific you are in listing your skills and achievements, the more your resume will stand out. A “Skills and Qualifications” (or similar) section can also be helpful for new graduates with little work experience: it’s a place where you can list your abilities, even if you haven’t used those abilities in a work environment. You can also describe your career objectives: how you aim to contribute to the company and what goals you’re working toward (again, describing these goals in terms of contributions to the company).

It’s important to note, though, that some employers prefer resumes without these “skills” or “profile” sections, because a list of qualifications out of context doesn’t provide them with very much specific information about you as a job candidate. This kind of resume section isn’t as universally disliked as the “objective” section, but you should keep in mind that you’re taking a risk if you choose to include it—after all, you can’t know your potential employer’s preferences before submitting your application.

Ok, so you’ve included one or more of these focal points at the beginning of your resume: now what?
It’s extremely important to establish focus early—this catches your potential employer’s attention and gets them to keep reading—but it’s equally important to maintain focus throughout the rest of the resume. So, keep your focal point in mind as you continue writing your resume. Whenever you add a section, ask yourself whether the information included in that section adds to or supports your focal point. If not, consider eliminating—or substantially revising—that section.

Ask yourself the same question as you list past positions and any skills you used or accomplishments you achieved in those positions. If those skills aren’t related to the job you’re interested in, don’t include them in your resume. If those achievements don’t corroborate or add further (related) information to your branding statement, don’t include them in your resume. (That said, make sure you don’t accidentally leave out skills or achievements relevant to the job you want just because they don’t seem to be exactly in line with your focal point. Instead, work on rephrasing these skills or achievements so that it’s easy to see how they’ll help you in the position you’re applying for!)Employers aren’t looking for a laundry list of everything you’ve ever done and everything you can do: they want to see specifics relevant to the job opening in question.

When looking for an ideal candidate, employers want to see focus and dedication. Starting your resume off with a clear focal point, and supporting that focal point throughout the rest of the resume, demonstrates just that. A tightly focused resume is a piece of evidence showing your potential employer that you’re a focused, dedicated individual who will apply that same focus and dedication to your career.

About The Author

Rachel Schneebaum

Rachel Schneebaum is a PhD candidate in philosophy, with a graduate minor in cognitive science, at the University of Arizona. She graduated from Williams College in 2009 with Bachelor of Arts degrees in both English and Philosophy. Rachel hopes to more effectively help students decide on, prepare for, and eventually succeed at their dream jobs.

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