Off-brand cereal sucks. So do off-brand resumes.

Why do you shy away from that off-brand of cereal when marching down the aisles of your grocery store every week (or in my case, every other day)?


Because you assume it sucks.

The packaging bores you.

And while it's for sure cheaper, nothing about it reaches out and says, "Here I am. THIS is what you came for."

The brand name product sitting right next to that blah-o cereal, on the other hand, looks pretty and enticing. We can close our eyes and just imagine ourselves sitting down on a sunny patio eating that whole grain bowl of goodness.

You shy away from that off-brand because the competition is doing a way better job of marketing to you, the target audience. They're honing in on the very things they know will attract your attention and then move you to make that purchase.

If the marketers for the name brand cereal have done their jobs well, you will reach right past every other similar product on that shelf and grab THAT ONE, because you will feel that this is, without a doubt, the right box of cereal for you.

Now let's transfer this logic over to your resume.

I have at least two conversations a week with clients or prospective clients who want a new resume that will "cover all bases" or "be good for every type of job I'm applying for" or "allow me to keep my options open."

Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way.

A resume that attempts to be all things to all people fails to take into account a fundamental element of marketing and branding:

The target audience

If you don't know your target audience, you can't possibly create marketing messaging (a la your resume) that speaks directly to the stuff those who review your resume are going to care the most about.

If you don't know your target audience, you can't possibly appeal to their emotions. You can't create messaging that addresses their needs, desires or interests if you don't know who they are in the first place.

It's impossible.

The more narrow you can be in determining what, exactly, you're going for (e.g. "I'm looking for a project management job in the field of alternative energy"), the easier it will be for you to determine what types of things those hiring managers care about.

And once you know this? You can then make darned sure you position yourself as the answer to these exact things.

Easiest way to do this?

  1. Pick a reasonably narrow target audience. Don't freak. If you change your mind, you can pick another one down the road.
  2. Pull several job descriptions for this type of job.
  3. Study them.
  4. Figure out the most common skills and requirements that employers are asking for in these job descriptions.
  5. Revise your resume so that it's abundantly clear that you're good at these very things.

Always remember -- your resume is not a list. It's not your autobiography.

It's a marketing document.

Your resume is a marketing document that's designed to compel the target audience into a purchase decision (in this case, the "purchase decision" is an invitation to come interview).

Don't be the off-brand cereal. No one on this planet falls all over themselves to buy it. No one truly wants it.

Instead, be the remarkable cereal that shoots sparkles and flames and whole grain goodness into the eyes of every passerby down Aisle 4.

That's the kind people buy.

(And the kind that you truly are.)