In this dismal job market, a resume that stands out from the crowd can make the difference between getting hired -- or at least making it to the interview stage -- and getting nowhere. The secret to a CV that will give you a fighting chance: Learn to replace tired old words and phrases with what Rob McGovern calls "accomplishment-speak."
Founder and CEO of job networking site Jobfox, McGovern sees thousands of resumes every month and, along with his team, gets paid to rewrite them. "The most common mistake job hunters make is defining themselves by a role or title, instead of telling what they actually did," he says.
What's the difference? "It's one thing to identify yourself as a software programmer, period, and quite another to say, 'Developed a program with 60% fewer bugs that was adopted three times faster by customers than the previous version,'" McGovern says. The latter language "gives prospective employers a clear picture of what you can do for them."
Sales executives, he notes, seem to have a particular aversion to accomplishment-speak. "They'll write 'Managed the northwest territory.' Well, that doesn't tell me anything," McGovern says. "Instead, say something like, 'Led a team of six salespeople who increased revenues by $4 million in 2010.' Now you've got my attention."
Or take the word "entrepreneurial," which gets often splashed onto people's resumes without any supporting evidence. "This word is a big yawn, so don't use it," McGovern says.
"What 'entrepreneurial' actually means is that you can take the initiative to start new things, so give an example of a time when you did that, for instance, 'Created a new business process that increased customer satisfaction by X%,' or whatever it was that you achieved."
McGovern notes that, with companies seeing more resumes per job opening than at any time in recent memory, "a current trend is to put a career summary at the top, to give a concise overview of your whole career so far. Cliches like 'proven,' 'dedicated,' and 'detail-oriented' often get strung together in those paragraphs," says McGovern.
A much better approach: "Use that prime real estate to describe one or two of your biggest achievements in concrete terms. A resume should be a history of your specific accomplishments and tell what problems you have solved for previous employers. Most resumes do not do that, and that's why they don't get read."
McGovern claims that deleting clichés and using accomplishment-speak instead can give your job hunt a significant boost. "We've had people who were out of work for six months rewrite their resumes correctly and find a job in three weeks," he says, adding: "Usually, we charge $350 to circle the worthless clichés in a resume and send it back to the person for translation into accomplishment-speak. But you can do it yourself for free." Nice to know.