How to Write a Resume Job Description That Gets You a Call Back

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I work with a lot of business owners and founders. My network knows this and people send me their resumes when they search for a job. The first thing I do before I send the resume along to the Very Busy People who run these companies is I check the job description they wrote in their work history.

If the bullet points simply describe what the person did at their previous jobs, I send it back and ask them to rewrite it.

Why?

Because the job descriptions on your resume should tell the value you add. They should advertise why you're an awesome hire and why that company would be foolish not to talk to you.

The job description is pink

They should not be a description of your job.

(Yes, "job description" is a misnomer here.)

The people looking at resumes have seen plenty in their careers. They know what Sales Development Representatives or Account Managers or Marketing Managers or Teachers or Fry Cooks do. Even if you have an odd or unusual title, they can always google what that title means and what somebody with that title does.

They make decisions about whether or not to interview candidates on the margin. You have one shot at their attention. Do not waste it on information they already know.

Writing Job Description Copy for the Service of You

Writing a job description on a resume is really copywriting. It's writing the description of a service that somebody can hire and writing it in such a way that they say, "yes! That's somebody I want to work with!"

Have you ever read a sales page or an ad or a pamphlet or a popup window for a product and immediately said, "it's like the person who wrote this understands me personally!"? That's the kind of feeling you want your job description to convey.

(The opposite of this -- and what a lot of people do on their resumes -- is just a description of the product. They tell you what it is, not how it will benefit you.)

The very best writers can write copy like that because they know their audience, they understand their pain-points, and they craft solutions and copy that speak directly to them.

You can do this with your resume, too.

1. Know Your Audience

Writing your resume should be one of the last things you do on your job search. You should first know A) what kind of company you want to work at; and B) what kind of job you want. If you know exactly which companies, all the better.

The resume you write for a marketing manager looks completely different than the resume you write for an engineering executive, even if you have the same job history in both cases. The marketing manager wants to see different virtues than the engineering executive.

If you want to get hired at IBM, you'll have a different resume than if you wanted to get hired at a young, fledgling startup. IBM would look for somebody who does their job well, on time, and doesn't rock the boat. The startup may look for somebody who is a bit more of a risk-taker if it means a higher payoff.

Know what kind of job you want before you start on your resume.

(My Ambition Mapping workbook can help you with this.)

2. Know Their Pain-points

The person reading your resume has problems.

If you can solve those problems (or at least show that you are the kind of person who can solve those problems), they want to talk to you.

Some problems are easy to figure out. Sales executives usually just want to close more deals and love talking to people who were above-average closers at their previous jobs. Some are less easy to figure out.

If you don't know what kind of problems the person reading your resume thinks about, do research. 

Don't just spitball. Start online. Go to Quora and Reddit. If you can meet somebody with that title or at that company, reach out to them to set up a time to talk and learn more.

(My email scripts can help you with this.)

When I did placement for Praxis, before introducing business partners to participants to interview, I would email or call the business partner and find out what their pain points were. I would ask them what kept them up at night, what they actively hired for (not all hires are listed on careers pages), and what bottlenecks keep their business from growing.

I'd then go and look at the list of participants who could help with those specific problems. If the company needed to up its content marketing game or work on inbound sales, I'd introduce the person with great writing communication. If they needed to increase their outbound sales, I'd introduce the person who ran their own small business in high school. If they wanted a jack of all trades, I'd find the person who was just most on-the-ball with everything from email response time to blog posts to coachable feedback.

This made the process considerably easier than if a ton of people just sent in stock resumes.

3. Write in Terms of Creating Value and Solving Those Pain Points

If you ask them what their biggest bottlenecks are or what's keeping them up at night, they'll often tell you. This is your opportunity to write a game-changing job description that tells them, "I'm your guy."

At the very least, every bullet point should say why you're better than the average schmuck looking for a job.

Get rid of words that described your day-in, day-out role and start focusing on words like "created," "sold," "led," "developed," "grew," "launched," "raised," and "trained."

If you can get average (or even better, median) numbers for productivity in your role, industry, and company, use those. For example, it's not helpful to say, "sold units across the San Francisco Bay Area." Snooze. The reader knows this based on your title and your geography. You just wasted valuable space on your resume.

It's better to say, "Regionally top-performing salesman closing on avg. 18 deals per week." This says that you were a top-performer and gives the reader a reason to take time out of her busy schedule to talk to you.

It's great to say, "Regionally top-performing salesman closing on avg. 18 deals per week, 125% higher than the median salesman." This tells the reader that not only were you a top-performer but you blew your colleagues out of the water. A sales hiring manager definitely wants to at least talk to this person.

"But Zak! Doesn't that mean that I would have to write a new resume for every job I apply to?"

Yes and no.

First, it does mean that you write a new resume for every type of job you apply to. If you aren't sure you want a sales job or an operations job, you develop two resumes to send out, one for sales and one for operations.

Second, there's nothing wrong with this. To steal an analogy from Bryan Caplan, it's like dating. You don't want to be attractive to everybody. You just want to be attractive to the right person. The perfect job description is perfect for specific roles.

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I'm Zak. School should have taught you how to succeed at work and build a great career. Instead, it taught you that mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell. Thankfully, I teach what school never taught.

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I grew up on the edge of rural Pennsylvania, about an hour and a half from the city of Pittsburgh. I spent my first years growing