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Similar … Not Identical (The Resume Writer’s Challenge)

I’ve run into the same dilemma twice recently: writing unique resumes for people with very similar goals and backgrounds.

In one case, I was hired by 3 people from the same department at the same company (one referred the other, then the third … all within the space of a week). In the second case, 3 executives in the same technical field, and searching for virtually the same types of positions, came on board within about 10 days.

Of course, every individual is unique and every resume is different. But when I’m dealing with the same or very similar facts, parallel career histories, and similar qualifications, it can be a challenge to frame each individual in a powerful and distinctly different way.

At first, I panicked a little.

Then I drew a breath and told myself to be confident in my process. I’ve been doing this work for decades, and I’ve developed a system that works beautifully for me to draw information and inspiration from each client.

Perhaps this recap can help you, if you’re a professional resume writer; or you, if you’re writing your own resume and trying to figure out how to differentiate yourself while sharing similar qualifications that will be seen on other (competing!) resumes.

Start with the End in Mind. The first step in writing a great resume is a clear career objective. While we no longer use “Objective” statements on resumes, we do need to understand what you’re looking for, how you want to be perceived, and what facts and stories about you will be of most interest to your target audience.

Of course, that doesn’t help much when you’re working simultaneously with 3 people who will be vying for the same jobs! But it’s my first step in the process, among the first questions I ask, so that I can begin to formulate my strategy for writing a resume that positions each client for that specific goal.

Understand the “Why” Behind the “What.” The most common (and excellent) advice for writing your resume is to tout your accomplishments—“what” you did in each job. Going behind “what,” I like to probe the story behind the challenge or project, learn why it was important and how you approached it.

In the case of my 3 clients with similar backgrounds and goals, doing that helped me to tease out their different leadership styles and innate talents to create value statements that were unique to each.

Exude Personality. My 3 clients from the same company department were in fact very different! One was bold and energetic, fast talking and fast moving. The resume I created for her featured bright green accents and pull-quotes from some of her many glowing endorsements. Another was quite staid and traditional, so I knew that a resume perceived as too creative would make her uncomfortable. I created a resume that was more toned-down, in both language and design, while still highlighting her many achievements.

The third client was quite soulful and believed that his work had the deeper purpose of helping people as well as benefiting his organization. It was natural to include relevant success stories that stressed the human element.

Capture Unique Voice. I like to gather information in a number of ways—existing written materials, a brief worksheet, and an in-depth consultation. I listen carefully for each client’s voice, note language and expressions they use, and incorporate these, as appropriate, into the resume.

You need to be comfortable with your resume, and you will feel an affinity when it reflects your voice. An added bonus is that using your natural voice will help keep your resume from sounding like any other.

Of course, bottom line, each resume needed to show essential qualifications for the job. I am certain that many of the same keywords appeared in all 3 of the resumes in each group. But a resume is much more than keywords and job descriptions. It is (or should be) the story of your career, showcasing your unique accomplishments and innate characteristics that you bring to the job.

The results from both of these challenges were quite satisfying! All of the resumes were different and distinctive to the individual. My clients were happy. And—even more importantly—they had swift traction in their job search. Two of my three-bies from the same company landed in 6 to 8 weeks; the third is actively interviewing about 3 months into the search. My 3 same background/same goals clients all landed new executive opportunities—sourced through networking—within a few months.

And I found it quite validating to be faced with such a challenge, to count on the process I’ve created over much time and experience, and to follow it through a complex task to a gratifying result.

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