What is the Purpose of a Resume?
What is it all for? We’re here to answer your deepest philosophical questions about the purpose of a resume (and show you how it can get you hired.)
By: Grace Mitchell | Contributor for Let’s Eat, Grandma
Resumes are a crucial part of landing a job. However, for your resume to do its best, you need to know why you’re writing it. There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to resumes, but, lucky for you, Grandma’s got the run-down of the purpose of a resume.
Before we get into it, though, it’s worth clarifying that your resume, no matter how good it is, won’t get you a job on its own. It’s also not a space to dump every job you’ve ever done and every achievement you have.
Tired of not landing interviews?
Get our free 3-step guide to writing better resume bullet points, featuring 70 ideas for metrics you can use!
If these are things you’ve thought about resumes before, that’s okay. There’s always time to change course and start fresh with clear intentions.
The Three Purposes of a Resume
Writing without a clear purpose in mind will likely give you a long, rambling resume that doesn’t really speak to what you bring to the job. Even worse, submitting such a resume to jobs usually leads to a longer and more frustrating job hunt.
We want your resume to do the best job it can of representing your experience and getting your foot in the door, so let’s get this paper working for you!
Your resume has three main objectives, and keeping these in mind throughout the writing process means your resume will better meet these goals.
The #1 Purpose of a Resume: To Land an Interview
A good resume, as important as it is, is just one single part of landing a job and only an initial step. It goes along with your cover letter and LinkedIn profile as a suite of documents to get recruiters interested in you as a candidate.
Your resume is also completely separate from networking and interviewing. These practices build human connection to demonstrate to decision makers that you’re the right person for their organization. Once you nail the interview, a job is as good as yours, but you won’t get there without a top-notch resume.
Rather than landing you a job, your resume convinces a recruiter or your networking contact to pass your resume along to decision-makers.
Recruiters, after all, aren’t the folks who hire within an organization. Instead, they’re responsible for narrowing down candidates so that hiring managers only have to choose between the absolute best fits for the job.
Recruiters aren’t just drowning in a sea of resumes, though. At most companies, they use what’s called an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to help them filter through the sometimes hundreds of applications they receive. These systems allow recruiters to sort and group applications by filtering for relevant experience, location, and other keywords.
For instance, if a company is seeking candidates who are able to commute to their office in Phoenix, AZ, they can set their ATS to filter for applicants whose resumes mention “Phoenix.” The system will then display candidates with this location in their resumes.
While these systems vary somewhat in the specifics of how they sort applicants, it’s worth mentioning that all inputs come from the recruiter. The system isn’t outright rejecting applicants at random. A recruiter sets the parameters based on the most important qualities they want to see in an applicant, so, while location may be important in the example above, if the company is looking for new real estate agents, they might search for the keyword “real estate license” before searching for “Phoenix.”
It may seem like an ATS could negatively impact your job search. However, knowing about these systems actually gives you a huge advantage because you can write your resume with potential keywords in mind.
If you’re unsure on how to find keywords, try printing out the job description and highlighting words you notice three times, as well as any skill listed as required or preferred. As your eyes become more attuned to carefully reading job descriptions, it’ll be easier to identify these keywords.
Reading carefully through the job description and applying your unique skills gives you a better chance of sending in a winning resume. That’s why it’s so important that you write your resume with the following points in mind.
Purpose #2: To Give a Brief Overview of Your Most Relevant Qualifications
Your resume should include just enough information to pique the recruiters’ interest. It should not describe every single detail of your career!
Ideally, unless you have extensive relevant experience or long resumes are expected within your field, your resume should be only about one page long. The best resumes are “long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest,” as Winston Churchill once said (he was talking about about speeches, but it’s a good rule for resumes, too).
While it may be tempting to go overboard on qualifications, this isn’t going to impress your recruiters. We’re not telling you not to be proud of the 300 you scored while bowling, but including it on your resume is more likely to frustrate readers than thrill them.
Most people have significantly more work history than could fit into a readable resume, and recruiters only have a limited amount of time to look through your resume. That means you need to put on your editing hat and present a resume that’s easy to skim and understand.
A skimmable resume uses standard labels, a consistent design, limited bullet points (think three to six per job depending on how recent and relevant the experience was), and appropriate white space. If you can quickly glance through your resume and recognize your most important skills and qualifications within about 10 seconds, then congrats! You have a skimmable resume!
Additionally, if you held a job more than 10 years ago, you might reconsider including it in your current resume. Given how drastically many industries change over time, older work experience won’t necessarily translate well to the current job market. Besides, showcasing older skills can open you up to age discrimination early on in the hiring process, before you have a chance to show recruiters what you’re really capable of.
You can also shorten your resume by cutting out extra words and avoiding passive voice. Take a look at your bullet points. Are there any unneccessary terms like “in order to” instead of just “to,” or “assumed responsibility for” instead of a more descriptive active verb? Your resume real estate is precious, and clunky word choice takes away from your relevant experience.
Not only should your resume only give a brief overview, but it also needs to demonstrate that you have what it takes to perform the specific job you’re applying to, bringing us to the third and final purpose of your resume.
Purpose #3: To Show You Have the Skills in the Job Description
There’s no such thing as a “one-size-fits-all” resume. While you can start with the same basic resume for each job, you’ll need to adapt this document to fit the needs of each jobs you apply for.
This is especially true if you’re applying for multiple types of positions. But even if you’re only applying to jobs within one field, it’s crucial to relate your skills to the specific job you’re applying to. This means carefully reading through the job description and utilizing any keywords mentioned.
Maybe you’re applying to two different tech jobs, but the companies use different programming languages. A job that works primarily in C++ will want to know about your experience with that language. They may not care as much if you’re proficient in Python.
Beyond that, though, even if two jobs call for very similar experience, it’s worth researching the company to tailor your resume even more. A quick look on a company’s website gives you a decent idea of their mission and values. For instance, some companies promote a focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion, while others emphasize efficiency and career growth.
Whatever a company’s values, learning about their culture helps you craft a more tailored resume. More importantly, it also clues you in on whether your personal mission and values are a good fit.
We’re not advocating extreme pickiness in your job search, but you know yourself better than anyone. If your biggest desire in a new job is to be home by six every night for dinner with the family, you probably won’t be happy at a company that emphasizes mandatory overtime.
Your resume should also utilize metrics-based bullet points to demonstrate your skills. These bullet points lead with action verbs to demonstrate your specific accomplishments. After all, recruiters don’t want to just know what your last job was; they want to see the unique contributions you made that will directly translate to success in the job they’re hiring for.
For example, a sales executive builds new relationships and sells products, but this doesn’t say anything about how a specific sales executive brought positive change with their unique management style or the 60% growth in sales they facilitated at their current organization. Just describing your job duties doesn’t tell recruiters much – flaunting your unique contributions does.
Crafting a Winning Resume
Knowing the purpose of a resume helps you to do your best while job seeking. Your resume serves to land you an interview, and the way to make that happen is to craft a brief document, showcasing the skills you have that are most relevant to the job you’re applying to.
By keeping the interview in mind, making your resume skimmable, cutting out irrelevant skills and details, researching the job description and company, and using keywords and metrics-based bullet points, you’re sure to create a resume that will get recruiters interested in what you have to offer. Happy resume writing!
Ready for more job search help?
Sign up for a free Senior Writer Resume Critique to see what's holding you back from landing interviews. One of our top professional resume writers will give you personalized feedback on the top 3 items you can improve based on our expert practices!