I recently got an e-mail from someone who is moving to the DC Metro area and wants my advice on landing a writing or public relations job here. The person requested 20 minutes of my time to sit down and chat. Fittingly, said person attached a resume for my review.
After I took a look at the resume, I realized that I need to speak to this person about revamping it before we can go any further. The person has obvious communications and writing experience, but I only know that because I have held some of the same types of positions mentioned and can read between the lines on this resume. A general HR manager most likely won’t be as knowledgeable about the nuances in communications job descriptions. Nor will they be generous enough to spend time reading between the lines.
Before you ask someone to help you out with your job search and connect you to their very valuable professional contacts, make sure you have an outstanding resume for them to distribute on your behalf. A personal introduction or recommendation can only go so far; once you get your foot in the door, make sure your resume is so dynamic that it gets your butt in the interview seat. Here’s how.
1. Think “My Resume=My Brochure”. Your resume is your #1 marketing tool. It tells a complete stranger why they should bother to invite you in to discuss a job opportunity. Make it shine! It can be tough for you freelancers and consultants who might not want to “toot your own horn.” But trust me: this is the time to toot. Use adverbs and adjectives to glowingly describe yourself and your past work. If you’re doing a professional profile at the head of your resume, don’t be modest. Call yourself what you are: award-winning, proven, strategic and experienced.
2. Give Hiring Managers What They Ask For. If you’re responding to a job listing, please look at the description to find out what the hiring manager is looking for. Even in the communications field I’m surprised by how many people don’t put two and two together on this point. If the manager is looking for someone to “handle media relations, respond to inquiries, and pursue proactive media activities,” be sure to list in your experience where you’ve done just that. Include your most successful freelance or consulting projects; projects where you garnered great media hits to show you know a thing or two about media relations. Show that you’ve not only done this before, but you’re proven. Take it a step further by listing the outlets or programs where you were able to score coverage.
3. Don’t Downplay Your Blog or Newsletter. This has got to be my biggest pet peeve especially for writers who pen expert freelance articles about a subject or manage their own PR blogs. Please don’t just throw “Blogger for myblog.blogspot.com” or “Freelance writer for various publications” in your list of positions as an afterthought. Say what you do and the contribution you’re making to your field. Establish that you’re an expert who educates and informs an audience through your writing. I’ll give you an example. For this blog, I could easily throw this one-liner on my resume:
Blogger, Mopwater PR + Media Notes (http://millerlittlejohnmedia.com)
But that line doesn’t tell you anything about what I do or write about, and worse yet it presumes that you’ve heard of my blog and are familiar with the content. But how about this:
Editor, Mopwater PR + Media Notes (http://millerlittlejohnmedia.com)
• Conducts online interviews of public relations professionals for regular “Test Drive My Job” Column which profiles PR entrepreneurs and PR professionals working for nonprofits, corporations, agencies and the government
• Compiles journalists’ pitching preferences in regular “How to Pitch” column for publicists looking to improve their media relations skills and pitching success rate
• Connects communicators all over the world with timely information on industry trends, best practices and strategies to implement affordable public relations programs
4. Don’t Bury Pro-Bono Projects. I am a huge advocate of getting experience, paid or unpaid. So just because you didn’t get paid for something does not mean it should not go on your resume. Pro-bono projects and expertise-driven volunteer experience add valuable details to your work history and can really fill in gaps on your resume. Don’t forget to mention your memberships in professional organizations especially if you’re on a committee.
5. Detail Your Freelance or Consultative Projects. It’s really easy for freelance writers and PR consultants to lose the career narrative on their resumes. You might think, “if I wasn’t at this job or this paper for 2 years or more, it looks bad on my resume.” But that’s the nature of freelancing and consulting. You will generally have to thread together a number of work experiences and projects to tell your complete story.
Here’s another personal example. I worked as a consultant for a local non-profit last year to promote their annual event, and on my resume I could write: Consultant for Greater Washington Urban League’s Housing Fair. But what does that tell you? Not much. Instead, here’s how the project is listed on my resume under a list of consultative projects:
Event Management and Public Relations: Provided marketing/advertising project management and media outreach for the Greater Washington Urban League’s Third Annual City-Wide Housing Fair in April 2008. Developed theme and tagline for event. Managed graphic designer to produce ads for Internet, newspapers and public display. Produced 30-sec commercial for cable television. Wrote press releases, talking points, op ed, radio scripts, and public service announcements. Built local media list and pitched to media.
I often advise people who have a lot of project-based or freelance experience to put their most impressive projects on the resume first, and detail their professional chronology at the end. For each stellar project, write a 3-5 sentence description of what you did. Spell out exactly what you were responsible for and what specific results your work yielded. Be direct, descriptive and clear.
Don’t make the hiring manager work for it.
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