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Establishing Credibility When You’re an Unknown September 9, 2012

Posted by Tim Rodgers in job search.
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Here’s another thing I’ve learned during my current job search: it’s harder to convince people that you’re qualified for a job and deserving of consideration when you’re just another faceless applicant. I’ve written before about networking as a way of distinguishing yourself, and specifically why it’s important to create and maintain connections with people, ideally with those who have experience working alongside you (see The Value of Networking). A recommendation from a former or current colleague carries a lot more weight than almost anything you include in your resume about experiences and accomplishments.

However, the recommendation is more significant to the recruiter or the hiring manager when it comes from a known, reliable source. If they don’t have a personal or professional connection to the person who’s vouching for you, then that recommendation may not have a big impact.

Which brings us back to your resume. It seems to me that there are really only two things in your resume that can help establish your credibility as a job applicant: what you know, and what you’ve done.

What you know is represented by your degrees and certifications and other credentials. I realize that there’s a wide range of intelligence and capabilities in the population of alumni from any degree or certification program, but successful completion of that program does imply that you’ve acquired some specialized knowledge. A job description includes education requirements because the person who occupies that position is expected to have that specialized knowledge. Completion of the program also means that you set a goal and achieved that goal, which I think is an under-rated feat, especially for those who had to struggle with financial or other personal barriers.

Quick aside: I could be wrong about this, but it seems that professional certifications are becoming more important and meaningful than academic degrees for job seekers, possibly because certifications are considered more practical in the real world of business.

What you’ve done is your experiences and accomplishments, but here’s the catch: a lot of what you’ve done doesn’t matter. You might want to argue that your accomplishments can be generalized to many different kinds of jobs and organizations, but if you make it hard for the recruiter or hiring manager to make the connection between what they need and what you’ve done, then you can forget it. You have to customize your application and resume and cover letter to put a spotlight on the subset of things you’ve done that are relevant for this job.

So, that’s what I’m trying to do now. This reminds me an advertising campaign that relies on television commercials. You have to create a message that appeals to your target audience.

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