Throughout the history of paid work, there have been countless dedicated professionals who possessed enormous skills, enough to produce the gross national product a million times over. Fortunately for those workers of decades past, employers often needed—and searched for—employees who represented a composite solution to their business needs.

Fast forward to today, where Internet applications dominate the employment landscape. Employers post jobs in droves to career boards, while job hunters descend upon those same boards, in the same droves. From the job seeker’s point of view, it seems simple: they have needs, you have skills.

What’s the matter with this picture?

Plenty—as in the fact that most employers are overrun with résumés, and this means that you may well find out that failing to focus can not only extend your search, but will make the opportunities you DO find a sideways fit for your skills.

Here, I’ve offered five reasons that focus should be your #1 priority in the job hunt—and how to get it:

1 – Communicating your personal brand is the best way to get employers to take notice. Your personal brand, by nature, represents the intersection between your talents and natural ability to produce results. Of course, personal branding is rapidly emerging as the optimum way to set yourself apart from other candidates.

Drawing out information on your brand can not only differentiate you, but also make it easier for you to be qualified at a particular level. Conversely, if your résumé FAILS to brand you as a unique candidate, you may be approached—all too often!—for jobs that are beneath your abilities.

The takeaway here is that you need to evaluate not only the RESULTS you gain for your employers, but HOW you produce them. Answer the following questions carefully to mine for this information:

* What energizes you about work?
* What reputation have you attained – what are you known for at work?
* What kinds of work fit your natural talent?
* What challenges and settings are a best fit for your experience?

Remember—this is the information that employers WANT to know about you. Weaving these findings throughout your résumé makes it much more interesting to read, and can intrigue the hiring audience.

2 – No one has time to connect the dots, so give them just what they need—for now. The hiring audience is just as busy as you are. Long, drawn-out résumés that point out every facet of your background won’t be read or considered.

Considering that recruiters often scan résumés quickly and on Blackberry-type devices, professionals who want to supply more comprehensive data are now submitting a leadership portfolio, which adds an Executive Biography, Reference Dossier, and Leadership Addendum to the traditional résumé-and-cover-letter presentation.

The bottom line? Stick to a concise (think intense) presentation for your skills, and consider adding a suite of supporting documents for those who want to read more in-depth information.

3 – Being all things to all people isn’t good enough anymore. Nearly 80% of the résumés submitted to me for review contain such a diverse arrangement of skills that I have the same response each time: You have fantastic experience, but what do you want to do with it?

Case in point: at least two of my recent clients had such colorful backgrounds that it was hard to imagine them being unemployed. Yet, with a wide array of international work experience, connections to leaders in the community, and a plethora of industries in which they’d worked, I still had the same question: What do you want to do with all this?

As it turned out, each needed more than one résumé that honed in precisely on how this talent supported a particular goal. Not too surprisingly, a number of interviews followed, each representing the specific job type targeted.

For anyone whose background looks like this, I recommend going through the following steps:
1. Decide exactly what you want to do (this means each individual job type).
2. Write your résumé centered around just that goal.
3. Add supporting detail as to how your other experience ties in with that same goal.
4. Minimize other information so that the data from Step #2 becomes the focal point of the résumé.
5. Repeat, starting at Step 1, for each type of job.

4 – Automated systems have made the general résumé obsolete. As I’ve discussed in the past, the “general” résumé is often a job search killer, as it throws such a wide array of information onto one document that it’s hard to digest.

In addition, people don’t realize that their qualifications are actually being evaluated by a scanning or other automated process, instead of the human eye. What can happen in many companies is that ALL the résumés are scanned in first, then only those with the appropriate keyword count make it into the “review” pile. (keywords are typically skills required for a particular career)

How can you address this process? When tailoring your résumé to one main job type, add as much keyword information as possible. If you’re stumped for ideas, use job posting descriptions to add areas of skill that represent your experience.

5 – Adding more information for employers only confuses them. Making it past the automated process is only one step in the life of your résumé. Human readers will ultimately have the final say on who gets the interview.

For this reason, consider very carefully how the information you’re using is relevant (or not) to your goal. If you’ve held marketing management roles but have worked more than one job in sales, does it help to mention all of them? Probably not.

Does it really matter that you’ve worked with computers since the dawn of Windows 3.0? Will your new employer care if you had a side job in commercial real estate if your ultimate goal is to be a medical assistant?

If you remember one thing, make it this: the more information presented that is irrelevant to the goal, the more likely your résumé will NOT make the cut.

So, breathe a sigh of relief, and take off that high school education, extra 2 jobs as a legal secretary 15 years ago, interest in amateur radio, and whatever else is obstructing the true message of your résumé.

Remember, adding focus to your job search is also a means of conveying your ROI to the hiring manager. It’s best to be selected FOR this focus and value—with companies that seek the right fit based on your personal chemistry and unique contributions—in addition to your skills.

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