By Willie Davis
Faculty Member, School of Business at American Public University
In our professional careers, we conquer challenges, earn new positions, complete educational goals and achieve many other professional accolades. We then rush to various social media platforms to update our profiles and receive “likes” and congratulatory remarks, but what about our professional biographies or resumes? Oftentimes, we fall short of updating those critical documents. Does the update ‘make the cut’ for these documents? Do you really need to update both?
According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, a biography is a “written history of someone’s life.” Your professional biography is a written history of your professional life. This history should include a summary of your positions, your accomplishments at those positions, a list of awards, educational achievements and other notable professional successes. Does this sound like your resume?
It may, because Merriam-Webster defines a resume as a “short document describing your education, work history…”. However, the second part of that definition is key; it states that a resume is a document “you give an employer when you are applying for a job.” The second part of the definition is the difference between resumes and biographies. The resume is not for you; it is for a potential employer.
The difference between a resume and a professional biography is the audience. Your biography is an opportunity for you to modestly say, “Look at me!” and “Look what I have done!” Regardless of your audience (speaking at a professional engagement, sending as a read-ahead for a meeting, etc.), your professional biography will not change.
Restructuring Your Resume
In contrast, the resume will change because the audience will be a specific organization. Resumes should be tailored to organizations, their needs and their open positions. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 63% of HR professionals spend less than four minutes screening resumes (1999). You have four minutes to tell a complete stranger why you are the best person for the job. In four minutes, you cannot tell them about all of your amazing accomplishments listed in your biography, so do not try. Instead, highlight your knowledge, skills and experience that they care about. The resume serves as your static commercial. It could be an employer’s first impression of you and yes, first impressions do last.
How does your resume look? Or more importantly, what will be your new employer’s first impression of you when he or she reads your resume? Will they scratch their heads when attempting to translate your military jargon to their world? Will they have to dig through the accomplishments that do not pertain to their company in order to find the information that they care about? Is your resume really a biography ‘dressed in resume clothing’?
Converting Your Bio
While the questions may be rhetorical, the answer is the difference between a resume that is saved for future consideration or one that results in an interview. But what is the answer? You could call the hiring manager and ask, “What knowledge, skills, and abilities are you seeking in an ideal candidate?” Or, you could simply look at the answers that the hiring manager has already provided. Yes, it’s an open-book test; the answers are provided in the position description. Armed with the knowledge of what employers are looking for, you can follow the steps below to convert your biography or existing resume, to a resume that is tailored to the needs of your employer.
- Access your preferred job-search engine. Search for and download position descriptions that interest you—the more of them, the better. Multiple descriptions will provide more answers for you to tailor your resume towards the needs of an organization.
- Copy and paste those position requirements into a Word document. Compare this document with your biography or current resume. If you have experience with a requirement, copy and paste that job requirement into the appropriate section of your existing resume. Feel free to copy that requirement into more than one section (i.e., you could’ve facilitated meetings at more than one position).
- Add specific details for those requirements. For example, if a position requires an employee to facilitate meetings, copy that experience (i.e., what size of meetings did you facilitate, what tools did you use to facilitate those meetings, how often did you facilitate meetings, etc.) in your resume. If the bullet does not exist, this is the time to create that bullet. An additional duty or part-time task that did not make the cut for your biography could be the most valuable information on your resume.
- Delete the bullets that the hiring manager is not interested in or that do not relate to the job position.
- For the bullets that make the cut, reformat by using the language of the organization and ensuring that your bullet highlights your action and the result of your action.
- Finally, you must review your resume for accuracy. A SHRM survey revealed that 76% of HR professionals remove applicants with typos and grammatical errors in their resumes and cover letters from the candidate pool. You do not want an oversight to get in the way of your amazing experience.
Both documents are very valuable tools with different purposes so keep both your biography and your resume and update them frequently. In many instances, the stronger your biography is, the stronger your resume will be. Just remember, the biography is about you, whereas the resume is about an organization’s new employee.
Thaler-Carter, Ruth E. (1999). SHRM Cover Letters and Resumes Survey. Retrieved from http://www.shrm.org/research/surveyfindings/documents/SHRM%20Cover%20Letters%20and%20Resume%20Survey.pdf
About the Author
Willie Davis is a faculty member in the School of Business. When he’s not facilitating business courses, Willie provides Lean Six Sigma support to the U.S. Government. He holds a B.S. degree in Industrial Engineering from Clemson University and a M.S. degree in Human Resource Management from Troy State University. Additionally, Willie is a Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence, a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, and a Project Management Professional.