Blog Revisit—Writing for the reader

This article was named a Top Job Search Blog Post for 2020 by It was originally published here.

By Gayle Howard

Back in 2005, I wrote this piece, and it is as relevant today as it was then. Despite all that has changed, despite the fifteen years that have passed, despite our greater knowledge of the job search and the technologies underpinning it, people still find it almost impossible to write a good, strong, concise, intelligent CV themselves. (And I guess that’s a good thing for me, now heading towards my thirty-first year in running this business!)

I started this 2005 article by sharing information that would hopefully come as a revelation to many people, and I’m reposting it now with some dollops of 2020 wisdom added to bring things up-to-date.

The best piece of advice I have if you choose to write your resume is to remember who your audience is. Most people fail to put themselves in the shoes of the person who will be reading the document.

While the resume is about you, it is not for you to read, so it is important to separate your ego (that is, what YOU want to say, what YOU want somebody to know) from what the reader wants and needs to know. Assume your reader wants to know two things—outcome and the context behind it.

Nobody wants to read a dry list of your responsibilities. If you’re the right candidate for the job, then what you are doing now is likely similar to what they want you to do next. What your reader needs, is to secure a glimpse into what you’ve done that has achieved an outcome, what the circumstance was that prompted the need for you to do this work, and how and why the achievements you have delivered have made a difference to your employer’s operations, profits, people or stakeholders.

Many people find this a revelation. They think that naturally if they are an IT executive, for example, that they must fill the resume with deeply complex technical terms and acronyms to demonstrate their level of expertise in technology. What someone hiring an IT executive wants, is a quick understanding of the person’s overall background—are they an infrastructure person, has their career been in application development, security or something else? Once they know those couple of words, they already know whether to read on.

Next, they’ll want to know examples of money saved, innovation and change delivered, special projects rolled out with good outcomes. And they’ll want to read examples of these things—why they needed to be done, what you did, the cost of it, and the successful outcomes.

They don’t need to read a mind-boggling array of acronyms; instead, they need examples of what humanises you as a leader of your people, a person who builds return on investment, saves money, drives its technological direction, and how you’ve helped position its future.

For instance when a client says something to me like: “It was a major success and everything went like clockwork, and everyone was thrilled”, to me, that sounds like a puff of air. What was a major success, why did it go like clockwork – did you make it that way, how? What sort of problems did you meet along the way, how did you solve them, who exactly was happy? How do you know that? Did you question them? Survey them? What were the results?

When writing your own resume, these type of “tell them what they want to hear” statements, should be avoided. Facts — actual facts and examples are needed. The reader needs to know challenges and obstacles you met and know how you resolved them and what the results of your actions were.

These are elements of your experience that you should share with your reader.



Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2000 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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