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The 10-Second Resume Pitch 

Through my extensive resume-writing studies --- of books, articles, and other people's resumes -- I have determined that resume writing is a creative exercise that combines the skills of direct mail with the skills of a storyteller.

You can be great at your job, but unless your current boss is going to personally arrange your next job interview, you are going to have to depend on your resume. It gets you the interview, and you can't get a job without securing an interview.

Here's how hiring works. Someone is in charge of sifting through a pile of resumes. If you answer an ad on Monster.com, your resume is somewhere between the middle and the bottom of the pile. If your mom plays tennis with the hiring manager's boss, then your resume is on top of the pile. The hiring manager looks through the resumes as fast as possible, trying to find candidates to interview. Each resume gets 6 to 10 seconds.

You need to make sure you use those 10 seconds to your best advantage. So think about this: A hiring manager is looking for a round peg for a round hole. You need to focus on showing the manager that you're that peg. This is especially true in a bad job market, when a hiring manager knows he can hold out for the perfect fit. For example, if the opening is for a consumer marketer for the Discover card, then your resume should say "Marketing expert with experience in the consumer and financial arenas." You might have other skills too, but you have 10 seconds to get across the idea that you are the perfect fit. Don't waste time on the fact that you also started your own linguistic consulting firm.

When you have one piece of paper and 10 seconds, we are not talking essay contest, we are talking direct-mail selling. The first rule of any direct-mail campaign is to know what you're selling.

Here's an example of the job experience listed on a resume someone sent to me: Two companies where she did international training. Two Internet incubators where she read business plans. One job as an executive assistant to an IT manager from whom she took over some duties. This resume doesn't sell anything in particular. We talked about what she really wanted to do and what she could actually sell to someone. We then tailored her resume to highlight the fact that in the five jobs listed, she conducted high-tech business analysis. This way her resume could be summarized in one sentence: High-tech business analyst with international experience.

Your one sentence is your 10-second story, which cues the hiring manager about how to interpret your list of facts. Everyone's career has a story. In order to figure out yours, answer this common interview question: Can you tell me about your background in a few sentences? Everything on your resume should build up to that answer. Notice the areas that do not build up to that answer -- these are problem areas that need to be expunged or reworked because they make your round pegness less round.

At least during the job hunt, your resume becomes more important than what you've done in your career, because a bad resume can make a good career look bad (and vice versa). Take time to understand your own story -- once you nail down your story, you may learn a thing or two about yourself and be ready when you land the interview.

Penelope Trunk has launched new businesses for multinational corporations and she founded two of her own companies. Trunk's forthcoming book is Brazen Careerist: New Rules for Success (Warner Books, May 2007).

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