The language you use to describe yourself on the top of your resume can define your job search. Choose your job title carefully.
A job title can make or break a good first impression. You certainly don’t want to lie about your job history, but you do want to be descriptive. For example, “Accounting” is too vague, while “Management of A/R and A/P and Recordkeeping” carries both far more information and way more impact. How do you make sure the job title you use on your resume will be accurate and impactful?
We’re not talking about changing the title or position you held in a previous job, said Marsh Sutherland, president of Walden Recruiting. There’s no way he’d tinker with a client’s actual title, he said. Doing so “could be considered misrepresentation” on both his part and that of his client — far too steep a price to pay in return for more impressive-sounding titles. We’re talking about the title of your resume, what you call yourself and how you define what you do.
Top of the resume
The job seeker’s title sits at the top of the resume above her Summary section, right below her name and contact information. Sutherland said he usually advises his clients to take cues from the job they’ve applied for. “I will often put the title of the job (on the top) so at first glance it appears the candidate is a perfect fit,” Sutherland says. “For instance, I am currently sourcing candidates for a Search Engine Optimization Analyst position. Guess what? I put ‛SEO Analyst Professional’ at the top of my resume submissions.”
Typical title mistakes
One common mistake seen by Beth Colley, principal of Chesapeake Resume Writing, is not including a title anywhere on the resume.
Another mistake she often sees is when job seekers include the old-fashioned “Objective” section, a section that nowadays is considered irrelevant and whose inclusion marks the resume subject as being out of touch with the current professional resume format. It might have been acceptable in years past to start a resume with an objective about how a job seeker is “seeking a position where I can utilize my gifts and talents in marketing and advance to a level of increasing responsibility,” but nowadays an objective at the top of the page simply means a job seeker is thinking of himself, not how he can help his potential employer.
Colley also sees unacceptably vague titles such as one resume that said “Public Advocate.” That job seeker’s profile included her “ability to direct complex projects from concept to fully operational status,” and it mentioned personality details such as being “highly organized” and a “detailed problem solver” who was “self-directed” and “creative.”
Just what type of public advocate, for what industry, was “not clear,” Colley says, “I totally didn’t understand what she was looking for.”
How to craft a title that’s broad, specific and narrowly targeted
Colley advises job seekers to use a “fairly broad title” that still targets the right industry but to then pair it with something they possess that’s in high demand in their industry.
Colley sets this type of title up in the format of “Broad title”—”Specific industry,” “Specialized skills or certifications.” For example, rather than using a broad title such as Project Manager, which could “literally be anything from construction to IT,” she advises her clients to use a slightly more targeted title heading. Some examples:
- Project Manager – IT Industry, DOD contractor with active Top Secret Clearance
- Project Manager – Civil Engineering, LEED & GBE Certified
Here are some other examples Colley cited that expand on less-informative titles such as CFO or Customer Service Representative:
- Chief Financial Officer – CPA, MBA with Controller and Financial Analyst Expertise
- Customer Service Representative – Inbound Call Center, 8 years of experience
“The whole point of resume development is to target the resume to a particular field or industry,” Colley said. “Job titles vary from one company to the next, so you want to pick a title that is recognizable to most employers and recruiters. By highlighting a marketable aspect about yourself or industry, the recruiter/employer will read for further information to see if you ‛fit the bill.’ Remember, if they read your resume for more than 15-20 seconds and you get a phone call, the resume has effectively done its job.”