The Problem-Solver Resume

Your resume should present you as the answer to the employer’s problems. Period. Follow these guidelines on how to uncover their pain points, and how to address them.

Say you’ve learned about a business by reaching out to colleagues, friends and business associates. You’ve taken the time to research the industry, how it’s changed with the times, the challenges it now faces and the executive lineups of key companies. You’ve engaged in community-networking events, established relationships with industry leaders, and joined social-networking groups to stay connected to current and past colleagues.

How do you demonstrate your newfound expertise in your resume and cover letter?

How do you present yourself as an industry insider and the solution to the company’s problems? For answers, Ladders spoke with Justin Honaman, director, customer intelligence, at Coca-Cola and author of ” Make It Happen! Live Out Your Personal Brand.” and lifestyle expert Sandra E. Lamb, author of ” How to Write It: A Complete Guide to Everything You’ll Ever Write.”

The ‘Industry Highlights’ summary

For Honaman, the job seeker elicits the “wow” factor when she demonstrates “facts, figures and knowledge that other candidates could have had but did not because they did not invest in the process of learning the business.”

Start with research. If you’ve done your home work, you should know which industry players, contacts, technologies, expertise, companies and achievements matter the most to the specific company to which you’re applying; feel free to tailor this section so that it fits your target employer like a glove.

“People (conducting job searches at AT&T) are looking to see if they can find someone at Sprint, maybe someone who also worked in marketing, say, or with a loyalty program,” Honaman said. “With those facts — boom! — front and center, I don’t have to weed through the resume to find the telecom experience….Most people put their technical expertise after their experience, and it gets lost. Don’t make me dig through and find it. Bring it to the top.”

Job seekers can take advantage of the standard resume format to make sure “insider” knowledge is right at the fore of the document, he said. “What jumps out at me is, first, I’m a stickler for formatting, and I’m pretty anal. I like when someone has taken the time to make their resume easy to read, such as highlighting companies they’ve been with and their titles, and then waiting until later on to list their accomplishments.”

One tactic is to include an ” Industry Highlights” section near the top of your resume, Honaman recommended. It ensures that hiring professionals spot your relevant industry experience right off the bat. When Honaman reviews applications at Coca-Cola, he is particularly impressed when a candidate prioritizes what she’s done in the consumer-goods industry. If you’re going to interview at AT&T, that section should emphasize your experience in the telecommunications industry.

Another option is a skills-specific summary at the top. If you’re applying for technology jobs for experts on Microsoft products, for example, your resume should pull together companies and positions and identify your experience with specific Microsoft technologies. If you’re a contractor, list your major clients. This is also a good place to list the key industry players with whom you’ve worked.

Seed relationship-builders through your resume

Lamb, told Ladders she is a big believer in the importance of building one-on-one relationships with the people who will interview you. The easiest method is to join the professional associations and social networks frequented by the people you’re likely to meet on interviews and read everything they write, from Facebook entries to blogs and white papers. One applicant with whom she worked found that his prospective employer had attended the same school the job seeker had. Lamb drew attention to the connection by mentioning the alma mater in the candidate’s cover letter as well as his resume.

Of course, such relationship builders are unquantifiable, and it’s impossible to say whether that insider knowledge got him the job, but it surely didn’t hurt his chances, she said. “I think we would be startled to know, when it comes down to actual hiring decisions, what percentage come down to personality, and how important the one-to-one relationship becomes.”

Lamb also recommended networking with current and former employees to learn about the challenges facing the company, then addressing those problems in the resume and cover letter as well as in interviews.

“If you can identify a real problem they’re trying to solve, that’s terrific,” she said. “That’s something you would aim your whole resume at, starting at the top, and including a statement or two in your cover letter.”

After you know the company’s problems, you can put yourself forward as a problem-solver by listing relevant strengths in your resume, then providing real, quantitative examples of how you’ve solved related problems in your cover letter and resume, Lamb said. “This will help put you in a better position.”