Some job seekers have problems selling their skills. They list their basic duties, which most job seekers have in common. You can stand out in a job search by positioning those skills so they set you apart.
Think of how a salesperson sells a car. He doesn't tout the fact that the car has four wheels, windows and functioning lights, because you'd expect that from every car. Instead, he sells the unique points of the car -- design, safety, mileage -- all of which make the car appealing to a potential buyer.
Job seekers need to do the same when selling their qualifications. Instead of saying you've used Microsoft Excel, tell the employer how you've solved problems or increased efficiency by creating a basic accounting process through Microsoft Excel.
Kyra Mancine, a professional copywriter with a career development background, says a list of job responsibilities is her biggest résumé pet peeve. "The key is to take a simple job duty and expand it to match the [job posting] with quantitative evidence of accomplishments," Mancine says. "It may take some thought and creativity, but it can be done for any job, no matter what the level. I don't care if you're a sanitation worker, CEO or seamstress; anyone can do this."
By adding numbers, statistics and adjectives applicable to the posting, job seekers can set themselves apart from others who have submitted more generic résumés.
How to quantify accomplishments
To give an example, here's a real job posting from a bank looking for a call-center representative:
Serves as first-line response for incoming customer calls.?
Accurately and expediently answers inquiries from customers on all types of new and existing products and services, drawing on a detailed knowledge base of bank products, services, policies and procedures.?
Sells and cross-sells bank products and services to new and existing customers who have contacted the bank by telephone.?
Efficiently performs routine follow-up work and initiates requests for detailed follow-up work.?
Relies on excellent verbal and written communication skills to fulfill customer requests and to ensure customer satisfaction.?
If you're applying for this job and all you've listed on your résumé is that you answered phone calls in a call center, you probably won't get an interview, Mancine says. Instead, she suggests rewriting your résumé to match the bullets listed in the job posting, quantifying your successes. Mancine shares this example of how an applicant could restructure her résumé to address the posting above:
Primary call-center contact for a high volume of customer service inquiries, ranging from orders to returns.
Successfully handled hundreds of incoming consumer calls daily from across the country.
Received recognition for product upsells, resulting in a 5 percent increase in weekly sales.
Tapped into strong base of product knowledge on thousands of product stock-keeping units, quickly and courteously relaying product information to existing and new customers.
Consistently acknowledged for speed, accuracy to details and follow-through on catalog requests, Web order processing, batches and data entry.
Committed to going above and beyond to ensure customer satisfaction, resulting in being named Employee of the Month for June 2011.
Here's another test that can help determine if you've listed qualifications or just duties: Look at each bullet point on your résumé and ask yourself, "So what?" If you're not impressed, why would a recruiter be?
Don't neglect the cover letter
"Cover letters are most often left out or even sent as generic notes with résumés," says Tiffani Murray, a résumé writer and career coach. She says that the cover letter is a great place to sell your personality and breathe life into your application.
"If a job posting specifically asks for a cover letter, this is a great opportunity to match up your skills and experiences with the requirements of the job," Murray says. "Make sure to detail how you can perform the tasks of the job you are applying for, but also add to the company, team or overall business with your knowledge and success in similar roles."