There is one sure-fire avenue for candidates to differentiate themselves in a job search process. The problem is that more than 95 percent miss the opportunity.

value-based resumeNot to sound like a broken record but there are two words candidates should understand if they want to be more competitive:

Value and customization.

I have written on this subject numerous times. I raise this subject in each candidate interaction because it is that important. Here is why. If you look at 20 resumes in connection with a specific search, only one candidate, maybe two, will make any effort to produce a resume that speaks to the needs of the client. Two in 20! That is stunning.

Many of my search colleagues are in agreement, most of the resumes we see are not that terrific. “When a candidate submits the same resume to every job opportunity, they are, in effect, saying this is about me, not the needs of the client,” explained Laura Merker, Dr.PH, RN, my search partner in New York.

Given that the resume is the first interview, it is no wonder that some of these executives and managers struggle in the job search process.

When my team reviews a resume, here is what they are looking for: does the candidate have experience in doing those things that the potential employer believes are critical to the selection process, and what were their results in addressing those issues? Of course there are other facets we will examine, but if the candidate’s resume does not address those issues, there had better be something pretty outstanding to grab our attention or the chances that resume will go to the bottom of the pile are pretty high. It may, or may not, get a second look, depending on the volume and quality of interest in the position.

Why would you as a candidate for a position want to blend in with the crowd? To begin with the odds are so overwhelmingly against you in almost every search — typically 20-30 to one for desirable positions. Blending in does not improve your chances.

If you change nothing else in your career management/job search strategy, please pay attention to these critical points…

Resume Customization Is No Longer An Option: No, you do not have to recreate your resume for every job you pursue, but you need to address the needs of the employer. As I have written in the past, adjusting your messaging in the Professional Summary at the top of the resume is an ideal way to accomplish this since most recruiting researchers almost always scan the Professional Summary first. If you target the employer’s needs you can lock in their attention and markedly improve your chances of not being eliminated in the initial desk screening. Sending the same resume to every potential employer is not going to differentiate you from the other candidates.

Your Value and Your Success Must be Apparent:  You may be exceptional in the actual interview process but unless you are a marquee candidate, you may not make the initial cut if your resume does not connect your quantifiable record of accomplishment with the employer’s needs. In other words, you have to say it and prove it.

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Where You Have Worked Is Not As Important As It Once Was: Candidates must learn to speak in the language of “this is what I have accomplished” more than “this is where I have been.” Ten years ago, candidates who attended high profile graduate schools and then worked for prestigious organizations almost always received more favorable attention than those candidates from lesser known educational programs or employers. That has dramatically changed over the past five years. Your resume must clearly define what you have accomplished in each of your previous positions and then you must be prepared for the potential employer, or their search representative, to attempt to verify that information.

Read Your Resume From The Employer’s Perspective: Most candidates are so secure in their experience and accomplishments that they cannot fathom that a recruiter or employer will not automatically understand their value. If you are not connecting the dots in a clear, easy-to-understand method, you are making a big mistake, one that could easily derail your candidacy.

Executive and management recruiting is a competitive, costly and risky undertaking for all the parties — candidates, employers and their recruiters. The cost of a miss-hire is astoundingly high and can cripple a business for years.