Shop for a Job Before Writing a Resume

Writing a resume without a specific job in mind is like jumping off a diving board without knowing how deep the water is. Your chance of success is small and you could even hurt yourself.

We all know that a resume is the primary tool for marketing your skills, knowledge, and experience to prospective employers. Most people make the mistake of treating their resume simply as a 1-2 page career history.

A more accurate perspective is to see the resume for what it is: an advertisement for a wonderful, complex, intelligent, educated, hard-working individual who can contribute significantly to a company’s success. However, as an advertisement, it cannot possibly communicate everything about who you are.

The resume is just a sample—a taste of the challenges and successes met, particularly throughout your work life. Each piece of the resume needs to be significant, positive, and effective. Each achievement, phrase, and word carefully selected to meet the goal: generating an interview.

Write to a Target Job Description

A resume will be more effective if written for a specific job in a specific industry—a Target Job. “Fine,” you might be saying. “If I knew what that is, I wouldn’t be reading this blog. I’d be working already, with my mortgage paid and my credit card payments up to date!”

Take it easy. Finding your perfect, Target Job is easier than you might think. You may even enjoy the process. But first, let’s look at the world of hiring managers—your resume’s audience. The task of a hiring manager is to find a near-perfect match between the job applicant and the job.

At the point of screening, the match of your capabilities to the requirements of the job isn’t just the big thing: it’s the only thing. Your resume must answer one question, “Can this candidate do the job?” This is why it is imperative to have a Target Job description in front of you when writing your resume.

Shopping for Your Target Job

So how do you find a Target Job description? Go shopping on the internet; the job boards are at you disposal. My favorites are and To begin searching, type in key words that are job titles you have held in your career. Be sure to search nationally so that you get as many options as possible. As you type in job titles, you will see how many jobs with that title pop up by industry.

If you are considering an industry change, find out how your old job might play out in another industry. For example, “Sales” in manufacturing might be “Business Development” in healthcare. You are playing a jargon game, trying to determine what job titles exist for your skill set. This process will also allow you to move into industries that are growing, using the skills you already have.

Sometimes typing a job title will yield a group of jobs in a particular industry. This is how to find careers that are close to what you used to do, yet different enough to provide new challenges. For example, typing in the words “grant writer” generates a list of jobs that are open in many nonprofit organizations, such as “volunteer coordinator,” “business development director,” “CEO,” and “director.” These are all functional jobs within the industry of nonprofits.

When you find a job of interest, copy and paste it into a word document. Do this four or five times, until you have a good mix of job descriptions. Voila! The key words are those that come up repeatedly. Use these common words and phrases to help you select what information to put on your resume. In my book, New Resume New Career, there are 50 resume makeovers, showing how to reframe experience to the new Target Job requirements.

Online Sources for Job Titles

Sites such as the U.S. Department of Labor website,, will show industries that are expanding in each state, and which job titles are in demand. You can even get a customized report for a specific metropolitan area at

Another government site,, can help expand your career options in four distinct ways. You can search by occupation titles, skills, related occupations, or by tools and technology. You can even find a new occupation. When you type in key words from your former job, you will see a list of related occupations, either by function or by industry. The site also includes a quick skills assessment to help identify dozens of new job titles that fit your skills.

A New Way to Network

When seeking work, think about networking as extended conversations to gather insights and information for your job search. Become a career detective. Ask contacts about their own careers, about their companies, and the job titles inside that organization. Share your Target Job Title and ask if there are positions open for that title. Your contact will quickly correct you if you have the terminology wrong. If you decide to apply there, first ask to see a job description. Then, make the appropriate changes to your resume before sending it along in an email.

You will start to notice that the more specific you are, the more people are able to help. Ask about one job, and people will tell you about other, closely related jobs. The clearer you become, the more possibilities open up.

Finding a new career is one of the most daunting tasks you will ever take on as an adult. It requires hard work, some digging, and the willingness to learn. My career-changing clients have told me it’s the most rewarding work they have ever done. So check out the depth of that job market water, revise your resume, and then dive right in.

Catherine Jewell is the Career Passion® Coach and author of New Resume, New Career, a resume makeover book featuring 50 real-life career changers. She has coached more than 600 adults through mid-life career changes. For more information, check out or contact her at