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Use your competencies. That's what top companies want.

By Laura Egodigwe
Black Enterprise

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Vernetta Wilson wants to make a career change. The senior account manager at Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins, a Baltimore-based publishing company, is eyeing a position in advertising sales after more than a decade on the production side of the business. But a traditional resumé may not be the best way to package her 30-plus years of experience. So Wilson is revamping her resumé to highlight her abilities, rather than merely detailing her employment history. "Any employer would want to know how my skills from previous jobs can help them now," she says.

Most resumés usually garner just a quick scan—usually no more than 15 to 30 seconds—according to most experts. If the reviewer cannot gain a clear sense of a person's qualifications in that time, a resumé will likely be set aside.

"I have read resumés for 30 seconds and I don't even know what the person wants to do or what they can do," remarks Gail Taylor, owner of A Hire Power resumé-writing service in Torrance, California.

The typical approach to resumé writing considers your strengths, weaknesses, and accomplishments. But competency-based resumés look first at the employer's needs and are based on one question: What characteristics are the employers looking for? "That can make a tremendous difference in how successful people can be in getting to the interview," says Robin Kessler, co-author of Competency-Based Resumes: How To Bring Your Resume To The Top of the Pile (Career Press; $13.99).

Competencies, which are also sometimes called success factors, key characteristics, or behaviors, go deeper than skills, says Signe Spencer, a senior consultant at the Hay Group, a Philadelphia-based human resources consulting firm, and co-author of Competence at Work: Models for Superior Performance (John Wiley & Sons; $151.74). "A competency is a relatively enduring characteristic of a person that is causally related to superior performance in a particular job or role," Spencer explains. About half of the largest publicly traded companies use competencies in evaluating potential employees, she estimates.

Companies have found that competency-based models for recruiting and evaluating employees are a good predictor of future success. Competencies go beyond the formal qualifications or degrees. They speak to "How did you do it?" Spencer says.

A candidate using this model enjoys a competitive advantage even at companies that are not focused on a competency approach because your focus will be based on matching a company's needs, offers Kessler.

Here are some tips on developing an effective competency-based resumé:

Check the company's pulse. "The very first thing you need to do is analyze the employer and the particular job you're interested in and then describe yourself using terms based on the competencies the employer is looking for," says Kessler. That information is described in the job descriptions, on corporate Websites, and in industry trades. If you're in-house like Wilson, use your internal network to get a sense of what the real challenges are.

Match your experience with each competency and develop statements for each competency. If a company is looking for someone who has shown "collaborative leadership," for instance, provide examples of when you've demonstrated such behavior. Perhaps you achieved a positive result by participating on a board or on a company task force. Have you increased sales at your company? It's more impressive to explain how you did it; perhaps via effective team leadership.

Consider the caveats. Your competency focus should be used to enhance and highlight your work history. A purely competency-based resumé may raise a red flag if specific dates and gaps in employment appear to be disguised. Taylor notes that the chronological resumé is still the preferred format. But no matter what style of resumé you decide on, putting in some detail about how you achieved results could help you put your best foot forward.


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