What if I were to tell you about an incredibly common résumé mistake that prevents most people from getting the jobs they want--even when they're highly qualified?

It's a deceptive error that job seekers and employers rarely even notice out of context--but it's fatal.

In fact, fixing it flies in the face of much of the well-meaning but wrong-headed advice you'll hear about writing a résumé.

It boils down to the simple maxim: Know your audience.

You are not the audience.

Your friends, colleagues, mentors--and anyone else you ask to review your résumé--are not the audience.

The audience is (drumroll, please): your future boss--and maybe, your future boss's boss.

As Marc Cenedella, the CEO and founder of professional career site Ladders explains, you need to pull together your résumé with this audience of one (at most, two) in mind. 

Marc has a new book out--Ladders 2018 Resume Guide: Best Practices & Advice from the Leaders in $100K-$500K Jobs, and the very first chapter is entitled, "Your resume is a professional advertisement targeted toward your future boss, with the goal of landing an interview for a job that you can succeed in."

Yes, it's a long chapter title. But it's right on point, and worth saying to yourself a few times until you remember it.

Because as Cenedella put it in an article recently:

A boss is looking for output, not input. A boss is looking for outcomes, not duties and responsibilities. A boss wants to know the end of the story, the bottom line, the score at the end of the game, not the feelings you had while delivering them.

Do you see how this can completely contradict most of the things that we're told to do on our résumés?

And how hard it is to set your feelings aside and focus on what your future boss really wants to know?  

Start with the "objective" section, that so many résumés contain: Your future boss doesn't really care about your objectives, except to the extent that they tell him or her whether you'll kick butt in the role they're looking to fill.

Or roll into the list of positions and experiences you've had.

Even when you know to focus on the specific things you achieved here--rather than your job description, goals, or responsibilities--you need to write in a way that tells your future boss how you'll achieve in another job entirely--the one you want him or her to consider you for.

It's harder still when you're trying to use the same résumé for more than one position, or when you don't really know what the potential boss is looking for.

(That's a great reason to leave no stone unturned in researching the position, if you think it's something you might really want.)

Unfortunately, there's no single checklist or array of bullet points we can give you in order to help you overcome these difficulties and write a future boss-centric résumé. 

If it's any consolation, it's similar to the mistake that so many salespeople make, and that entrepreneurs looking for investment make: focusing on what they want, and how much effort they've put in so far--versus what they can offer somebody else.

As Cenedella puts it:

Writing a resume is not like how you think of yourself in any other part of your life.

So the balancing act of mastering your own emotional response to past achievements, so that you can take an objective look at the professional value of each of those achievements and its worth to future employers, is the sole "trick" to resume writing.

It's a new skill. You'll get better with focus, awareness, and practice.

There is some good news. Remember, this isn't just your mistake. It's the one that virtually everyone makes. And now, you know what it is--so you know what to work on.

Your competition probably doesn't. That means it's a way for you to shine, and succeed.

Published on: Jan 28, 2018