Brand name employers and education are a powerful way to make your resume stand out, but not the only way to make a positive first impression.
Brand names include Fortune 500 companies, top-tier universities, high-profile start-ups and other household names that are easily recognizable by a wide variety of people. These places are presumably hard to get into, so they act as a filter to the resume reader — the fact that you got in implies you must be a strong candidate. Many people assume that these brand-name institutions offer strong developmental training and experiences, which increase your own value. Finally, since brand names are more familiar, your background will seem more familiar – this accessibility is critical since employers typically spend just seconds skimming each resume.
So what can you do if you didn’t graduate from an Ivy League school or work at a Fortune 500? Here are 3 ways to make your resume stand out even when you have no brand names in your background:
Raise your profile with brand-name media mentions, publishing and speaking
The competition filter – if you’re good enough for [insert Brand Name here] then you’re good enough for us – isn’t limited to employers and education. If you have been cited by brand-name media or published in an industry blog or trade journal, or have presented at a professional conference, then you have passed an equally competitive filter. Highlight this in your Summary of Qualifications at the top of your resume. You can also include it in your Additional Information section but skimming readers might not get that far! If your employer has been mentioned by a brand-name media publication as a leader in its field, put this next to or below the company name, so the reader quickly has more context on your employer’s brand (name recognition is only one factor of a strong brand).
Increase your impact with brand-name clients
If you don’t work for brand names but your company serves brand-name clients, you should definitely mention this in your job description (ideally with specific company names, but at the very least with recognizable phrases, such as Fortune 500, or fast-growth start-ups). For example, one manufacturing professional I coached worked for a company I didn’t recognize, but whose factories produced products for brand names I’m sure you have in your house right now. He included one line under the company name to clarify this – Manufacturer for consumer kitchen brands, T-fal, Oxo, etc. Another client was a non-profit professional who worked at a small organization but as a front-line fundraiser with a portfolio of billionaire donors. The high net worth and high visibility of her clients in turn boosted the value of her role.
Generate familiarity when there is none
Your company may not be familiar because its output isn’t well-known to consumers or well-known in your current location. For example, I coached an Asian ex-pat who relocated to the US for family reasons and was an executive in the textile industry. Can you name the largest Asian textile companies? Can you name any textile companies? Me neither. So this executive mentioned under her company name that this otherwise unknown brand name was a subsidiary of a Global 500 company and the largest in its industry for her country. Adding a brief description after or below the company name enables the reader to get more familiar more quickly and therefore better understand the scope and scale of your job description. Better still, make sure your Summary of Qualifications clearly explains the scope and scale of your responsibilities and your employer’s market reach because resumes are skimmed quickly, and readers will skim the top but may not read the follow-up descriptions.
Brand names help a resume stand out in the pile, but even if you don’t have brand names in your background, you can still establish your value and credibility in your resume with the above 3 strategies. Remember too that most jobs are filled by referrals (from existing employees, recruiters, and other people who have the ear of the hiring manager) so don’t assume that even a resume full of brand names will be noticed. A thorough job search prioritizes networking and getting people to hear your story. It is always more effective to communicate value person-to-person than on paper (even nice resume paper!).
This post originally appears in my Forbes column.