Resume Advice

Ten Keys to a Dynamite Resume

To help you construct a better, more powerful resume, here are ten overall considerations in regard to your resume’s content and presentation:

  1. Position title and job description. Provide your title, plus a detailed explanation of your duties and accomplishments. Since job titles are often misleading or their function may vary from one company to another, your resume should tell the reader exactly what you’ve done.
  2. Clarity of dates and place. Document your work history and educational credentials accurately. Don’t leave the reader guessing where and when you were employed, or when you earned your degree.
  3. Explicitness. Let the reader know the nature, size and location of your past employers, and what their business is.
  4. Detail. Specify some of the more technical, or involved aspects of your past work or training, especially if you’ve performed tasks of any complexity, or significance.
  5. Proportion. Give appropriate attention to jobs or educational credentials according to their length, or importance to the reader. For example, if you wish to be considered for an engineering position, don’t write one paragraph describing your current engineering job, followed by three paragraphs about your summer job as a lifeguard.
  6. Relevancy. Confine your information to that which is job-related or clearly demonstrates a pattern of success. Concentrate only on subject matter that addresses the needs of the employer.
  7. Length. Fill up only a page or two. If you write more than two pages, it sends a signal to the reader that you can’t organize your thoughts, or you’re trying too hard to make a good impression. If your content is strong, you won’t need more than two pages.
  8. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Create an error-free document that’s representative of an educated person. If you’re unsure about the correctness of your writing (or if English is your second language), consult a professional writer or editor.
  9. Readability. Organize your thoughts in a clear, concise manner. No resume ever won a Nobel Prize for literature; however, a fragmented or long-winded resume will virtually assure you of a place at the back of the line.
  10. Readability. Be sure to select a conventional type style, such as Times Roman or Arial, and choose a neutral background or stationery. If your resume takes too much effort to read, it may end up in the trash, even if you have terrific skills.

Finally, I suggest you write several drafts, and allow yourself time to review your work and proofread for errors. If you have a professional associate whose opinion you trust, by all means, listen to what he or she has to say. A simple critique can make the difference between an interview and a rejection.

Resume Design: Tips and Templates That Get Results

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Employers prefer crisp-looking resumes that get to the point. By using the example on this page as a template, you’ll improve both the style and the substance your resume.

Layout. Add interest and clarity by using bullets, indents and varying font styles (such as bold and italic letters). Avoid using unconventional fonts or adding photos or graphics.

Length. The general rule is: one page for early-career (entry level to 5-10 years); two pages for mid-career candidates.

Job Data. Provide the reader with relevant detail about your past and present employers, such as product information, size and physical location.

Measurables. Quantify your job duties, reporting relationships and achievements with actual numbers.

Job and Education Dates. Make sure the dates are clear and without gaps. If you’re a mid- to late-career candidate, you can save space by lumping early-career jobs together.

Degree Credentials. Please be accurate—and honest. Misrepresenting your degree is unethical, and could result in consequences that are embarrassing—or worse.

A Stronger Resume Will Increase Your Odds

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Reality Check: Given the choice of two candidates of equal ability, hiring managers will always prefer to interview the one with the most artfully constructed and attractive resume. For that reason, candidates with superb qualifications are often overlooked. And companies end up hiring from a more shallow pool of talent; a pool made up of those candidates whose experience is represented by powerfully written, visually appealing resumes.

Of course, many of the best candidates also have the best resumes; and sometimes, highly qualified candidates manage to surface through word-of-mouth referral. In fact, the referral method is the one I use to present talented people to my client companies.

But unless you can afford to rely on your “reputation,” or on the recommendation of a barracuda recruiter, you’ll need more than the right qualifications to get the job you want—you’ll need a dynamite resume.

In today’s competitive employment market, your resume has to stand out in order to get the attention of the decision maker and create a strong impression. And later on, when you meet the prospective employer face to face, a strong resume will act as a valuable tool during the interviewing process.

Truth in Advertising

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The best way to prepare a dynamite resume is not to change the facts, just make them more presentable. This can be accomplished in two ways: [1] by strengthening the content of your resume; and [2] by enhancing its appearance.

Although there’s no federal regulatory agency like the FDA or FCC to act as a watchdog, I consider it to be ethical common sense to honestly and clearly document your credentials. In other words, don’t make exaggerated claims about your past.

Remember, your resume is written for the employer, not for you. Its main purpose, once in the hands of the reader, is to answer the following questions: How do you present yourself to others? What have you done in the past? And what are you likely to accomplish in the future?

In addition to providing a factual representation of your background, your resume serves as an advertisement. The more effective your 30-second commercial, the more the customer—the employer—will want to buy the expertise you’re selling.

Choosing The Best Resume Format

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Your resume can be arranged in one of two basic formats: summary or chronological.

  • The summary (or functional) resume distills your total work experience into major areas of expertise, and focuses the reader’s attention on your accumulated skills.

  • The chronological resume presents your skills and accomplishments within the framework of your past employers. (Actually, it should be called a reverse chronological resume, since your last job should always appear first.)

Although the information you furnish the reader may essentially be the same, there’s a big difference in the way the two resumes are constructed, and the type of impact each will have. My experience has shown that the chronological resume brings the best results, since it’s the most explicit description of the quality and application of your skills within a specific time frame.

The summary resume, on the other hand, works well if you’ve changed jobs or careers often, and wish to downplay your work history and highlight your level of expertise. If a prospective hiring manager is specifically interested in a steady, progressively advancing employment history (as most are), then the summary resume will very likely work against you, since the format will seem confusing, and might arouse suspicions as to your potential for longevity.

However, if the employer’s main concern is your technical or problem-solving ability, the summary resume will serve your needs just fine. Either way, you should always follow the guidelines mentioned earlier regarding content and appearance.

Crafting Your Resume “Objective”

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Most employers find that a carefully worded statement of purpose will help them quickly evaluate your suitability for a given position. An objective statement can be particularly useful as a quick-screen device when viewed by the manager responsible for staffing several different types of positions. (“Let’s see; programmers in this pile, plant managers in that pile...”)

While a stated objective gives you the advantage of targeting your employment goals, it can also work against you. A hiring manager lacking in imagination or who’s hard pressed for time will often overlook a resume with an objective that doesn’t conform to the exact specifications of a position opening. That means that if your objective reads “Vice President position with a progressive, growth-oriented company,” you may limit your options and not be considered for the job of regional manager for a struggling company in a mature market—a job you may enjoy and be well suited to.

If you’re pretty sure of the exact position you want in the field or industry you’re interested in, then state it in your objective. Otherwise, broaden your objective or leave it off the resume.

Beefing Up an Uninspring Resume

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To get the most mileage out of your resume, you’ll want to emphasize certain aspects of your background. By doing so, you’ll present your qualifications in the most favorable light, and help give the employer a better understanding of your potential value to his or her organization. To build a stronger case for your candidacy, try highlighting the following areas of interest:

Professional achievements of particular interest. For example, if you’re in sales, the first thing a hiring manager will want to know is your sales volume, and how you ranks with your peers. If you’ve won awards, reached goals or made your company money, let the employer know.

Educational accomplishments. List your degree(s) and/or relevant course work, thesis or dissertation, or specialized training. Be sure to mention any special honors, scholarships, or awards you may have received, such as Dean’s List, Cum Laude, or Phi Beta Kappa.

Additional areas of competency. These might include computer software fluency, dollar amount of monthly raw materials purchased, or specialized training.

Professional designations that carry weight in your field. If you’re licensed or certified in your chosen profession or belong to a trade organization, by all means let the reader know.

Success indicators. You should definitely include anything in your past that might distinguish you as a leader or achiever. Or, if you worked full time to put yourself through school, you should consider that experience a success indicator, and mention it on your resume.

Related experience. Anything that would be relevant to your prospective employer’s needs. For example, if your occupation requires overseas travel or communication, list your knowledge of foreign languages. If you worked as a co-op student in college, especially in the industry you’re currently in, let the reader know.

Military history. If you served in the armed forces, describe your length of service, branch of service, rank, special training, medals, and discharge and/or reserve status. Employers generally react favorably to military service experience.

Security clearances. Some industries require a clearance when it comes to getting hired or being promoted. If you’re targeting an industry such as aerospace or defense, give your current and/or highest clearable status, and whether you’ve been specially checked by an investigative agency.

Citizenship or right to work. This should be mentioned if your industry requires it. Dual citizenship should also be mentioned, especially if you think you may be working in a foreign country.

In a competitive market, employers are always on the lookout for traits that distinguish one candidate from another. Not long ago, I worked with an engineering manager  who mentioned the fact that he was a three-time national power speed boat champion on his resume. It came as no surprise that several employers warmed up to his resume immediately, and wanted to interview him.

The Dangers of Resume Overkill

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Nearly everything written about resume design concentrates on what you should put in. But let’s look at what should be left out, or at least minimized.

Item #1: Salary history or salary requirements.

I’ve never heard one good reason to mention your past, current, or expected salary. If you see a classified ad that says, “Only resumes with salary history will be considered,” don’t believe it. If your resume is strong enough, you’ll be contacted. Once contacted, be forthright.

Item #2: References.

If you have high-impact or well known professional references, fine. Otherwise, “References: Available Upon Request” will do just fine. Avoid personal references like your minister or your attorney, unless they happen to be Billy Graham or Sandra Day O’Connor.

Item #3: Superfluous materials.

When submitting a resume, avoid enclosing such items as your thesis, photos, diplomas, transcripts, product samples, newspaper articles, blueprints, designs, or letters of recommendation. These are props you can use during your interview, but not before. The only thing other than your resume that’s acceptable is your business card.

Item #4: Personal information.

Leave out anything other than the absolute essentials such as, “Married, two children, willing to relocate, excellent health.” By listing your Masonic affiliation, save-the-whales activism or codependency support group, you could give the employer a reason to suspect that your outside activities may interfere with your work.

Not long ago, I received a resume from a candidate who felt the need to put his bowling average on his curriculum vita. The person must have thought that kind of information might improve his chances of being interviewed. Given the choice, would I show his resume to an employer? Not a chance.

Remember, the greater the relevancy between your resume and the needs of the employer, the more seriously your candidacy will be considered. Say what you need to get the job—and nothing more.