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Building a Winning Resume

Your resume is your first impression

  • Be specific. Would you buy a product from a salesperson who didn’t know what he was selling but had a specific price? The notion of “keeping your options open” is a misguided approach to job hunting, managing a career and, especially, resume writing.
  • Top-load your resume. A prospective employer should know in the first two to three lines what type of position you’re looking for and in the first 10 to 15 lines the greatest benefits you can bring to the role.
  • Narrow your reach. Having two or three resumes with different targets still allows for an effective, manageable search. It also allows you to focus on different skills for different job titles you may be pursuing. If you’re unable to narrow your target on your resume, focus on assessing your skills and career research, not writing your resume at this time.
  • Know who you're talking to. Being able to identify with your audience is a crucial skill, not just in resume writing and job hunting, but in business in general. This allows you to present your skills and experience in the most advantageous light and remain focused while preparing your resume.
  • Be up front. When you scan your resume, are you brimming with confidence? Can you defend every word in an interview? Is every claim truthful, credible or substantiated in some way? If you can’t answer “yes” to each question, go back for a re-write.
  • Show, don't tell. I’ve yet to meet a candidate who thought he was stupid, but declaring “I’m smart” only gets you ridiculed on your way to the circular file. Your resume should show your intelligence in how the information is organized, phrased and formatted.
  • Speak their language. Using appropriate jargon can help if readers will understand the terms. Industry jargon on a resume will help you connect to the technical recruiter faster.
  • Check for hierarchy. Is your resume effective when scanned quickly, at moderate speed or word for word in a detailed manner? To achieve maximum impact, it needs to succeed at each level. Read sentences aloud to look for mangled grammar and wordy phrasing.
  • Get an outside opinion. Some writers, especially those who spend days preparing their documents, need outside observers to evaluate their resumes. Some professional resume writers offer free consultations, and some recruiters will also help by taking a look at your presentation with a critical eye.
  • Organize information effectively. This advice is common sense but many writers frequently fail on this point. Their presentations are poorly formatted, organized or written. Documents are scanned top to bottom, left to right. Information appearing first is presumed to be more important and influences what follows.
  • Highlight important information. Bold type, italics, capital letters, numbers and bullets stand out more than ordinary print. Without highlighting, nothing will seem important. If possible, use larger letters for the headings used in the separate sections of the resume.
  • Focus on your objective. The objective is one of the most important parts of a resume and should not be overlooked. It informs potential employers that you are moving in a certain direction, relates your work preference(s), and serves as a focal point from which to review and analyze your resume.
  • Your resume objective should be brief, clearly stated, and consistent with the accomplishments and demonstrated skills as documented on your resume. If you are considering more than one professional goal, you should consider developing more than one resume, each presenting a different objective.
  • The profile is an alternative to an objective statement on a resume. It gives you the opportunity to present your strengths at the very beginning of the resume.
  • Write an effective profile.
    • This section is the first and most important section of your resume’s main text. In your first 10 to 15 lines, you should let a prospective employer know what you can do and why you’re good at it.
    • Coming immediately after your heading and contact information, a well-written profile puts a positive spin on every entry that follows and eliminates the need for a separate objective.
    • Typical headings for a profile section on a resume can include: “synopsis,” “profile,” “strengths,” “profession,” “specialty,” “key skills/qualifications,” “highlights,” “summary,” “expertise” or “focus.”
    • An effective profile will include your skills and/or experience. To be credible, a profile requires a focus on specific, verifiable claims. Almost every item should be substantiated or self-evident.
    • To present your accomplishments effectively, cite specific figures in their proper context. They’ll add credibility, highlight specific items, and show where you fit into the big picture. Although this may seem counterintuitive, figures make a resume more readable.
  • Decide if you’d hire yourself, if you were the interviewer. If the answer is yes, start circulating your resume with confidence and expect success.
  • List your technical knowledge first in an itemized fashion. Use as many buzz words as you can conjure up that reflect your work and training experience. This will satisfy the visual curiosities of hiring managers and OCR scanners conducting key word searches.
  • List your qualifications in order of relevance, from most to least. Only list your degree and educational qualifications first if they are truly relevant to the job for which you are applying. If you’ve already done what you want to do in a new job, by all means, list it first, even if it wasn’t your most recent job.
  • Quantify your experience wherever possible. Cite numerical figures, such as monetary budgets/funds saved, time periods/efficiency improved, lines of code written/debugged, numbers of machines administered/fixed, etc., which demonstrate progress or accomplishments due directly to your work.
  • Begin sentences with action verbs. Portray yourself as someone who is active, uses their brain, and gets things done. Stick with the past tense, even for descriptions of currently held positions, to avoid confusion.
  • If you’ve got a valuable asset which doesn’t seem to fit into any existing components of your resume, list it anyway as its own resume segment, perhaps as “Other Relevant Qualifications.”
  • As a rule of thumb, resumes reflecting five years or less experience should fit on one page. More extensive experience can justify usage of a second page. Consider three pages for a resume (about 15 years or more experience) an absolute limit.
  • Avoid lengthy descriptions of whole projects of which you were only a part. Consolidate action verbs where one task or responsibility encompasses other tasks and duties. Minimize usage of articles (the, an, a) and never use “I” or other pronouns to identify yourself.
  • Leave all needless items off your resume: social security number, marital status, health, citizenship, age, scholarships, irrelevant awards, irrelevant associations and memberships, irrelevant publications, and irrelevant recreational activities. Also avoid using a second mailing address (“permanent address” is confusing and never used), references, reference to references (“available upon request”), travel history, previous pay rates, previous supervisor names, reasons for leaving previous jobs, and components of your name which you really never use (e.g., middle names).
  • If you go by a different name than your “legal” name, put the name you use on your resume instead. It’s better for you and the interviewer if you get started with the right name from the moment you meet. You can always list yourself as “M. Robert” if you want to be completely accurate.
  • Have a trusted friend review your resume. Be sure to pick someone who is attentive to details, can effectively critique your writing, and will give an honest and objective opinion. Seriously consider their advice. Get a third and fourth opinion if you can.
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread. Be sure to catch all spelling errors, grammatical weaknesses, unusual punctuation, and inconsistent capitalization on your resume. Proofread it numerous times over at least two days to allow a fresh eye to catch any hidden mistakes.
  • Laser print your resume on plain, white paper. Handwriting, typing, dot matrix printing, and even ink jet printing look pretty cheesy, and the ink can smear. Stick with laser prints. Your resume will be photocopied, faxed, and scanned numerous times, defeating any special paper efforts.
  • Keep it short. The word "resume" comes from the French word “resumer” which means to summarize. So the exact purpose of a resume is to summarize your experience, knowledge, and accomplishments. Therefore, you must avoid being too wordy. Say exactly what you mean in the least number of words possible.
  • Never overcrowd your resume. Leave some “white space” so that important points can appear to pop out. Never submit a resume with handwritten corrections.
  • Never try to be too fancy by using wild colors, cute graphics, and so forth. Don’t be overly creative. A simple, straightforward, factual resume will do nicely. Make it stand out, but stay conservative.
  • Make sure that the punctuation is correct. And make sure that all of your columns line up. See that all of your facts are correct. Potential employers will note all inaccuracies and wonder why they appear in your resume.
  • Don’t be modest. Many of us are hesitant to put down just how much we have done, or how good we are. We grow up being taught not to brag, but this is your chance! A resume is like a sales prospectus, and you are the product. Make sure you don’t leave out the good stuff.
  • Treat your resume as an advertisement for you. Be sure to thoroughly “sell” yourself by highlighting all of your strengths.
  • Talk about what you’ve done that shows how good you are. The statement: “Effectively managed a diverse population of 30 computer professionals to become a cohesive working team” is effective; “Am excellent with people and have great managerial skills” is not. “Consistently exceeded production quotas by 30 to 50 percent” is effective; “Am very good at getting a lot of work done” is not.
  • Keep it honest. You want to say as much as you can that’s positive about yourself, but remember, if the resume works it will get you an interview with someone who will probably be looking right at it during that interview. Don’t ever put in anything you can’t defend, justify or comfortably explain.
  • Presentation IS important. While the content of your resume is the most important thing, the visual appearance can make a big difference. If your resume is packed with great information, but appears crowded and hard to read, a busy executive might just not take the time to go through it with the care it deserves.
  • Use the right kind of resume format. If you’re seeking a faculty, research, clinical, or scientific position, you will need a “CV” or Curriculum Vitae. A CV is a little more formal in format than a resume, usually two pages (or more, if you are highly experienced). It’s a detailed listing that usually includes publications, presentations, professional activities, honors, and additional information. A Curriculum Vitae is often much longer than a resume.
  • Chronological or functional? If you’re on a simple career path, and your last job is the most relevant experience to your next, a standard chronological resume is generally best. This lists your employment from last first, and puts your experience under each employer. However, if you are changing careers, going back to something you used to do, or have a scattered work history, then a functional resume will probably serve your needs better.
  • Make sure it’s right! As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. If your prospective employer is getting dozens (or even hundreds) of resumes, unless you can get their attention, it doesn’t matter if you are the most qualified applicant, they’ll never know it. If you can’t do it yourself, then seek assistance from a professional who can give you that extra edge. Many successful, talented, and creative people, who are excellent in their professions, still choose to have help with their resumes.


A recruiter’s pet peeves
Want to attract the attention of recruiters and employers? Make sure you aren’t committing any of the common resume crimes on this list.