The keys to writing the right resume
Editor’s note: This is the start of a series of articles focusing on the job-search and application process.
In this day of networking — online, in-person and otherwise — job-seekers still need one fundamental element when looking for a new position — a resume.
Far more than just a laundry list of job duties, a resume should be you on paper.
“The purpose of a resume is not to get you the job, but to get you the interview,” said Fran Bishop, an employment counselor at the NH Works Center in Portsmouth, part the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security.
Because a resume is usually the first opportunity a company has to “see” you, it is imperative the information be clean and concise.
“Information should be able to be seen quickly and should be readable by a wide range of readers,” said Jason Kroll, principal of KBW Financial Staffing & Recruiting of Bedford.
While it’s always good to have to have paper copies of your resume, most employers today want, even expect, electronic ones. In fact, said Kroll, if you don’t have an electronic version, some employers will question your computer abilities.
If you do go the paper route, again, less is more. Bishop said stick with white or cream heavy bond paper, easy-to-read fonts and no artwork.
As for the electronic version, she said, “avoid heavy stylized formats and fonts. Have it all spaced to the left flush margin and don’t use unnecessary highlights or bolding.”
When e-mailing a resume, according to Bishop, be sure to put your name in the subject line along with “attached resume.”
Kroll said you might consider adding the job title or position reference number if available.
“And send your resume to a friend first before you send it to the company,” suggested Bishop. “Ask them if they can open it, if it looks OK.”
You might even consider putting the resume in the body of the e-mail instead of an attachment, since some programs screen out e-mails with attachments. And it saves your potential employer an extra click.
While it might be tempting to send a photo of yourself as a way to stand out in a crowd of hundreds of resumes hiring managers can receive, the experts strongly discourage the practice. Most find it pretentious, even if the photo is a professional portrait. In fact, it’s the kind of tactic that could send your resume into the trash.
It might be obvious to have your name, street address and phone number placed clearly at the top of the resume, but today’s contact information can include a number of e-mail addresses, personal Web or blog addresses, Facebook or LinkedIn pages or other media sites.
Bishop and Kroll recommend only using a professional-looking e-mail address — something like “firstname.lastname@example.org” might give potential employers the opportunity to be concerned about your candidacy for the job.
The same goes for voice mail messages, said Kroll. “Employers don’t want to listen to three minutes of your favorite song.”
Resumes used to begin with an “objective” statement, but that has changed today, since it’s obvious your objective is to get the job you’re applying for, said Bishop. “Employers care about what you can do for them.”
She suggested beginning with a summary of “internal strengths” you can bring to an employer.
“List your professional qualifications or skills up-front,” said Bishop. “Your work history almost becomes secondary.”
She also said to look closely at the job posting and include in your skills list keywords or specific technical terms used in the description to help define your experience.
“You can also include a profile or a ‘value proposal’ — what I can do for you the employer,” said Kroll.
When it comes to work history formats, most resumes are in reverse chronological order, and include only the most recent 10 years of work. Unless this is your first job, employers don’t care that you had a paper route when you were a kid or mowed lawn during college.
Functional resumes — where work experience is grouped by function rather than date — are submitted less often, so employers or recruiters are less familiar with them, and the experts interviewed recommended against using that format.
“Functional resumes can be good, however, for those in consulting positions,” said Kroll.
For older, significant and applicable work histories, Kroll said you can add a simple chronological list of the job title, company and dates, but the space could probably be better used detailing information about your most recent jobs.
One rule that is still followed is to try to keep the resume under two pages.
“Ideally, it should be one page, but for professionals, such as those in the IT fields, it can be a little longer,” said Bishop.
As for gaps in employment, company restructuring is commonplace today, so they are not a major concern.
“I think employers are so aware of the market they know there will be gaps,” said Bishop. “If you were really doing something during those times, fill in the gap.”
Bishop said those who are highly skilled and are applying for a lesser position might sometimes find it necessary to “water down” skills on a resume.
“Perhaps say something like ‘supervisory experience’ vs. ‘managed 40 direct reports,'” said Bishop.
Kroll, however, counseled against such an idea. “Write a good e-mail and cover letter explaining that, while you were a director, you’re open to this type of work.”
With major career changes, such as moving from a graphic designer to working as a registered nurse, the experts say to stress the qualities that make sense in the new position you’re seeking, such as “excellent customer service and communication skills.”
Listing your education in your resume is necessary, but should be placed at the end.
For older workers, Bishop said applicants might want to omit the date of degrees older than 15 years, but Kroll said this might bring about the questions you were hoping to avoid.
“The more you omit from your resume, the more they will ask,” he said. “Leaving out the year might beg the question, ‘When did they finish?’ They will think you got your degree a long time ago.”
Do include significant and applicable course work outside of a degree or certificate.
And if you don’t have a degree?
“That’s OK, too,” said Bishop. “Really highlight your skills and any pertinent training.” Kroll added that current students should include their expected graduation date.
Other items to consider including in a resume are recent — and pertinent — awards or volunteer work.
“Only include these if they are relevant,” said Bishop. “If you sat on the finance committee at your church and you’re applying for a CPA position, you could list that.”
But leave off the “Most Improved” trophy you received from your bowling league.
References, although not part of the resume itself, are an important part of your application package. Have several copies ready for the interview, but don’t send them with your resume, unless specifically sought.
“You can put ‘available on request’ on your resume,” said Bishop. “Only three are necessary; that’s probably all they want to call.”
Kroll said it’s also appropriate to include a peer reference, and for managers, a subordinate.
“And don’t lose track of your references,” he said, emphasizing the importance of keeping contact information current.
The experts also stressed the importance of proofreading, since a single typo can land a resume in the trash.
If you do discover a mistake, try sending a corrected version.
Most important, said Kroll, be persistent in your search “but keep a positive attitude; be optimistic and confident.”
Cindy Kibbe can be reached at email@example.com.