Job-seekers everywhere ask what hiring managers look for in a resume. While the answer varies per industry and position, here are some guidelines to follow - illustrated by some bloopers that show what NOT to do! (And yes, all of these gems are real, with only identifying details removed. )
Don't disqualify yourself
One resume I received for a writing position said “I have no writing experience at all, but I was born in Scotland. " In other words, this person was telling me that, aside from speaking English, he or she had no qualifications for the job. You should never stretch your credentials beyond what they are, but don't do the opposite and make it clear to one and all that you can't do the job.
Use your resume to sell your strengths
One would-be writer said, “I am current responsible for standardizing. " In other words, while this person saw herself as someone who could help an employer standardize the work of many people and processes, which is often a good thing, she undermined her claim by showing she didn't even standardize what she had written to the rules of grammar. (She should have said “currently. ") So she got to stay current where she was!
Show you can do good work
In most documents you write, typos might not be critical. But on resumes, where you're trying to explain how good a worker you are, it's counter-productive if you don't check your work. One resume I received claimed the author was “Able to set and meet goals in a fast past environment. " Now, “past" is a perfectly good word, but what he meant was “paced. " And his spell-checker didn't catch the typo, since “past" is a word. So this resume announced to hiring managers, “I don't check my work. " Is that what you want to say on your resume?
Sell your skill set using logic
Sometimes people put silly things on their resumes that aren't incorrect and might even be true. But they're still mistakes, like the person who wrote, “Maintain 98% total quality accuracy. " It was meant to sound good, but what it means is that she's promising to make errors 2% of the time. Maybe it's a matter of perspective, but 98% fat-free milk is another way of saying it has 2% fat. Sure, nobody's perfect, and you can't claim that you don't ever make mistakes. But if you want to sell a manager on how accurate you are, use logic, and come up with a better way to illustrate your obsession with quality.
Tell me what you can do for me
While many people think the purpose of resumes is to say what you've done, the real purpose of a resume is to convince a manager that you can do what they need you to do. You should never, ever, stretch the truth, and you should never, ever, speak ill of your former or current employers. (Managers don't want to hire liars or back-stabbers. ) So summarize the key elements in your previous work in an interesting way that shows how you tackle assignments. Write about what you did and how you did it. And you don't need to include belittling details, like the guy who wrote that the company he was trying to leave “is a company started by a friend of mine. " What that told me is that the reason he got hired was because his friend, not him, had initiative and started a company, and worse, that he was paying back his friend by deserting him.
Don't overdo it
Stick to the facts and present them in a way that shows managers you can do the job. Give examples, preferably using numbers if that makes sense. And let the reader draw her own conclusions, unlike the resume that said, “I am superior at . . . ". I wanted to thank the writer for, um, sharing that information with me, but that's not someone I wanted on my team.
Whether you are a truck driver or a neurosurgeon, work on your resume until it's clear. Keep in mind that for most jobs, several different kinds of people will read your resume before you get an interview, ranging from secretaries to HR staff who may not know your professional jargon, to hiring managers who may or may not know the lingo of your specific profession. And please, skip the buzzwords of the day, unlike the candidate who wrote, “I am interested in a position where I can develop a synergistic relationship. " She must have read somewhere that synergistic relationships were the buzzword du jour, but couldn't say on her resume just who or what she intended to develop such a relationship with.
Make your resume do its job
Your resume has a job - to get you an interview. So give your resume the ammunition it needs to get that job done: stick to the facts, present them clearly and persuasively, give examples of your accomplishments to show what makes you stand out, and ruthlessly hunt down any mistakes of typing, writing, fact, or logic. Do this, and your resume will start to work for you!
For more information, see the career books at TechWritingJobs.com - a site devoted to job searches for technical writers, from which this article is adapted. Reprinting is permitted provided that the article and this author bio are unchanged and printed in full.
Steve Schwarzman is a technical writing consultant with over 15 years of experience. Among the web sites he writes for are Tech Writing Jobs and the Writers Book Mall .