In today's competitive job market, a first class resume is an essential tool for winning an interview. The way in which you present your skills, achievements and experience on paper will profoundly affect the way in which a hiring company considers your application.
An expertly crafted resume not only captures the attention of its reader through careful attention to layout and formatting; it also targets the specific needs of the potential employer by matching and highlighting your abilities and background to the key requirements of the position.
So what exactly is the ‘perfect resume'?
It's well-nigh impossible to get recruitment professionals to agree on this. For example, take the vexed question of the ‘resume objective’. Some employers prefer to see a clearly stated objective as evidence of a candidate's career focus; others consider including an objective to be a restrictive practice - or worse, little more than vague waffle.
So in the pursuit of a truly personalized resume, it's hardly surprising that effective practice differs from applicant to applicant - and what suits one job-hunter may not work so well for another.
And while it's impossible to lay down hard and fast rules of best practice in resume writing, it's a whole lot easier to identify some of the habits that can turn recruiters right off - perhaps even sabotage a candidate's chances from the start!
In this article, I've collected some of these common resume blunders - so if you're looking to upgrade your resume, here's a checklist of seven easy ways to start!
1. Don't rely on a ‘one size fits all’ resume
If your resume is going to get you the interviews you deserve, it needs to focus on the particular demands of the job. So unless your field is very narrow, it's likely that you'll need to adapt your resume to each specific application.
To help you target your resume, try answering these questions:
- you're thinking of applying for a job; what would the perfect applicant be like?
- what are their most important characteristics?
- what skills and attributes do they possess?
When you profile the ‘ideal candidate’ in this way, you're putting yourself in the employer's shoes: thinking first about what matters to them and imagining what they'll be looking for when they make a short list from all the applications they'll receive.
This is a really useful exercise to help you decide which of your own abilities and achievements to spotlight in your resume.
2. Make sure you include complete contact information
Your cover letter may get separated from the resume. Don't blithely assume that because your address and telephone number are in the cover letter, they don't need to be on the resume as well - they do!
If the employer wants to get hold of you, they'll likely use the phone. So ensure that you give a personal number (including area code) where you can be reached during the day or where messages can be left. Include a cell phone number and e-mail address where possible.
3. Make the resume easy to read
Don't print your resume in any font size smaller than 11 pt. Be liberal with white space and remember that bullet points in a list help a reader to absorb information.
You can emphasize headers and key points by discreet use of bold type, capitals or underlining - but don't overdo the effect.
Consider going on to a second sheet if a single page is crammed.
4. Seize the reader's interest in the first few lines
If your application is one of dozens or even hundreds received, you need to capture the attention of the reader in just a few seconds. The best way to focus interest at the start is with a powerful objective - or, if you prefer it, a skills summary. It's the place to emphasize your key achievements and core expertise and identify specific job goals.
The employer wants a straight answer to the question ‘What can this person do for me?’ - so make your profile easy to read and give a clear statement of what you can bring to the job.
5. Don't underplay your achievements and experience
You've already imagined what the perfect candidate for the job would be like. So now focus on those aspects of your own background and skill set that best illustrate those attributes.
Highlight your key accomplishments and areas of authority and, wherever possible, use action verbs and statements that quantify what you have achieved. But don't get creative here: make sure you give evidence for your claims.
6. Order your information according to what the reader wants to know
There's no single correct order of elements in a resume. Everything depends on what the employer or recruiter is most interested in finding out.
In general, put your most relevant material first! Many recruiters like a reverse chronological order of dates.
Also be aware that some employers dislike a purely functional resume format and feel that it glosses over gaps in work history or other shortcomings.
7. Check your spelling and grammar
There's no substitute for careful proofreading of your resume. Use grammar and spell checking software by all means, but be aware that it may not always pick up contextual errors.
Print the document and check it on paper rather than on screen. If possible, ask a reliable friend or relative to double check for mistakes. Don't forget to check that you have spelled names correctly.
Conclusion: keep developing your resume
Your resume is a powerful marketing tool. It will always be a ‘work in progress', constantly needing updates and refinements according to changing circumstances. If you're planning or conducting a job search, redrafting your resume could be one of the best investments you make towards your future career success.
Nigel Patterson is a business writer and publisher of 1stClassResume.com.
Visit his website for more tips and advice on effective resume writing , drafting cover letters , learning from sample resumes and preparing for a job interview.