There are oodles of Internet sites that provide oodles of information about what you should put in your résumé, and much of that information is contradictory and ambiguous. Here, I attempt to narrow it down to the fundamentals for Professionals over 40.
Before you begin writing or revising your résumé, you need to take inventory of your professional persona. This is called “branding.” If you were a product on a shelf, what would your tag line say? Pick a theme and stick with it throughout all of your written materials, online posts, and social media profiles.
Branding is important because the sea of competition is full, and you need to stand out. An easily identifiable logo quickly brings to mind a product or service, and it can do the same for you. Your logo may be something as simple as a particular font that you use for your name.
Once you decide on a brand that is suitable, make sure it is visible on your résumé.
KNOW THY AUDIENCE
There was a time when one résumé would work for every job submission. Nowadays, because of databases as well as the economy, we have to be more specific for each submission.
At the point of entry — where your résumé first enters the atmosphere for the hiring authority — someone will likely scan it for keywords. They may have a list of a dozen key words and phrases in front of them, and if your résumé fails to also list a high percentage of those terms, it will likely hit the trash bin.
For example, an employer is searching for someone with the ability to lead others. The buzz words they use are “head of HR.” Your résumé states that you are a “proven leader” and that you’ve been an “HR manager” for umpteen years. Will you make the cut? Maybe not. Cater your résumé to its audience by stating, “Management, Head of HR at XYZ Co. with proven leadership ability.” When your document is scanned, it will now contain the buzz words they seek!
So how does one know what buzz words to use? Read the job notice description closely! It will itemize the exact qualifications and characteristics they want. Incorporate those key terms into your résumé and you increase your chances of landing an interview.
KNOW THY COMPUTER
The formatting of your résumé is nearly as critical as the words you choose for its contents. If you lack the basic typing and formatting skills required for the use of MS Word, you’ll be well served to hire someone who knows what he is doing.
MS Word is the most typically requested document type for a résumé, thus this discussion is limited to its features. With Word, when you click on “New” (to open a new document), you’ll see a long list of template types on the left side of the window that opens. There are two options for résumés: 1) New résumé samples, and 2) Résumé and CVs. Take some time to look at both. Most likely, one of the two will contain a pre-formatted résumé that fits your needs perfectly.
After downloading the résumé style of your choice, you then simply have to fill in the text areas with the contents that best describes your qualifications, experience, etc., making sure to use the all-important buzz words from the employer’s job description.
If using the Word templates, you will note that some of them are in a “chronological” style, and others are “functional” résumé (and some could be either style). Which style should you use? Most employers prefer a chronological résumé. However, if you are changing directions, entering a new industry, or have a significant history (as many of us do at this stage of life), a functional résumé may be best.
ONE SIZE FITS ALL:
The pre-formatted templates will guide you, but regardless of your industry choice, there are some basic rules that apply to every résumé:
- List your work history in reverse chronological order, with your current or most recent job at the top of the stack. This rule applies regardless of whether you are preparing a “chronological résumé” or a “functional résumé.”
- If your early work history is no longer relevant, include only your more recent history (perhaps the past decade or two, at most). Title that section, “Relevant Work History,” or “Recent Professional Experience” to indicate it is limited.
- If your early work history is relevant, narrow it down to its basics under a section titled “Prior Work History.” Then, simply list your job title, employer name, and years of employment in reverse chronological order: Receptionist, ABC Industry, 1975-1981.
- Do not include references, and do not say “References available upon request.” It is presumed that you will provide references, when needed.
- You may conclude the résumé with a quote from someone who provided a recommendation: “Ms. Doe is a consummate professional with whom I am always impressed. She will be a tremendous asset for any organization.” Tim Smith, VP of Corp.
- Do not over use bullets, but do use them to highlight the most important aspects of your credentials.
- Do use a 12 pt font if possible. If you need to reduce the font size to enable all of the information to fit onto a page, do not reduce it to anything smaller than the equivalent of 10 pt New Roman except for certain sub-titles and dates. For example, you might use an 8 or 9 pt. font to type “Spring, 1996” in reference to dates worked while in college, etc.
- It’s best to keep the length to 2 pages or less. If you must go beyond 3 pages, use a CV instead.
- If your résumé is longer than one page, make sure each subsequent page has your name, phone number, and a page designation in case it gets separated from the first page: Ms. Teri Smith, 555-555-1212, Résumé Page Two
- It is better to under-describe than to exaggerate, but it is best to be spot-on. If your résumé reads like you are qualified to be the president of a Fortune 500 corporation, you better be able to walk the talk.
- Leave graduation dates out if you are concerned about age bias. That you have your doctorate is more important than the fact that you earned it before your interviewer was born.
- If you have written, “responsibilities included…” or “duties included…”, remove it! You are not writing a job description; you are listing YOUR achievements. Sentences should start with phrases such as, “Initiated an innovative …”; “Responsible for a 200% growth in …”; “Key catalyst in the creation of …”; and so on. (See “The PAR Bar”, below.)
- Include your career objective. Showing that you have a clear sense of the direction you intend to take is, at a minimum, required of your future employer.
- Do not include your race, religion, hobbies and interests unless they are somehow relevant to your career objective.
Do not ever send out a résumé that contains a single error. Spelling, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, and typing must be perfect. A single typographical error is enough to land your résumé in the trash.
Am I over-stating this? No. For example, when I sifted through a large pile of résumés, I first narrowed my choices down by the appearance of the document. If it wasn’t presented well, it went in the rejection pile. Next, I scanned for errors. If I found one, it went in the rejection pile. When I narrowed my choices down to the top 10, I looked even more closely for errors. I can’t tell you how frustrating it was for me, as a hiring partner, to find someone with “perfect” credentials, only to have to throw her to the rejection pile because she typed “there” instead of “their,” for example.
Why? Because if a prospective employee didn’t care enough to make a single document perfect, how was I to believe he would care enough about the work I assigned to him as an employee?
Even the best proof-reader should have someone else review her documents to check for errors. The author will have worked so intently with the document that she can easily overlook an error. And never rely on spell-check alone!
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
As our world gets smaller and we have increasingly frequent interaction with people from varied cultures, we are exposed to more and more names that are uncommon in the US culture. I recently wrote to someone with the first name of Xlemtri, for example, and had no idea if this person was male or female. (I made a phone call and asked the receptionist.)
On the other hand, some typical, common American names are gender neutral and will likewise frustrate someone on the receiving end. Teri, Kerri, Robin, Pat, Sandy, and the like, are examples of names that are best prefaced with “Mr.” or “Ms.” It’s more important to reduce frustration than it is to worry about whether the employer will engage in gender discrimination. (If they do discriminate, are you going to want to work there anyway? Probably not.)
What about nicknames? If your name is Jerry but you’ve been called “Bo” since birth, use your nickname. Save the legal designation for the forms you’ll need to fill out if and when you get the job. Or, you can indicate your name as Jerry “Bo” Smith, but doing so may confuse your potential interviewer; he won’t know whether he should call you Jerry or Bo, and it may be too socially awkward to refer to you as Mr. Smith (too formal for some situations, especially if you are younger than he).
THE PAR BAR:
In today’s market, the bar has been set for what an employer expects to read in a résumé, and that is what I call “The PAR bar.” The what? PAR stands for Problem-Action-Result. Employers want to learn about the problems you faced in your previous positions, the action you took, and the result achieved.
This is an example of a PAR statement:
“Solved an emergent copyright issue by designing and implementing an innovative replacement program in less than 24 hours, saving the company millions in potential lost revenue and increasing membership by 45%”
The majority of résumés you submit will be done so electronically. Whether you are uploading your résumé to a database or attaching it to an email, you need to make certain that it will look as good on the receiving end as it does on your monitor.
Do a test run. Send it to several friends or family members, and ask them to print it out on their end. Then, take a look at the print out. If something needs to be corrected, you’ll know. Make the corrections and repeat the process until it is perfect.
Keep in mind that your résumé will not always be printed on the receiving end, and this may tempt you to use color. (Many of the MS Word templates, for example, have colored borders, insets, and outlines.) Even if you print out a beautifully colored résumé to snail-mail, someone may photocopy it to pass it around, and then it won’t look so pretty, right?
It’s best to leave the coloring to your kids — err, grandkids — and keep it off of your résumé. The exception, of course, is for those of you in a creative industry such as Computer Graphics.
For those instances when you do print your own, do so on clean, white paper using a laser printer. I use a 24 lb, watermarked, 100% cotton paper from Southworth’s Connoisseur Collection (easily found at your local super center). This paper is specially formulated for laser printers and copiers, and it comes with matching envelopes.
What about parchment paper and brochure presentations? It is reported that most employer’s surveyed do not like parchment paper, and they hate pretentious brochure-type presentations. While a folded brochure-type résumé may be suitable for growing your client base, it should not be used to seek your next career opportunity.
Is it ever okay to use a folder-type presentation? The reviews are mixed on this one. I think it depends on each individual and who he intends to target.
For example, an executive seeking a top-of-the-ladder position must present more than a 1 or 2 page résumé. She will most likely have a 2-3 page résumé, an executive biography, and a cover letter — at least. At the appropriate time, she’ll provide her full CV. To keep it all together, it may be best to present those documents in a folder — except for the cover letter which is paper-clipped to the front of the folder, or tucked under tabs specifically designed for that purpose.
In most situations, however, a folder will only get in the way. Recruiters and hiring associates will have stacks and stacks of paperwork that they often cram into over-stuffed brief cases. A folder only adds bulk that they are likely to pitch anyway. They may choose to staple all of your documents together, but this is their choice, not yours. Never staple!
With home computers and printers, there is no reason to mass mail your résumé to employer after employer without first customizing its language to fit the bill. Seek out, find, and incorporate the buzz words that will help you get your foot in the door.
By following the basic rules, branding yourself, filling your résumé with honest PAR statements, and presenting your documents perfectly, you will have done all that you can do to make your résumé stand out from the crowd.
If you have a unique situation or other issue not covered here — such as, “How to present yourself when you’ve never worked for an employer” — submit your comments below or send me an email. I’ll make sure your question is answered!
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