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Resume Writing Tips


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"A great resume is not just a complete list of employment and education. . . it's got to be a selling document," says Kathryn Troutman, president of The Resume Place in Catonsville and author of the Federal Resume Guidebook. "Your resume needs to make very clear that you are highly skilled and an excellent candidate for their position, with energy and enthusiasm for your career," Ms. Troutman adds. "A resume is like a snapshot," agrees Nancy Leaderman, one of two resume specialists (along with Debra Varron) at The Associated's Jewish Vocational Service, which offers a full range of employment counseling and programs, including resume preparation and job-seeking workshops. "You wouldn't have a picture of yourself taken without combing your hair, putting on lipstick, or whatever it takes to make yourself look as attractive as possible. It's the same thing with a resume. . .this is your first impression."

In terms of the visual appeal of a resume, says Ms. Leaderman, a resume produced on a laser printer makes a big difference. "A good dot matrix printer used to be all right," she observes, "but with the availability of computers so widespread now, a laser printer is really the way to go." Ms. Leaderman admits that the way a resume looks can be tied to the field the job seeker is exploring. "I think of resumes as akin to professional dressing," she observes. "A resume for the banking industry might certainly look different from a resume for the advertising industry. "In more conservative areas," Ms. Leaderman notes, "you won't waver from 12-point black ink on white or off-white plain bond paper. For more creative fields, however, we might suggest some graphic changes--using bullets, changing type size. . .things like that." Don't get carried away though, Ms. Leaderman advises. Colored ink, for example, can be too distracting. "You want to catch the employer's eye but still be professional. If you want to impress someone with your creativity, send a sample of your work. . .don't use your resume to show how artistic you are."

In terms of what actually goes in your resume, Kathryn Troutman of The Resume Place advises job-seekers that the resume has to say not just where you've worked, but how well you've performed. "Think accomplishments," she recommends. "If you have been a production supervisor in manufacturing for 10 years," she says, "tell the reader what you have accomplished, in addition to your responsibilities. For instance, 'As a Production Supervisor, successfully used a team management style of supervision to increase productivity; decreased injuries through new safety programs; promoted staff to management through an emphasis on training and development; implemented TQM throughout the plant; and directed installation of digital controls in the manufacturing equipment.'

"This approach shows that the person is a highly effective production manager," says Ms. Troutman. Be specific and be focused, adds JVS' Nancy Leaderman. "Use active verbs (for the grammatically-challenged who may not remember their junior high English classes, active verbs are the ones that don't use helping verbs). Use verbs such as maintained, supervised, managed, as opposed to saying, was responsible for." Many prospective employers "scan" a resume first--either with an optical scanner or with the human eye, looking for key words or phrases. This is done, say resume specialists, not so much as a hiring tool, but as a way to sort through the sometimes hundreds of resumes received for an advertised position. "A great resume for scanning provides these key words in order to 'maximize hits' for the best-qualified applicants," explains Kathryn Troutman. In other words, don't just write, 'Directly supervise 12 employees.' Instead write, 'Directly supervise 12 Customer Service Representatives entailing training on computer system, troubleshooting, scheduling to meet peak demands, and maintaining employee records.'" In order to find the key--or "buzz"--words of your industry, Ms. Troutman suggests, read the "want ads" in the newspaper. Find 5-10 ads for your field; look for phrases used over and over again. Use these words or phrases in your resume. And what if you don't have all the skills the ads are calling for? "Get them," says Ms. Troutman.

A great resume for 1999 always includes details of your abilities with computers, Ms. Troutman adds. Don't just write: "Skilled in use of PCs with WordPerfect." "That's not good enough in this computer-driven job market," Ms. Troutman observes. "Write about your level of skill in each major program. A secretary, for example, can write, 'Proficient with WordPerfect 6.0, including graphs, charts for presentations, as well as word processing and file management; act as office LAN administrator for 15 management and secretary staff; install software upgrades and provide user training and support." For those looking for a federal job, Ms. Troutman notes, the former Form 171 has been replaced by the new Federal Resume, a 2-4 page document which includes "security details" such as social security number, citizenship, addresses of employers, and other details not usually required by private industry employers. Indeed, within private industry, says Nancy Leaderman, job-seekers are leaving out personal information that was once considered standard on a resume--age, health status, marital status, and the like. "Both employers and employees are more sensitive to the appearance of bias," Ms. Leaderman observes in explaining this current trend.

Just how long should a resume be? "That's a judgement call," says Ms. Leaderman. "If you can get all the information on one page, fine, but that's not always the case, especially if you have at least 10-15 years' experience, or a list of publications you've written. . .if you need more room to get all your skills in, then go to two pages." The length of the resume might also depend on the format you use--chronological or functional. A chronological resume-which works best for most people--emphasizes employment dates and perhaps increases in responsibility over time. A functional resume, on the other hand, places less importance on dates and more on the skills gathered through the years. A functional resume can work best, says Ms. Leaderman, for career shifters, those with an inconsistent work history, and those who may be a bit older than the average job-seeker but don't want to call attention to the fact. Some people may, in fact, have both a functional and a chronological resume, or even several different versions of the same resume, highlighting different objectives and different skills. "The purpose a resume serves varies from industry to industry," Ms. Leaderman remarks. "In sales, for instance, just a brief resume can often get you an interview; in other fields, a more detailed resume is the only way to get your foot in the door."

After completing your resume, don't overlook other job-seeking tools such as cover letters and thank-you notes, says Ms. Leaderman. In your cover letter, she advises, respond to what an individual ad has listed; be as specific as possible. "Go beyond the qualifications," Ms. Leaderman stresses. "Make yourself stand out from the others." And don't forget thank-you notes-- for referrals, for interviews, even for jobs you wind up not getting. "You never know when something else will open up," says Ms. Leaderman.

One final thought says Kathryn Troutman--"If you're not excited about your resume, no one else will be either."

Written By: Carol Sorgen