Coming up with a resume that makes jaded HR people sit up and take notice isn’t as difficult as it sounds. The trick is to make sure it’s worthwhile reading anytime.
How to come up with a resume that works–now there’s a dilemma shared by fresh graduates and working stiffs alike. What exactly do you put in and leave out to convince the HR manager that you will be a wise addition to their company ranks? It’s a tough set of decisions to make, akin to those you make when going on a blind date: You worry yourself sick over what to wear, what perfume to use, what to say to make the other person like you.
Writing resumes is, after all, fundamentally a marketing act. It’s a way to advertise yourself and stand out in the marketplace crowd of similarly competent, qualified workers.
Forget about being modest. As career specialist J. Michael Farr, writing in the online magazine VidBook.com, says, “Your resume is no place to be humble.”
How then do you design yours so that it comes off not as a pompous recitation of accomplishments the way a politician may do his, but as a compelling summary of your most attractive qualities?
Remember what your resume is not for: It’s not meant to get you a job. Not yet, anyway. Its mission is to get you a job interview–which would hopefully lead to a job offer. But think of that as a long-term goal. First, your resume should be able to get your foot in the door by attracting the reader’s attention enough to wangle an invitation for that first big look-see.
HR practitioners thumb through countless resumes in the course of their work. How do you make yours so fetching it warrants a face-to-face encounter?
Here’s a 13–step guide to constructing a professional resume that gets your foot in that all-important door.
Gather your materials. Begin by putting everything down on paper–contact details, work history and accomplishments, academic background, seminars attended, honors received, skills and proficiencies, personal details, etc. Don’t worry about organizing them at this point; just make sure you don’t leave out anything major, substantial, or relevant.
Pay particular attention to dates and places–say, periods of employment–as mistakes in these areas may leave an impression of sloppiness, or worse, fudging on your part.
Start with your name and contact details. Your contact information should come right at the top of the resume after your name for easy and convenient reference by the reader. Include all possible contact details: postal address, landline and mobile phone numbers, fax numbers, and e-mail address. The last one is particularly important, because in these tech-savvy times, an email address shows that you are, at the very least, computer literate.
State a job objective. A well-developed job objective statement “can be a useful way of demonstrating yourself to be a focused individual,” says VirtualResume.com, an online job placement company. If you’re responding to an advertisement, your job objective can be as simple as the position title (e.g., “Finance Manager”).
But if you’re aiming to keep your options open for other positions within a broad range of expertise, you can write a more general description of the work and corporate environment you want to focus on (e.g., “To apply my extensive experience in finance and administration to senior management positions in a highly motivated, forward-looking multicultural company”).
Beware of generic objectives such as “employment in a position commensurate to my qualifications” or “to secure a regular position.”
Write a brief summary of qualifications. Cynthia Buiza, an HR and corporate communications officer at a Thailand-based NGO, says she appreciates resumes that provide upfront a concise summary of the applicant’s qualifications.
“I get the impression that the applicant knows his strengths very well, but more importantly, that he can help me evaluate his credentials in a paragraph or so.” Such small gestures of consideration, she says, go a long way toward distinguishing a thoughtful resume from the run-of-the-mill.
Your summary of qualifications should include:
- number of years of professional experience
- areas of expertise and career highlights (e.g., “at 26, youngest officer promoted to manager in bank history”)
- unique skills and competencies (e.g., “part-time financials instructor at the SAP Academy”)
- other information underlining your particular qualifications for the job
The summary’s task is to make your credentials a cut above the rest. But make it brief; two or three sentences should do.
Lead with your professional experience. Unless you are a new graduate, you should begin the body of your resume with an outline of your employment history, starting with your most recent work. List down all the jobs you’ve had, the company names, dates of employment, titles and responsibilities.
“Don’t censor this list; include everything,” advises VidBook.com. A fairly straightforward rundown of your professional experience emphasizes a strong and consistent work history.
A choppy one, on the other hand, where you jump from one company to another within fairly short periods, or have unaccounted pockets of unemployment, will inevitably lead to questions about your work ethic, your sense of stability, company loyalty, etc. That’s why it’s best not to leave a gap. Account for everything, even for time spent outside of professional work (e.g., “1990-1993—Full-time parent,” or “1998-1999–Study and travel”).
Highlight concrete achievements. When you describe your professional experience, don’t just enumerate your job responsibilities. A comprehensive job description will only pad up your resume; save it for the interview. Instead, emphasize any major accomplishments you had chalked up in the job. Use numbers, figures, percentages if possible.
At the September 1994 Professional Association of Resume Writers’ Annual Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, USA (yes, there is such a thing), invited HR panelists were one in saying they searched for certain key words and phrases that provided a barometer of a potential candidate’s qualifications. These words were active verbs that described the applicant as a results-oriented, dynamic individual, such as “accomplish, achieve, analyze, delegate, establish.”
In other words, describe your job in the active, not the passive, voice. Why say, for instance, “Directly responsible for coordinating community programs” when you can say “Managed community programs with P12-million annual budget, 4 employees, and 3 office branches; streamlined program operations, increasing revenues by 20% over a period of 3 months.”
Emphasize your educational preparedness. If you are a new graduate with no professional experience, lead with your academic background, honors, and extra-curricular activities. Don’t believe the fillip that grades don’t matter in the real world; in the beginning at least, they do.
As Fred Damian, HR partner of Ernst & Young-Manila, explains, potential employers understandably give hiring priority to young people who have more or less proven themselves in academic tasks and school-related activities. Positions of responsibility in extra-curricular and community organizations are also reliable indicators of leadership and social interaction skills, he says. Thus, make sure they’re all in your resume.
Leave off the negative points. If you made it to the dean’s list in the first semester of your first year and never made it again, it might be prudent not to include the details anymore. That is, unless you’re prepared to admit during the interview that after a glowing start, you sputtered to a lame finish. Your educational background should always be positive and purposeful, to encourage the thinking that you are well prepared for the rigors of the corporate world.
Include special skills and competencies. This is important, particularly in a highly competitive knowledge-based industry such as IT. In your resume, include the titles, dates, venues, and agenda of all your training activities and further education, whether formal or informal. Begin with the most relevant seminars. Be specific: don’t just say “assorted computer training,” when you can say “training in Visual Basic, SAP,” etc. If you are fluent in more than one language, mention that fact, too.
Either include references–or don’t mention them. There are two schools of thought on this: One says it’s necessary to include references. The other says this only lengthens the resume, and should therefore be available in another sheet of paper only upon request.
Damian, however, advises against using the standard “References available upon request” line. “It’s either you mention references, or none at all,” he says. “What’s the point of putting in a header for ‘References’ only to say ‘Available upon request?’” But if you do include references, include as well their complete contact details—especially telephone numbers and email addresses, and also the best time to get in touch with them.
Use personal details sparingly. In the US where job-discrimination laws are wide ranging and explicit, “a potential employer has no legal right to request information about age, sex, race, religion, marital status, health, physical appearance, or personal habits,” explains The Writing Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Such statutes have yet to find root locally, but it is best to leave out as much extraneous (read: personal) information as possible from your resume, to free up limited space. These include names and occupations of parents, hobbies and interests, birthplace, etc. Reserve them for the interview proper.
Be concise. Resumes are often read in 30 seconds or less so be brief, straightforward and to the point. Use bullet points to underscore important information. Employ paragraph breaks, lines, and numbers. A standard resume should be no more than two pages—three at most if you have extensive professional experience. Beyond that, your resume needs serious editing.
Proofread! There should be no typographical or spelling errors in your resume. When using numbers, re-check decimal places or the number of zeros. Punctuation and date formats should be consistent. For example, if you write “2 February 2000″ in one section, don’t write “March 5, 2000″ in another.
Make it an easy read. Your resume should also be visually appealing; a carelessly printed, sloppily designed resume will reflect disastrously on you. Thus, make it easy on the eye with lots of white spaces, a font no smaller than 10 in size, and at most two conservative typestyles (such as Times New Roman or Garamond). Underlined and bold text should be used sparingly–only to highlight significant information or to indicate section breaks.
Another crucial point: Use a laser printer. With cheap laser printing services available even in neighborhood computer shops nowadays, there is no excuse for jet ink-printed resumes, which easily smudge or run off. Make sure that the printing is even, with no stray marks, splotches or blurred letters.
Finally, use only high-quality bond paper–either white or off-white. Don’t experiment with flashy colors such as blue or green, or with fancy graphics and visuals; stick to the simple and straightforward.
One more suggestion: Once written up, show your resume to friends or colleagues. Listen to their comments and suggestions, especially on how easy or difficult it is to find important information at a glance. Then consider all that when rewriting the final draft of your masterpiece.
by Gibbs Cadiz