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This chapter is from the book

This chapter is from the book

Résumé Basics

I've created a pattern for résumés that I've found to be effective. It conveys, in a succinct way, the key elements that are important to the prospective employer. Keep in mind the points described in the next sections as you prepare your résumé.

Length: Brevity Is Key

Taking into account that your résumé will be reviewed by someone who is too busy and generally disinterested in the task, your résumé should be brief. In fact, it should be one to two pages in length, even at the executive level. That does not mean that you cannot have a more detailed and longer résumé. But the fact remains that at first glance, your ability to summarize your most important skills and professional experience on a couple of pages will serve you well.

Remember your audience. At best, this person is too busy to review the stack of résumés on his desk. He might do so begrudgingly. Reviewing résumés takes away from the current productivity of the employer's day-to-day job. Your brevity will be greatly appreciated. If your core skills and important accomplishments are properly summarized, the employer who is reviewing your résumé will be able to determine whether more information or further dialogue is warranted.

The objective of your résumé is to interest someone enough to call you for an interview, not to give a biographical accounting of your entire career. The employer is looking for someone to fill some role, solve some problem, or bring some key skills into the organization. A one-page résumé should succinctly convey your ability and fulfill those objectives. You can use your cover letter to elaborate on why your résumé is short by framing it in the context of consideration for the employer's busy schedule. And you will, of course, explain how a more detailed professional summary or résumé is available if needed.

For now, though, suffice it to say that the résumé constructed in the sections that follow will be short and follow a predictable layout and pattern.

No Paragraphs

Remember your potential audience. This person is busy. He is charged with finding someone who can fill a role, solve a problem, or bring key skills to the organization. Forcing him to sift through a dissertation of past experience to find that word or phrase that identifies how you fit the company's need is the proverbial kiss of death.

Bulleted Lists

You can break down skills into logical groupings, comma separated and organized in bulleted lists. Prioritize these groups as follows:

  1. Skills
  2. Experience
  3. Education and accolades

The single most important item you can provide the person who is reviewing your résumé is an overview of the skills you bring to the table.

For example, you might provide the following:

  • Professional Skills:

    • Programming— Visual Basic, C++, FoxPro, SQL Server, Active Server Pages (VBScript), JavaScript
    • Network administration— Windows 2000 Server, NT 4.0, Exchange Server, basic UNIX
    • Managerial— Project management, strong written and verbal communications, effective presentation skills

Documenting Your Professional Experience

When you're building your list of professional experience, continue using the bulleted list format. Action words are certainly helpful if they correctly convey the message. More important is that your professional experience relates back to your skills list at the top of your résumé.

In effect, you are going to show the employer how you put those skills in your list to work. He should see the skills at the top of the list and then see a short description of how you used those skills at your last company or job.

Even if you are new to the field and the work was primarily lab work, include it. The employer wants to see that you have not simply learned about key skills, but that you have used them in some functional way.

Here's the formula: Show what you know (your skills list), and show how it's relevant (your professional experience).

A Note About Certifications/Degrees on Your Résumé

I don't believe you should place your certifications after your name. It is presumptuous to pretend that your latest certification is the equivalent to someone who has spent 4–7 years pursuing a Ph.D. or some other advanced degree. Instead, place your certifications or degrees in a section titled Education and Certifications. A master's degree might be the exception to this rule.

Guidelines for Writing Your Résumé

Following are some guidelines to follow when constructing your résumé :

  • No special groups or unrelated awards— I know that the tendency of newer job seekers is to list awards received on their résumé. Remember: I am seeking brevity and relevance. Unless you have reason to believe that the person who is reading your résumé has some personal connection to this fact about you, leave it off.
  • Honesty— Don't pad your experience. However, do emphasize relevant experience. For example, if you worked for a small business answering phones and handled the company's three-computer network when you weren't busy, I would place the computer experience first.
  • Objective— You don't necessarily need to include an objective. I know this contradicts many popular notions. However, you don't want to limit your exposure for a particular job.An objective can pin you into a specific type of function and cause the employer to overlook you for other positions. Remember that opportunity is best found while working. You are exposed to many more people and projects. Therefore, your first priority during the job search is to get exposed to companies and opportunities through interviews and ultimately the work environment.
  • Neat— Layout is important. Remember: The person who is reviewing your résumé is both pressed for time and looking for specific key words. A neat, laid out résumé makes browsing for information easier and more accessible.
  • Error free— Review your résumé for errors in spelling, grammar, and usage (for example, "know" versus "no"). You can have all the skills necessary for a given job, but if your résumé contains numerous errors, the employer will question your competency.
  • Experience— Your summary of experience does not necessarily have to include every employer for the past 20 years. In fact, you should include only those jobs that have pertinent experience.

If you are new to the industry, include one or two prior jobs and highlight administrative and organization tasks over nontechnical industry-specific skills. For example, if you were previously in the construction field, do not highlight your building skills. Instead, highlight your ability to work with other professionals in the industry, to organize project plans, or other skills that have broader application.

The CD-ROM that accompanies this book provides some sample résumés for you to review. You can find hundreds of books on writing a good résumé. Many of them propose a different résumé style for different jobs. I am a pragmatic minimalist, though. Although you might emphasize different skills for different jobs, I believe, in most cases, a single, brief résumé can do the job.

If you are working with a career advisor or have received feedback that contradicts this notion, please adjust your résumé per that individual's feedback. I am covering guidelines and ideas that have worked well for me and for other professionals, but I also understand that under specific circumstances, variations are necessary. A career advisor or recruiter might have specific knowledge about an opportunity that you are pursuing, and I would heed that person's advice.

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