Top Secrets of Resume Writing

By Steven Provenzano, CPRW

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These days, job hunters downplay their resume as a piece of paper that usually doesn't work. Maybe you're one of those who believes, "My resume isn't perfect, but I'll explain myself in the interview."

But there's the catch: You may not get the interview for no other reason than your resume, which often gives employers their first impression of your professional standards and talents.

Even topflight executives can have trouble writing a decent resume. They're not sure how to make the link between what they really want to DO in their next job with the needs of potential employers.

An effective job hunt means having a complete, professional job search strategy, and your resume must be a key part of that strategy.

Rather than try to explain (yet again) all the ins, outs, and details of effective resume writing in this brief article, here are a few Key Factors and philosophies I've developed and used with great success over the past 15 years. These Key Factors help explain why most (possibly yours) resumes fail, and how you can really stand above the crowd and get noticed. When you implement these ideas in the next update of your resume, you will almost certainly have better success in getting more interviews.

First and Foremost: Tell Employers What They Really Want to Know!

Look at the hiring process from the employer's point of view. There you are with a stack of resumes on your desk and a job to fill, right now. You've got some key requirements that candidates must meet before you'll even consider calling them in for an interview. All you want to know from each person "sitting" on your desk is: What can you do for me? How can you fill this job effectively? Why should I talk to you? So you start reading resumes and you see the same old stuff employers have been getting for decades: page after page of job descriptions, A.K.A. Chronological resumes.

But wait a minute. As an employer, I want to see what you can do for me, but all you're telling me is what you've done for someone else. Of course this is important, and I need to review your previous work experience and accomplishments. But does all this really apply to my situation? Of course not, and I really don't have time to read 10 or 20 years of your work history before I decide to call you in.

This is why purely Chronological resumes, for the most part, are on the way out, and why the next Key Factor is so important:

Consistently Market Your Skills and Abilities

Take a moment and really think about what this means. Does your current resume really market your most applicable skills and abilities, or is it a listing of your past? You must extract your most applicable skills and abilities from your past work experience and sell them at the very top of your resume in a summary section, titled PROFILE or EXPERIENCE. Driving home this point are two top recruiters at Motorola headquarters in Schaumburg, IL.

Billy Dexter is Manager of University Relations and Rodney Gee is Manager of Staffing for the Land Mobile Products Sector. This sector is one of six in the company, and each sector can get up to 600 resumes per week from executives, professionals, and new graduates. "I have 900 resumes on my desk right now," said Gee.

"A resume must be clear and tell us what you really want to do. Lead us in the direction you want to go," they said during a conference call.

"We don't have much time to look at a resume, so it must have structure and consistency" said Dexter. "If a resume is too broad, we'll pass it over. Tell us about special projects, skill sets, computer languages, leadership activities, people or team leading skills, and types of things outside the classroom. If I have to search through a resume for these items, I probably won't read it." Your Summary gives you control over your resume, and lets you focus on these key points.

Although you may have heard otherwise, an Objective on your resume can be very useful when targeted and concise, but leave it out if you're afraid it may block you from certain positions. In that case, give the reader a focus with the first points of your summary. If you do use an Objective, make sure that it quickly defines what you're looking for in one or two sentences. It's important to note that unlike a Functional resume, the Summary section in a Combination resume is not really about previous jobs, but rather develops those skills and abilities you believe are most important and relevant to the position you're seeking right now. Your skills must be isolated and sold to the reader, whether they were acquired through work, school or volunteer work isn't discussed in this section.

This is the heart of a Combination resume format. It combines a modified Functional (ability/skill) resume with a Chronological (job listing) resume. This gives you a two-pronged approach, and the best of both worlds. Your job descriptions substantiate your abilities on top.

If this sounds easy, it is. But it only works if you use clear, concise language describing tangible, no-nonsense skills: "Skilled in payroll processing, audits, and inventory control... "Effectively hire, train, and supervise staff in... "Plan and implement strategies for capital investment; assist in mergers, acquisitions, and financial planning... "Proficient in COBOL, C++, AS 400, and Lotus... "Experience in long and short-term strategic planning..." And so on.

Always steer clear of using fluff words in your summary such as "Self-motivated, hands-on professional with an excellent track record of..." Let's face it. The first two items in this sentence could be said about almost anyone. As for your track record, let the employer decide if it's excellent by reading about your abilities (on top) and your duties and accomplishments (under the Employment section). Avoid the ubiquitous (and space-filling) "References Available Upon Request" at the bottom of your resume. If employers really want your references, they'll ask. When conducting a confidential job search, consider "CONFIDENTIAL RESUME" at the top of your resume, and/or stating this in your cover letter. Always respect the reader's intelligence!

"Predigest" Your Information

Employers really don't want to think when they're reading resumes. Why trust an employer to study your entire work history and hope they find something interesting? Most resumes get only a few short seconds to grab the reader's attention.

Research the company's brochure, annual report and job advertisement, if any, and tailor your resume as much as possible to the position.

If you have a Chronological resume, no matter how well it's written, it's still a listing of your past, and therefore not job specific or future-oriented. Your resume must be a brief advertisement. How many resumes are actually written along these lines? Very few.

Some Final Thoughts

Although personal networking is the best way to get a job, having an excellent resume is another way, often just by itself, to get an interview which can lead to a job.

Of course, a brief cover letter should be targeted to the hiring authority whenever possible. Tell the reader what you know about their operation, and why you want to work specifically for his/her company. Make them feel like they're the only person getting your resume. Be sure to check the tips on correct resume use below the quotes at the end of this page.

When treated as a genuine writing project and not just something you "put together," your resume becomes a professional advertisement and really can get you more, high-quality interviews. It can also save you time, money, and frustration. Consider this: a resume that's only slightly more effective than the one you have now could help you get a job weeks, or even months sooner than your old resume.

Your resume is your life, your career on paper. Isn't it worth doing right?

Steven Provenzano is a Certified Professional Resume Writer/CPRW and author of six books including Top Secret Executive Resumes. Featured on CNBC, CNN/fn, NBC, ABC, Chicago Tribune, he is President of A-Advanced Resumes, Inc. which provides resume writing and a free resume analysis via Phone: 630/289-1999.

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