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Nine Tips for Better Resumes


  1. Know your prospective employer’s needs. The best way to convince an executive to offer you a job (next to being the CEO’s golf partner!) is to understand the organization’s needs — its past, its present problems and opportunities, and its future plans. Before starting your resume, you should learn as much as possible about every organization you hope to interview with. With a little effort, you can learn a lot about even the most closely held firms. First, customize your resume to reflect the aspects of your background that are most relevant to each organization you target. Then craft a cover letter that wows the employer with your specific knowledge of their needs and goals.

  2. Know the position. Generic resumes are sometimes appropriate — for example, when sending a general inquiry to an executive recruiter announcing your availability. Still, the best resumes focus on a specific position and are customized to address it. Behind every job description is a set of clearly discernible employer needs. Without copying the language of the job description verbatim, you must make sure that your resume addresses those needs, from identifying the job skills and accomplishments most relevant to the position to including the right industry buzzwords and "keywords."

  3. Know yourself — your skills and your accomplishments. What skills are you particularly good at? What accomplishments are you proudest of? What have you achieved that gained you the most recognition? Interview yourself and inventory your previous jobs, the skills you acquired, and your "greatest hits" as a professional — the times when you impacted your organization the most. Look through your formal performance reviews for glowing appraisals, scan your work files for successes you may have forgotten about, or keep a personal career folder where you keep track of new skills you’ve learned or the comments of happy customers.

  4. Be concrete, specific, quantitative. Don’t say "Developed e-commerce plan that was selected for implementation" when you mean "Designed $5 million e-commerce strategy that increased revenues by 12 percent and attracted six new clients." If you work for a private company and can’t disclose revenue figures, refer to percentage increases or improvements or cite the improved industry ranking of the organization’s product or performance as a result of your contribution. Think of numbers and other hard details as the proof that you can deliver.

  5. Know your negatives. The vast majority of us have screwed up once or twice in our careers: been downsized, locked in a dead-end job, or just failed to work to our full potential for a time. You can’t lie about these career plateaus (see Tip No. 7) but you can present them in the best possible light so you have the chance to explain them fully if they come up during the interview. It all starts with your resume. With the right strategy you can deal with everything from typecasting and job-hopping to limited experience and unemployment.

  6. Don’t lie. Making up degrees, accomplishments, and other personal and professional facts is always a bad idea. Don’t do it — it’s unethical and potentially self-destructive. Employers won’t hesitate to show employees the door when they learn their resume is more fiction than fact. But even less brazen forms of dishonesty should stay far from your resume. For example, if you were one of six members of a team of managers with equal rank and responsibility, don’t say you "Served as lead of six-member management team.

  7. Focus on the employer. No matter how tempting, don’t get too carried away pointing out your brilliant accomplishments. Remember that the bottom line is convincing the employer that your real concern is helping them. Use your resume to shown them you are a team-playing, organization-oriented individual. For example, always make clear how an achievement benefited the organization you worked for, and if appropriate to your background, be sure to salt your resume with good cooperation-laden verbs like assist, contribute, support, or provide.

  8. Be strategically creative. No, we don’t mean using DayGlo ink or faux marble resume paper. We do mean bringing to the preparation of your resume the same capacity for thinking outside the box that you bring to your career. For example, if the traditional chronological resume will bury your best material near the bottom, consider using a "functional" resume format or even a combination of the chronological and the functional. Similarly, if you paid for your entire college education, add a line mentioning this in your resume’s education section. Want to let the employer know that you’re from a minority group without committing the no-no of adding a personal data section? Add a memberships section to your resume and include the name of community organizations (for example, "South Asian Business Alliance of Ohio") you belong to so employers know what groups you identify with.

  9. Use design elements to enhance your resume. The skillful use of understated design elements can result in an eye-catching resume that projects a sophisticated, successful image. These elements can be uncomplicated, such as using white space generously or replacing the traditional round bullet with the less common diamond- and arrow-shaped bullet. Or they can be more complex, such as using expanded text (kerning) to highlight a key term or enclosing the professional profile section of your resume in a shaded box. Naturally, applicants for positions in management or traditional industries will want to stick with conservative typefaces and avoid "flashy" visual elements.

For more specific suggestions and examples, see our "Do’s and Don’ts" and review the sample resumes and cover letter.

Or, better yet, if you’re not sure how to develop a comprehensive profile or you’re too busy achieving to do damage control on a negative, call an Accepted.com editor. Let professionals highlight your professionalism. We’ll be glad to help. Because you’re outstanding — shouldn’t your resume be?

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