Perfect your Résumé

August 4, 2009

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In today's job market, having the right qualifications may not be enough to land a position. Crafting an effective résumé significantly increases the odds of getting your foot in the door.

A résumé is arguably the most important part of a job application, offering a direct statement of a candidate's skills, experience and career trajectory. But a résumé is far more than a list of accomplishments, as it also represents an applicant's professionalism and showcases commitment. Crafting a well-worded, polished and engaging résumé is therefore the best way to impress an employer and, hopefully, secure the desired job.

Having a stand-out résumé is more important now than ever, as today's job market is yielding stiff competition among applicants. According to a CareerBuilder.com survey, approximately one out of four human resources managers receive an average of more than 75 résumés for every open position listed, while 42 percent of managers say they are given 50 or more résumés for each open spot.

If having a 1-in-75 chance of landing the job doesn't seem challenging enough, 38 percent of HR professionals claim they spend only one to two minutes examining a résumé, while 17 percent report using less than a minute for their evaluations.

The tiny window of opportunity granted each résumé means the language, format and conciseness have to be as close to flawless as possible. Although there's no single, precise definition of a perfect résumé, there are a number of common issues to look out for.

For example, typos are one of the most frequent reasons for rejection. In a recent survey conducted by Accountemps, a temporary staffing firm, 76 percent of hiring executives said that only one or two typos in a résumé would rule out a candidate from consideration, while 40 percent said a single typo would be grounds for rejection.

Typos are easy to make and a spell-check program doesn't necessarily catch them all. This makes it vital for a candidate to carefully read over a résumé, or even read it out loud, before submitting it. Resumania offers a list of some of the more flagrant (and humorous) mistakes that slip past first notice, including "attended collage courses" and listing an address in "Phoenix, Arizoner."

The way a résumé is organized plays another important role in the assessment process. ComputerWorld cites the following résumé formats commonly seen today:

  • Chronological — A chronological résumé is the most common form, listing the most recent positions first, along with pertinent responsibilities and achievements. It is simple and easy to read, allowing hiring managers to form a quick impression of a candidate's suitability. However, as ComputerWorld warns, "This format also could put you at a disadvantage if you have sizable gaps in your work history, or if you have short stints at several employers."
  • Functional — A functional résumé avoids job titles and employer names in favor of specific skills and attributes that might not be clearly conveyed in a chronological format. It is helpful if a candidate's employment history does not directly match the job's requirements, but "[k]eep in mind that many hiring managers view functional résumés with suspicion because there is limited information about a candidate's specific work experience." Needless to say, a cover letter and references are crucial supplements for a functional résumé.
  • Combination — A combination résumé incorporates some aspects from both functional and chronological styles, highlighting specific skills while providing an abridged employment history. "The combination format may be the best choice if your employment history is impressive but doesn't obviously relate to the position you're seeking."

Most employers don't provide their preferences for a résumé, leaving many of the actual writing and formatting decisions to the candidate. However, there are some general guidelines that may be helpful in the process. Monster.com offers a checklist for determining how your résumé will be received, which includes the following tips:

  • Is the résumé inviting to read, with clear sections and ample white space?
  • Does the design look professional rather than like a simple typing job?
  • Are there design elements such as bullets, bolding and lines to guide readers' eyes through the document and highlight important content?
  • Are design elements like spacing and font size used consistently throughout the document?
  • Are sections placed in the best order to highlight the applicant's strongest credentials?
  • Is the résumé targeted to a specific career goal and not trying to be a one-size-fits-all document?
  • Are accomplishments quantified by using numbers, percentages, dollar amounts or other concrete measures of success?
  • Is the information relevant to hiring managers' needs?
  • Is the résumé as perfect as possible, with no careless typos or spelling, grammar or syntax errors?

A successful résumé normally leads to an interview, where personality and a candidate's ability to explain his or her qualifications may overcome some of the hurdles to employment. However, other opportunities, such as job fairs, can provide a quicker way to meet face-to-face. Regardless, having a strong and coherent résumé is a necessity for any committed job-seeker.

Earlier

How to Craft an Effective Cover Letter

Seal the Deal with References

Be More Than a Face in the Crowd

Resources

Companies Receive More than 75 Resumes on Average for their Open Positions CareerBuilder.com, March 11, 2009

"Have a Keen Eye for Derail": One Resume Error Can Ruin Employment Prospects Accountemps, July 14, 2009

Resumania Robert Half International, 2009

Structure Your Résumé for Success by Dave Willmer ComputerWorld (IDG News Service), July 21, 2009

Résumé Critique Checklist by Kim Isaacs Monster.com, 2009

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