For the first time since the recession, the national unemployment rate declined – from 10% in December, 2009 to an adjusted rate of 9.7% in January. That's the good news. The bad news is that the economy is still losing jobs – 20,000 more jobs were lost in January. If that leaves you looking for work, you're likely to find some fairly stiff competition. But if your resume looks thin on paper, don't despair - there's still a way to spin things so that your future employer calls you back for that all-important second interview. Take a look at the following before and after examples of work experience, to see what a dramatic difference a little wording can make. (Find out how professional resume writers can help you land a coveted career, in Resume Scribes Seal The Deal.)

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  • Before: Answered phones, made copies, filed, sorted incoming mail.
  • After: Coordinated communication between outside clients, vendors and partners with department staff; created and managed system to prioritize and improve information flow resulting in improved department efficiency and employee satisfaction.

The "after" version of this secretary's work experience more accurately captures not only what she does on a regular basis, but also gives the potential employer an idea of how her work directly benefited her boss and department. The applicant's choice of words (prioritize and improve) also implies her understanding of the importance of the job being done well - something for which every hiring manager looks! (Even in a recession, investment banks are seeking new talent. Learn what will set you apart from the crowd, in Getting An Investment Bank Job During A Recession.)

Mailroom Assistant

  • Before: Received and sorted mail from mailman for company employees.
  • After: Efficiently processed incoming correspondence for entire company; met regularly with manager for customer service assignments; worked directly with outside corporate partners; improved overall efficiency of corporate mailroom.

The makeover on this resume makes the mailroom seem like much more important previous work experience than you would have guessed by looking at the title alone. The applicant does a better job of capturing the broad effect of his job ("...for entire company") and demonstrates his capability to contribute to overall corporate goals (efficiency) within his work area and sphere of influence. (Read about some of the most glamorous Wall Street jobs - and what it takes to land one - in Making It Big On Wall Street.)

Grocery Store Stock Worker

  • Before: Stocked shelves
  • After: Efficiently managed retail sale product display and assisted with customer fulfillment to ensure satisfaction; improved sales by maintaining appropriate inventory and advising customers about store promotions; advised staff and management about potential inventory issues.

The "after" makeover on this resume's work experience section tells a potential employer that the applicant took his last job seriously. It demonstrates that he saw the importance of his work in relation to the rest of the store's operations, that he contributed directly to sales and customer service and that he took the initiative to raise potential problems to upper-level management. All of those attributes easily cut across job lines and make the applicant a more valuable potential employee for a wide variety of other positions. (Retail grocers are no longer a homogeneous group selling products in the same manner. Find out how to evaluate these companies, in Evaluating Grocery Store Stocks.)

Landscaping Worker

  • Before: Mowed and edged lawns.
  • After: Worked directly with project manager to implement daily plans and schedules for ground maintenance to meet customer expectations; recommended potential improvements for customer properties regarding planting, fertilizing and mowing; operated power tools and maintained both hand tools and large equipment.

This resume re-do shows how the job actually entailed more than just manual labor but also interpersonal skills, communication skills and collaboration with a superior to meet an organizational goal (customer satisfaction). In addition, providing more detail about the type of work (operated power tools, maintained both hand tools and large equipment) would be more helpful to a hiring manager if the newly-sought position also entails similar work. (From lawn care to summer fairs, expenses can skyrocket if you're not paying attention. Find out how to keep them under control, in Save Money On Summer Bills.)

Daycare Provider

  • Before: Watched six children ages seven months to two years old.
  • After: Performed a wide variety of tasks to promote healthy child development and ensure child safety and security; monitored children's play and provided wide variety of age-appropriate activities; prepared healthy food and refreshments on regular schedule; maintained accurate records of children's personal habits and activities; reported daily routines, incidents and activities to parents; wrote contracts and managed monthly client billing.

This work experience overhaul would set apart any job applicant from competitors with a similar background. It gives a better idea of the intricacies of the position (i.e. record-keeping, billing, etc.) and the high value the worker placed on her work ("ensured child safety and security", "promote healthy child development"). The makeover also shows how the applicant took the initiative to regularly communicate with her clients (in this case parents), which is typically a highly-desired trait when evaluating potential employees. (This little member of your family will be a big expense. Find out what you need to budget for and how to save, in Budgeting For A New Baby.)

It's a rough job market out there. While you should never lie about your previous experience, you should give yourself the credit you deserve. You may not have had any of these specific jobs, but each example provides strategies you can adapt for your personal experiences. Put that creative thinking cap on and tweak your resume to market yourself in a way that sets you apart from the pack - or at least make a hiring manager's day with a good laugh!

Still feeling uninformed? Check out last week's Water Cooler Finance to see what's been happening in financial news.

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