In times like these, with more applicants vying for available jobs, you can rightly assume that the competition is fierce. If you want to stand out, you've got to create a resume that is, well, flawless. To help you out, we've compiled these Ten Commandments: the unbreakable truths of writing a resume that gets you the interview. (For tips on what not to do, see Top 8 Ways To Get Your Resume Thrown Out.)
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- Thou shalt not assume that good enough is enough.
You may have extensive experience and awe-inspiring expertise, but if you don't highlight those qualities by creating a sharp, finely tuned, error-free resume, you're going to come across as average. That other guy who has five fewer years of experience, but who polished his resume to reflective quality, will be seen as more interesting, more relevant, and thus, more qualified. Be hungry, be creative, and be willing to put in some time on your resume to make it pitch perfect.
- Thou shalt include an initial sales pitch at the very beginning of your resume.
What is a resume, after all, but an advertisement of you? If you don't give potential employers a reason to hire you, guess what? They won't.
Open up with a brief, "see how awesome I am" summary of your professional knowledge, skills, and abilities. According to Jason Ferrara of CareerBuilder.com, the first thing to do to improve a less-than-perfect resume is to include this initial summary, which gives hiring managers a quick way to compare your skills with the available job. Don't make them hunt for this information by burying it beneath a two-paragraph autobiography. If they don't quickly see what they need to know about you, your resume goes on the "rejected" stack.
- Thou shalt not include your flyfishing skills on your resume.
You may think you've learned invaluable work lessons from your time casting the line over the peaceful river, but your potential employers will see only one relevant piece of information: you don't know how to differentiate between your personal and professional life. Not good news when you're simply one of many, and even if you're qualified, this inability to separate hobby from professional skill makes you seem like a risk for employers. And those employers have other, non-risky applicants to consider.
If you must, include an "Additional Interests" section at the bottom of your resume, and feel free to include your fly-fishing, tango-twirling, Pez-collecting, and kung fu-fighting skills here.
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- Thou shalt use numbers to show how you meet deadlines and improve the company's bottom line.
One of the most basic rules of general writing is invaluable when applied to your resume: always choose specific over general. On a resume, the best way to get indisputably specific is with numbers. Numbers show, in hard data, how you met deadlines, saved money, and improved your company's performance, sales, and bottom line. So instead of putting down a generic description such as "Produced B2B newsletter to increase sales," put down "Produced a bi-monthly B2B newsletter which increased sales by 5% in the first quarter."
- Thou shalt not elaborate upon outdated work experience.
Potential employers are looking for information and experience you've had in the last decade or so, not in your entire life and work history. If you've had a long career and a lot of experience, include a brief summary (one or two lines) for work that dates past fifteen years old. Expound in more detail upon your more recent job history. Spending too much time on ancient (work) history is like waving a red flag that says, "I haven't done anything worth mentioning in the last 10 years, so let's skip that." (For more, check out 10 Resume Red Flags.)
- Thou shalt not include 1990s business speak.
Talk like a human, says Liz Ryan, a workplace and employment expert with Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Too many applicants are afraid of saying the wrong thing, so they copy and paste from "great sample resumes" they find online and end up with business jargon that sounds robotic instead of real.
Here's a tip: if you can't quickly define a word you're using, don't use it. Choose simpler, shorter, and more concrete terms over fancy business jargon. Words like "synergistic" and "multi-faceted" should make you cringe because that's the effect they'll have on the folks looking over your resume. (To learn more, check out 10 Phrases You Should Ban From Your Resume.)
- Thou shalt not include irrelevant or unprofessional social media links.
In some jobs more than others, social media proficiency is important; and to appear modern and relevant, you want to be in the know when it comes to social networking. That's great, and it's certainly nice to include, say, a link to a polished Linkedin profile on your resume, but including your neglected Twitter account or personal Facebook page? Just don't do it. Only include social media links if they are 1) related directly to your job/professional experience and 2) polished and updated. (Learn more in 4 Career Networking Tips That Work.)
- Thou shalt include specific accomplishments.
Talk about your specific accomplishments over general responsibilities and tasks. Why? Because anyone can figure out the basic tasks you've had, just by reading your former job titles. Repeating what people already know (or can easily figure out) equals boredom... and there goes your resume, into the toss pile. Instead, skip the pointless repetition and highlight the specific accomplishments that fell within those tasks. This shows potential employers something much more important: exactly how you handled the responsibilities you did have, and how they can expect you to perform under their employ.
- Thou shalt not get fancy with the format.
Make the content of your resume shine, but do so by what you say, not how you format it. Stick to standard fonts, basic heading sizes, and, for the love of all things employable, don't use graphics or colored text. Anywhere. The single (possible) exception to this rule exists for those who are in a field such as graphic design, in which showcasing your amazing design skills could help you land a job; even here, though, using your resume to show off is iffy territory. Better to showcase your skill with a great portfolio, and keep things streamlined, simple and professional on your resume.
- Thou shalt review thy final draft with the eagle eye of an old-school editor.
Two things your resume should never include? Misspelled words and grammatical errors. Failing to catch even minor punctuation errors sends an unintended message that you are either too careless or too lazy to read your own resume before sending it out. If you're not strong on spelling, grammar and punctuation, find someone who is and beg, bargain or barter to get a thorough proof of your document. If you don't know anyone, scout freelance writing sites, put up an ad, and spend a little money to get a professional proof before you send out your resume.
The Bottom Line
Don't be overwhelmed at the thought of revamping your resume; take what you have and go through it, one rule at a time, until you've weeded out the unnecessary and polished up the pertinent. Then, go forth and conquer.
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