Your cover letter will be accompanied by a resume. A good resume will explain why you are qualified for a job, and provide a brief summary of your experience, education and skills. Just as companies use marketing to entice consumers to purchase their products, a good resume is your tool to persuade employers to interview you. This is the desired outcome - to land an interview so that you can show the prospective employer, in person, that you are a perfect fit. Your resume should show your strengths and accomplishments, and mirror the description of the job you want. If the description is "SEO manager," use "SEO manager" in your resume. The employer should not have to guess if you are qualified for the position. Creating a polished resume, and one that will attract an employer's attention, takes time, effort and (usually) multiple revisions. Keep in mind that a separate resume, catered to each specific position, might be needed for each job for which you are applying. Working on the resume in four steps can be helpful:

Compile
You will need to compile information about yourself including your previous positions (including dates of employment), job responsibilities and accomplishments, volunteer work, skills, education and activities/associations. Other personal information will include any licenses or certifications. In most cases, leave out information regarding your health, disability, marital status, age or ethnicity. It is illegal for most employers to inquire about these specifics and it is information you are usually not required to provide.

Format
There are three primary resume formats from which to choose, defined by the way your experience is presented. You should select the format that represents you in the most favorable way:

Chronological
The chronological resume is the most common, and lists work history starting with the most current and going back in time. For each position, list the title of the position you held, the name of the employer, the dates of employment or number of years working there, and pertinent accomplishments. Three to five statements describing how you excelled at each job is usually adequate, and the resume will look best if each job has a maximum of four lines of text beneath the title. Since a chronological resume focuses on dates and titles, it may not be the best choice to people with inconsistent or very brief work histories.

Functional
The functional resume focuses on skills rather than job titles. This format may be ideal for people who have a limited work history, or those who have work experience, though not necessarily in any position that relates to the job being sought. To write a functional resume, identify several skills that are required for the desired position and find examples in your work history to support those skills. A functional resume also includes a brief work history, listing only job titles, firm names and employment years.

Combination
Finally, the combination format unites the most favorable aspects of the chronological and functional formats, and features your history and skills. A combination format may start with a chronological listing of work experiences, and then expand each position into skill categories. Conversely, a combination format might be based on the functional format while stating the organization where the skills be utilized.

Style
A resume's style is its appearance: the font, design, length and the paper on which it is printed. First and foremost, the resume should be easy to read and navigate. If the font is too small or if it is disorganized or otherwise unreadable, it will likely end up in the "NO" pile. While it is good to write your resume in such a way that it stands out from the pile of hundreds or even thousands of applicants, you should not try to get noticed by using oddly-colored paper, unusual fonts and lots of graphics. Bullet points help employers scan for important facts, and white space (blank lines between sections) make the document easier to read. Use the same style throughout the resume, aiming for consistency. If one job title appears in italics, all job titles should be formatted the same way, and so forth. This is not only professional, but also make the entire resume easier to read.

In general, recent graduates or people new to the workforce can aim for a one-page resume. People with normal work histories may use two pages, and those with very lengthy or complicated histories may need three pages.

Proofread
In a tough job market, those who are tasked with combing through piles of resumes may jump at the chance to eliminate one from the stack. Having spelling mistakes and grammatical errors is one way to make sure your resume is forgotten. Once you have your resume completed, it is essential that you proofread the entire document, word by word, since spell check can only go so far to identify mistakes. Keep in mind that even correctly spelled words might be incorrectly used words. For example, know how to use there/they're/their, affect/effect, accept/except, than/then, your/you're, principle/principal, and it's/its. "It's" is only used as a contraction for "it is" or "it has." The possessive pronoun "its" has no apostrophe, as in: "the company and its employees. In addition to looking for spelling and grammatical errors, you should also eliminate any unnecessary words or phrases, sarcasm or negative content.

Fine-Tuning Your Resume
Once you have the basic information, format and style, you can fine-tune your resume so it achieves your goal of getting you an interview. Here are some tips for crafting a compelling resume:

Do

  • List the most important facts first (the reader might not read beyond boring or irrelevant information)
  • Stick to what is marketable and provides evidence that you are a qualified candidate
  • Address the employer's needs - use words that match what the company is looking for
  • Use a resume template if you are not sure how to create an effective layout
  • Use bullet points so readers can scan for important information
  • Use standard margins (avoid shrinking margins so that everything fits on one page)
  • Use short, easy-to-read sentences
  • Include "white" space on the page: blank lines between sections to make it easier to read
  • Use an appropriate number of action verbs to highlight accomplishments
  • Use quantitative facts that support your expertise
  • Keep the resume to one-two pages unless you have a lengthy and complicated history
  • Use a readable and professional font that is large enough to be easily read
  • Email yourself a copy, open it and print it out to make sure it formats correctly
  • Include your contact information - phone, mailing address and professional email address
  • Find and fix any grammatical, spelling and usage errors
Don't

  • Use unusual paper and fonts
  • List references on the resume (they should only be produced if asked for)
  • Write in complete sentences (your resume will be too long and the reviewer will be annoyed)
  • Include vague claims such as "I exceeded my goal" (quantify the numbers)
  • Use too many action words (if everything is crafted around the use of action words, they lose their impact)
  • Include an objective statement unless asked for (your cover letter should explain your interest in a particular position)
  • Use an unprofessional email address such as "cooldude@abc.com" or "luvs2party@xyz.com" (yourname@abc.com is a better choice) Include photographs unless specifically asked for
  • Add information that is too personal or irrelevant
  • Include links to social media unless is supports your cause (a blog that showcases your writing ability is OK; an invite to your personal Facebook account filled with party photos is not)
  • Have any grammatical, spelling and usage errors

Next: The Complete Guide To Job Searching: The Interview »

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