Your resume will generally receive a 15- to 30-second scan upon first review by an employer. With that in mind, it is critical that your resume -- your "paper handshake" -- makes a positive first impression and compels the reader to put your resume in the "yes" pile and possibly call you in for an interview.
Before you circulate your resume, you will want to ensure it incorporates the basic characteristics of a powerful, interview-generating resume. When evaluating your resume you can follow the same basic steps as professional resume writers. This will increase the chances not only of having it placed into that "yes" pile, but also of helping it rise to the top of the stack.
STEP 1: Ask yourself, "Is my resume in the correct format to best showcase my career history?"
Is your resume the appropriate length, format, and formality for the position you are targeting?
Length: For someone with five or more years of experience, a resume will typically be one to two pages. It isn't at all uncommon for executive-level resumes to be as long as three or four pages. If you are a recent college graduate one page may suffice, but don't be afraid to go two pages, particularly if you have some work, internship, or volunteer experience under your belt.
Format: There are three common types of resumes: chronological, functional, and combination. A chronological resume calls attention to your employment history in reverse chronological order. It is most effective when your job listings are notable (position titles and/or company names) and are directly relevant to the job target.
A functional resume de-emphasizes positions, job descriptions, and employment dates. It organizes qualifications by related skills or experience. Job seekers who have gaps in employment or who are making a career change commonly use functional resumes. Think carefully before using this format as feedback from hiring authorities suggests that they don't like them -- they know that functional resumes can be used to minimize, or even hide, periods of unemployment and other flaws in your history.
A typical combination resume is just that -- a blend of the other two formats. It begins with a powerful Qualifications Summary or Professional Profile that clearly communicates your functional skills. This allows your resume to be focused toward particular positions and/or industries, and provides a platform to communicate the your best qualifications. A reverse-chronological listing of employment experience (including responsibilities and, more importantly, relevant accomplishments) follows. The combination format is a popular choice among professional resume writers as it is particularly effective in selling their clients to employers.
A fourth type of resume, which won't be discussed at length here, is the Curriculum Vita. A "CV" is a conservatively written and designed document that emphasizes educational credentials, academic research and projects, publications, presentations, awards, and honors. This format is typically used in scholastic, medical, and scientific fields.
Formality: A good rule of thumb is to write using the same level of language that you would be expected to use in the job you are targeting. An entry-level resume can include brief sentences. If you are a manager or executive your resume will be more narrative -- to draw a complete picture of your career successes and contributions -- and include vernacular expected at your level of accountability.
STEP 2: Ask yourself, "Is my resume visually appealing and easy to read?"
Have you incorporated appropriate font type and size selections throughout your resume? Depending on the font choice, the size should fall somewhere between 9 and 11 point, 12 point at most. Section headings can be larger, of course. As for font type, the higher your level of responsibility, the more likely it is that you will use a serif font (such as Times New Roman, Garamond, or Palatino). It is acceptable to combine fonts, but never more than two (for example, Times for the section titles and Arial for the content).
Does your resume contain sufficient white space? Your challenge is to draw the reader's attention to essential information. Using white space effectively can help you do just that. You'll need to become familiar with some features of your word processing software that you might not normally access (such as the paragraph, line-spacing, and tab settings).
Does your resume implement appropriate design elements? Conservative use of lines, bolding, italics, and bullets can be very effective. When used consistently, they will help the reader along in your thought process and crystallize the organization of your resume.
For great ideas on contemporary formats, check out one or more of the recently released resume resource books at your local bookstore. One of the best out there is Resume Magic--Trade Secrets of a Professional Resume Writer by Susan Britton Whitcomb (JIST Works). For executive-level ideas, Wendy Enelow's Best Resumes for $100,000+ Jobs (Impact Publications) or Donald Asher's Bible of Executive Resumes (Ten Speed Press) are both outstanding.
STEP 3: Ask yourself, "Does my resume contain a powerful opening section that draws the reader in?"
Is the most relevant information you want to communicate showcased in a powerful Qualifications Summary or Professional Profile in the top 1/3 of your resume? At a minimum, you'll want to include your total years of experience and encapsulate your core competencies and related hard and soft skills. Keep in mind that the remainder of your resume must substantiate what you include in this section.
Does your resume make clear what position, industry, or career you are targeting? Employers don't have time to guess what you want to be when you grow up.
Step 4: Ask yourself, "Does my resume effectively communicate my value to the prospective employer in one or more of the following ways?"
Does your resume demonstrate how you can help an employer make money? Save money or time? Solve a specific problem? Make work easier? Build relationships? Be more competitive? Attract new customers? Retain existing customers?
Regardless of your level of accountability or industry these are things that all organizations want their employees to help them accomplish. Communicate your abilities to contribute in one or more of the areas mentioned and employers will want to talk with you.
Step 5: Ask yourself, "Does my resume contain powerful, concise, accomplishment-oriented writing designed to increase the reader's interest and stimulate a request for a job interview?"
Is your entire resume targeted? Does it support your job or career goal? Does it speak the reader's language with relevant industry-specific keywords? Did you use persuasive, high-impact statements that sell your qualifications as a superior candidate? Does your resume include specific accomplishments that highlight challenges, action taken, and results (quantifiable, if possible)?
Most importantly, do the accomplishments support your target? In other words, do they represent observable behaviors that are associated with the best in your field?
Step 6: Ask yourself, "Is irrelevant information excluded?"
There is no need to include any of the following: personal information (e.g. marital status and age), full address of employers (city and state is sufficient), personal pronouns ("I", "He" or "She"), reasons for leaving jobs, reference information, and unrelated hobbies or interests.
Step 7: Ask yourself, "Does my resume present relevant content in an organized fashion?"
As a general rule, you'll only need to cover the last 10 years of employment in detail, 15 years at the most. Anything prior can be summarized, but do attempt to keep the information relevant and accomplishment oriented.
Are your employment dates presented appropriately? There is no need to get specific -- months and years are sufficient in most cases.
Did you include more than one source of contact information? At a minimum, list your home phone number and e-mail address. By the way, if you don't have an e-mail address, get one...now! Listing it on your resume tells employers that you are technologically savvy.
Is your experience arranged in reverse chronological order? Are all other sections of your resume applicable to the types of positions you are pursuing?
STEP 8: Ask yourself, "Is my resume free of spelling, punctuation, capitalization, grammatical, and syntax errors?"
Feedback from hiring authorities is unanimous -- a resume with errors is likely to be immediately discounted. They assume that your performance on the job will be sloppy and that you don't pay attention to details. Proofread your resume. Ask a friend or colleague to proofread your resume. Ask your mother to proofread your resume.
Step 9: Repeat step 8.
Step 10: Repeat step 8 again!
Your resume is a material representation of you. It is a marketing document -- not a simple work history -- that tells organizations how you can contribute to their success. Ask yourself the questions above as you review your self-written resume. If you've covered everything, you are well on your way to getting companies interested in you.
by Peter Hill, CPRW
Peter Hill is a Certified Professional Resume Writer. He owns and operates Distinctive Resumes, a Honolulu-based consultancy for managers and executives.