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Six Critical Steps of Resume Writing

To ensure your resume makes the best possible impression, it's essential to meet six challenges regarding its presentation, format and content.

1. Presentation

Since your resume is actually a marketing document, its visual appearance is critical. To survive next to those of hundreds of equally qualified candidates, it must look sharp and dynamic. Don't have it typed on an outdated word processor and printed onto plain bond paper, and don't model it after resumes from years back.

Instead, give your document an up-to-date style that attracts attention. This doesn't mean using an italic typeface, cute logos or an outrageous paper color. Instead, be conservatively distinctive. Choose a sharp-looking typeface, such as Bookman, Soutane, Krone, or Fritz, or if your font selection is limited, the more prevalent Times New Roman, Helvetica or Arial typefaces.

Unless you're seeking a position as a graphic artist, don't put logos or artwork on your resume. However, using horizontal rules to separate sections can give it an upscale look. Your choice of paper color isn't important, as long as it's conservative - white, ivory or light gray.

2. Format

Format shouldn't be your primary consideration when preparing a resume.
Decide on a resume format after your text is prepared. And even then, don't try to make your information fit into someone else's structure. Since each person's career history, achievements, and academic credentials are unique, their resume should be as well. Review other resumes for ideas, but craft your document to "sell" only you.

Start writing without worrying about the format and concentrate on marketing yourself. It's likely that when you're finished, the format you should use will become obvious. You'll need to change headings or margins, insert rules, bold or italic type or edit selections to fit your information more comfortably onto one page. If possible, adhere to these formatting guidelines:

Don't expect readers to struggle through 10- to 15- line paragraphs. Substitute two or three shorter paragraphs or use bullets to offset new sentences and sections.

Don't overdo bold and italic type. Excessive use of either defeats the purpose of these enhancements. For example, if half the type on a page is bold, nothing will stand out.

Use nothing smaller than 10- point type. If you want employers to review your resume, make sure they don't need a magnifying glass!

Don't clutter your resume. Everything you've heard about "white space" is true. Let your document "breathe" so readers won't have to struggle through it.

Use an excellent printer. Smudged, faint, heavy or otherwise poor quality print will discourage red-eyed readers.

3. Spelling, grammar and syntax

Typographical errors can signal job-search death.

Resumes serve as your introduction to employers, and indicate the quality and caliber of work you'll produce. An imperfect document isn't acceptable.

Write your document in the active first person tense, never the third person, and choose language that's appropriate to the type of position you're seeking. If you're a mid-level manager, don't use "Ph.D." language. If you're in line for CEO,COO or other top operating slots, use words appropriate to that level.

Proofread your resume not just once or twice, but repeatedly for typographical and wording errors. Then ask three to five others to review it, paying attention to your terminology and tone.

4. Content

Resumes aren't job descriptions. Still, you may have seen some that included such descriptions as, "This position was responsible for purchasing, logistics, materials management and distribution." Were you impressed with those?

Listing all your past employment isn't necessary or helpful. And, if you list responsibilities, include their scope and your contributions.

To highlight your strengths, develop strong, results-driven position summaries. For instance, a logistics manager might write: Directed and planned, staffing, budgeting and Operations of a 4-site logistics and warehousing operation for this $650 million automotive products distributor. Scope of responsibility was diverse and included all purchasing, vendor management, materials handling, inventory control, distribution planning and field delivery operations. Managed a staff of 55 through six supervisors. Controlled a $6.5 million annually operating budget.

Introduced continuous improvement and quality management programs throughout the organization. Results included a 25% increase in daily productivity and 63% increase in customer satisfaction. Spearheaded cost-reduction initiatives that reduced labor costs by 18%, overtime by 34% and material waste by 42%. Renegotiated key vendor contracts for a 28% reduction over previous year costs.

Prospective employers who read this description can sense the scope and results of the manager's experience. Remember, recruiters won't read between the lines for relevant information if you don't spell it out. And if positions you held 15, 20, or 30 years ago aren't relevant to your current career path, delete or briefly summarize them at the end.

5. Focus

A resume won't work if readers can't quickly grasp who a candidate is and what he or she seeks to do.

With a resume full of unnecessary details, repetitive information and no summary of skills or achievements, how is an employer to know who you are.

Clearly and directly state who you are, with this strategy:

Omit an objective and start with a "summary" or "career or technical profile" instead. Unlike an objective, which states what you want, a summary describes what you know and quickly grabs readers' attention.

A Summary eliminates the need for an objective because it usually indicates the type of position a candidate seeks. And don't assume that stating your objective in a cover letter is sufficient. Cover letters and resumes must be able to stand-alone.

6. Selling

A resume should be more than a list of past jobs. It should serve as a personal sales and marketing tool that attracts and impresses employers. Your qualifications, words, format and presentation must all be packaged to sell yourself.

Take credit for your accomplishments. Know what makes you marketable and sell it.

Your resume is your only opportunity to distinguish yourself among the crowd of other candidates. You must market your qualifications aggressively by highlighting your achievements and defining the scope of your responsibilities. That means not just saying what you did, but also how well you did it.

Poor example:

Managed sales regions throughout the U.S. with 82 sales associates.

Met all company sales goals and profit objectives.

Good example:

Independently planned and directed a team of 82 sales associates marketing sophisticated technology products throughout the northeastern U.S.

Launched a series of customer-driven marketing programs to expand market penetration and increase key account base. Closed 1995 at 182% of revenue goal and 143% of profit objective.

To create impressive descriptions, ask yourself not only what you did, but also how well you did it. Then sell your achievements, not your responsibilities.

Thomas Search Group is an equal opportunity employer and enforces the premise that there will be no discrimination with regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, physical or mental disability, or veteran status.

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