10 Tips for a Polished and Effective Resume

January 06 2011

There are a lot of things to consider when doing a job search, including honing interviewing skills, presenting a professional appearance and activating your network to help you find opportunities.  All of these are critical to your job hunt, but the most important factor – the one that will hopefully get you in the door at all – is your resume.

As someone who’s interviewed a lot of job hunters, and read over all my friends’ resumes, I can tell you with some degree of confidence that most people write terrible resumes.  It’s not a skill that comes easily to a lot of people, and that’s okay.  I’m here to help. 

  1. Always individualize your resume (http://www.mit.edu/~career/guide/resumes.html).  While it’s much easier to have a resume ready to send to any prospective employer printed out or saved to your hard drive, it’s better to make sure your resume aligns with the tone of the company and the particular job you want.  If you’re applying for a programming job, focus on more on your skills and experience in the coding language with more prominence than your non-relevant skills.  Use keywords from the job posting and the company’s mission statement to hone the language in your resume.
  2. Bullet points are your friends.  It’s safe to assume most HR staffers or others doing the hiring don’t have a lot of time to spend on each prospective employee.  Instead of writing a long, complicated sentence explaining that your sales figures consistently rose 5% month over month for the past year while you juggled three major accounts and lead the company retreat, look how easy this is:
    • Individual sales rose 5% each month
    • Managed accounts for Widgets, Inc., HAL Computers and ACME LTD
    • Lead company retreat
  3. Don’t let the resume design overwhelm the resume content, part one.  Casual font lovers, I’m looking at you.  If there’s ever a time at all to use Comic Sans (http://sixrevisions.com/graphics-design/comic-sans-the-font-everyone-loves-to-hate/), that time is most definitely not in your resume.  The classic fonts are classics because they’re easy to read on a screen or on a page, and because they look professional.  If you just can’t bear to use Times New Roman, consider Georgia, Garamond or a clean, crisp Helvetica.  In addition to picking a smart font, use font sizes wisely.  If you’re using your name as a headline, it should be noticeable without being enormous. 
  4. Don’t let the resume design overwhelm the resume content, part two. (http://www.squawkfox.com/2009/04/24/free-resume-examples-with-resume-tips)  No matter what your field is, your resume needs to be easy to read.   Reject fancy formatting unless you are confident you know what you’re doing.  If you use a popular word processing program, it probably comes with several resume templates.  Scan these, and do an internet search to look for ways to make sure your resume’s design is clean and easy on the eyes. 
  5. Be easy to find. Make sure all your contact information is up to date, and include multiple ways to find you, like your email address, phone number, Skype contact, etc.  This may seem obvious, but I’ve read a lot of resumes with no contact information at all.  This leads directly to number 6…
  6. Make sure the internet makes you look good.  Companies will search for you online.  If you’ve got stuff on your social networking pages you don’t want a potential employer to see, tweak your privacy settings so only your friends can see the content you don’t want an interviewer to know about.  Run your name through a few search engines, as well, to make sure there are no surprises, or an indicted embezzler who shares your name.
  7. For the love of all you hold dear, proofread your resume several times, and then make your smartest, wordiest friend or family member proofread it for you.  Then proofread it one more time for good measure. (http://www.resume-resource.com/resumeblog/are-recruiters-laughing-at-your-resume-writing-skills/1261/) We all make typos, we all have words we struggle to spell, and writing smoothly is trickier than it looks.  In short, spend more time checking your resume for errors than you spent writing it. 
  8. Be honest.  What’s worse than lying about your skills to get a job you’re not qualified for?  Having a job you’re not qualified for.  Additionally, it’s nearly impossible to get away with in the internet age.  Everyone can find everyone, and if you can’t do what you say you can do, someone will be able to figure that out.  Many larger companies are enlisting the help of outside companies that do extensive background checks (http://www.sba.gov/content/performing-pre-employment-background-checks) on potential employees, it’s highly unlikely a lie won’t be caught.

Searching for a job can be stressful and frustrating, but writing a good resume doesn’t have to be.

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