Despite the claims and critiques of what seems to be an endless supply of so-called resume-writing experts, there simply is no universal “right way” to write a resume. Unsurprisingly, it is not uncommon to get confused given the contradictory advice you can expect from multiple sources. So while I have some very clear thoughts on how to write an effective and professional resume, ultimately you will need to decide what works for you, your situation and, ultimately, your comfort level. Even then, expect to continuously modify, update and edit your resume as you incorporate new or different styles, content and concepts. With that in mind, I’m offering the following suggestions I highly recommend for anyone writing and distributing a resume.
Professional Objective & Profile: One of the things I always want to see in a resume is the Professional Objective & Profile section just below the name and contact information. I call this the “billboard within the billboard” as it summarizes key information about the applicant in the already abbreviated format of the resume itself. While people may argue this approach potentially limits their opportunities within an organization, I can only tell them what I typically did as a corporate human resources executive when reviewing resumes without this section – I tossed them in the reject pile. When literally thousands of resumes have been dropped on my desk, I wanted to sort through them as quickly and efficiently as possible. And if someone didn’t provide a brief overview of their qualifications, I simply was not going to spend the time to determine if the jobs I had open fit their particular interests and skills. My feelings were, “If they don’t know what they want to do, I’m not going to figure it out for them.” This may seem harsh, but it is reality. Your goal is to get the recruiters to review as much of your resume as possible. To entice them to do this, make it as easy as possible by including a Professional Objective & Profile section. Otherwise, just like I used to do, they may not give your resume more than a cursory glance.
Quantify accomplishments: Prospective employers consider a number of factors when determining which candidates match the requirements for an open position. While skills, experience and education are all important, the demonstrated ability to get measurable results will add significant credibility to your qualifications. For instance, while many salespeople may be able to talk a good game by highlighting their activities (e.g., “Called on key customers in major markets.“), I am always more impressed with statements quantifying specified accomplishments (e.g., “Increased sales revenue by 45% annually over a three-year period.”). So while activities are nice, results are a whole lot better.
Summarize the unimportant:For individuals who have changed careers and their previous experience is not relevant to their current career aspirations (or if they are concerned about age discrimination), one tactic is to summarize the earlier jobs and experiences under the heading Previous Experience at the bottom of the Experience & Qualifications section. For example, “Prior to 1982, I gained valuable computer experience and was promoted to various roles of responsibility including system analyst, programmer and billing coordinator.” If age is not a concern, you can add the span of years such as, “From 1994 to 1998, I gained valuable experience…” In this manner, you are submitting a factual resume without revealing too much about the jobs you had when President Obama was still in grade school!
Keep it short: The resume is not intended to represent a comprehensive history of all of your accomplishments, talents and awards. Depending on your years of experience, background, professional or occupational standards and career pursuits, the resume may be as short as one page (e.g., young college graduates) and as long as three (e.g., seasoned executives). Anything more than three pages and a recruiter may find it too cumbersome and detailed and end up setting it aside in favor of more reader-friendly resumes.
Fax it: Not long ago, employer fax machines were constantly buzzing, beeping and cranking out incoming resumes. With e-mail, they are much quieter – but not abandoned. Because recruiters and hiring managers generally receive few faxes, faxing your resume may help it stand out from the e-mail crowd and increase the likelihood it will be read. Be sure to include a cover letter when faxing your resume.