How to Prepare a Resume

Some argue that you don't really need one, but you should know how to prepare a resume. Writing individual letters to every prospective employer and headhunter is time consuming (and overkill). Let's run over some general rules.

Size and shape
Conventional wisdom says that you should keep your resume down to a page because HR people poring through thousands of resumes stop reading after a page. Let's face it, your chance of being hired because of the impression your resume made among a pack of thousands is slim to none. Your resume is more likely to be noticed if you write a dynamite cover letter, and if you write to the hiring manager as well as to HR. So if you have something worth saying in two pages, say it. Of course, if you can cut the resume down to one by using bullet points instead of paragraphs, so much the better. If your resume is ever printed (which it may not be in this e-mail age), you'll save everyone the trouble of stapling it.

You don't want a one-and-a-quarter page resume. It shows lack of planning.

Cosmetics are important. The top of your resume should match the letterhead on your cover letter. Spacing should be consistent and adequate for easy reading. Look in resume books at the library or in a bookstore for ideas. Don't look at any books that are more than three years old; resume looks go in and out of style fast. After you've decided what you want, see whether your word processor comes with resume software that you can customize.

Stick to one simple font, and one or two type sizes no smaller than 10 points. Some employers have bad eyesight. Don't use color, for the same reason. No photos; they make some HR people violent.

Try e-mailing it to yourself and some friends to make sure it comes out well. Ask the friends to proof too. One misspelling and you could be out of consideration. Hiring managers often think, understandably, that someone who can't take the time to proof a resume won't be conscientious on the job.

Content
Resumes are marketing pieces. They're not legal documents. That's why many employers make you fill out applications, which have to be signed. Employers don't need your whole biography; they just need to know how your experience is relevant to the job. That's why, while you should tell the truth and nothing but the truth, there's no reason to tell the whole truth.

Items that shouldn't be in resumes include objectives, which you see in old resume books. Employers don't care what you want, they care what they want. A concise summary of your qualifications and experience, on the other hand, is useful.

No personal information. No height, weight, health, marital status or hobbies unless they're interesting and unusual like helicopter skiing or dulcimer-playing or collecting antique ice-cream makers. You don't need "References are available on request." Of course they are.

It's fine to limit employment de¬scriptions to the past 10 years, unless you have old experience you want people to know about. Summarize your early life in a short section called "Other Experience," and be sure to highlight anything interesting. Everyone notices the bullet point, "A stint in the CIA."

Education should be after experience unless you've been out of school for three years or less. Never list your high school if you graduated from college. Dates of graduation aren't necessary and, for the great majority of you who aren't in your thirties and are therefore often considered either too young or too old, are undesirable. Office skills can go into your summary if you're apply¬ng for a secretarial or call-center job; otherwise, put them at the end or leave them out.

HR people tell you to list employment dates with months, because they like to see whether the job you held "1999-2001" lasted one year or two. There's nothing in it for you, though. Year-only listings enable you to leave off your four months with the company from hell without appearing to have a gap between jobs.

On that subject, HR people hate gaps. If you have them, try to account for them. A functional resume in which you group your skills by category, such as "accounting" and "market research" and list your employers briefly at the end, is useful not only to deflect attention from a checkered history but also to describe a career that may have taken untraditional paths. Some job boards don't accept functional resumes, so you may need a chronological version too.

If resumes are scanned into databases in your industry, be sure to include all the possible buzzwords that describe your skills. A headhunter told me about a satellite TV engineer who was weeded out because his resume didn't mention "dishes." A paralegal may miss an opportunity for a "legal assistant."

Sell yourself. Remember, this is marketing. Use power words. You didn't file; you organized. You didn't make phone calls; you coordinated. You didn't type; you produced.

Whether or not you hit the one-page mark, brief is better. If you left something out that people want to know, they'll ask you-at an interview.

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