Read an Excerpt
What a Resume Is (and Isn't)
When a potential employer first looks at you, 99 times out of 100 he or she is looking at a piece of paper known as a resume. Initially, more job opportunities are lost because of a poor resume than any other single factor.
With so much riding on that word picture, it's amazing how many misconceptions there are about the resume. It is not a biography of your life. It is not a catalog of skills. It is not a job application.
It should be a well-structured, easy-to-read presentation of your own capabilities and accomplishments, short and to the point. Its purpose is likewise clear-cut: to intrigue a prospective employer to the point where he or she invites you for an interview. That's itno mystery. Strange, then, that so many mistakes have been made, so many career moves aborted all because people don't know how to put together this simple but crucial document.
With so much riding on it, you'd better know how the game is played. Resume formats, what to include, what to leave out, where to put a key paragraph, how the document should look, even the paper it's printed on all count. The result should be one tightly written, perfectly clear portrait of you and your related work accomplishments, education, and skillsno more, and certainly no less.
CONSIDER THE PLIGHT OF THE HUMAN RESOURCES MANAGER
For every position, no matter how elaborate the screening process, there are two basic piles: "consider again" and "reject." Running the gamut from 1-page notes to 12-page personal presentations, 99 percent of all so-called resumes wind up as rejects.
To see how the system works, consider one typically harassed professional: Gary Burdens. Burdens is a human resources manager at the Midwest headquarters for the #2 maker of pharmaceutical products. The corporation typically receives 40,000 to 50,000 resumes annually. Hires usually average only 200 to 300 per year. For everyone hired an average of two to three applicants are interviewed. That means of all the thousands of resumes pouring into headquarters, only from 400 to 900 will ever result in an interviewno more than one or two out of every 100 resumes in the stack!
When does Burdens read the 20,000 resumes reviewed by the average employment manager? Not during the dayhe has meetings to attend, ads to place, and, of course, interviews with the few whose resumes cleared the first hurdle.
So he lugs an average of 100 resumes home nightly. By the time dinner is over and the kids are tucked in, he can count on maybe an hour or two of reading. How does he spot the fraction of an ounce of gold within the tons of slag in the resume pile?
He doesn't readhe scans. He checks to see whether the individual has the qualifications and career interests that mesh with current job orders. Poorly prepared resumes are the first to be discarded.
One of the first things he looks for are results. Most people list job assignments. They know what they're paid to do. Few actually specify the results they produced. Seeing quantifiable results immediately alerts Burdens that he may have found a real live candidate.
Sold biotechnical products in a territory from Denver, CO, to San Francisco, CA.
Increased sales of gastrointestinal medication "Prevasic" in my territory by 20% over a two-year span.
Your resume with specific achievements helps you stand out, giving interviewers like Burdens a reason to place you in the active candidate pile.
YOUR RESUME MUST SHOW YOUR ABILITY TO COMMUNICATE CLEARLY
A good resume does more than just describe skills and achievements. By the way it's written, it helps Burdens form a picture of you. A rambling resume points out an individual who can't clarify his or her own thought processes. So it gets dumped.
On the other hand, if your resume is brief, clearly written, and interesting, it makes you stand out. Burdens has a positive picture of a person who can work well within his firm. He's interested, because you've come alive through your word picture.
The next question is, "If I'm not a good writer, should I do my own resume?" Having read thousands of resumes, I cast my own vote for the self-written version. Any good human resources person can spot the prefab variety from a resume shop, because it sounds canned and tinny. You don't need to be brilliant to create a winning resumejust be organized. I've outlined all the right steps in the upcoming pages. Follow along and you won't go wrong.
One of the first things I recommend is that you lead off with a strong summary of your backgrounda mini "Who I Am."
Demonstrated ability to understand a company's long-term strategic visions and goals, complex business rules, and inherent constraints, in order to design, develop, document, implement, and maintain a flexible, comprehensive, cost-effective database structure and processes application software for new or major revisions to existing products or processes.
What is this woman saying? By the time a weary reader gets to the end of this sentence, all comprehension is lost.
This letter explains my experience, which can be verified with the enclosed references. I believe that food service is truly an artmuch like a dancer executes the perfect turn, an actor commands the stage, or a painter applies his brush to canvas.
You could weep from the sensitivity. Seeing this handwritten, so-called resume on pink paper decorated with stars and moons, a personnel type would be likely to wince and toss.
Nine successful years with Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Eastern Region. Promoted from various management positions to an Executive Committee Member. Supervised 25 employees and 4 managers while overseeing the operations of Front Office, Reservations, Guest Services, and Telecommunications. Manager of the YearHyatt Arlington1999.
Clean; concise; specific; this summary leaves no questions about the capabilities and expertise of the candidate.
YOUR RESUME IS A PERSONAL PRESENTATION OF HOW YOU VIEW YOURSELF
When you go to your closet in the morning, you don't throw on an old sweatsuit if you're going to a business meeting simply because it happens to be the first thing you find on the rack. Likewise, your resume can't be a hodgepodge of whatever happens to fall into your mind the moment you're hitting the computer, word processor, or typewriter. The key is editing.
In preparation for writing this book, I've reviewed hundreds of resumes. A foreign-born candidate for an executive housekeeping position with a major hotel chain sent in a 23-page "Resume Update USA" that included everything from background, nationality, marital status, education, and further education to a dozen "To whom it may concern" letters and half a dozen photocopied certificates. Nobody ever said the hunt for jobs was conducted on a level playing field. This earnest candidate did not learn the all-important lesson of correct presentation for the American marketplace.
Very simply, what you leave out can be as important as what you put into your resume. An effective resume carefully recreates your true, professional beauty. It should not be an unretouched photowarts and all!
YOUR RESUME IS THE FIRST WORK PRODUCT YOU SHOW A PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYER
A good resume does more than simply describe where you've been and what you've done. By the way it's written, it actually shows how well you think and communicate. Consider it like the first assignment you show to your employer and treat it with appropriate significance.
Two pieces of communication came into a midsize legal firm in Northern California. The first was a stand-alone letter, the second a resume with cover letter.
POOR LETTER EXAMPLE
Does your company need additional clerical support? My name is Stephanie Carples and I would like to make myself available to do any letter or documentation typing you may need. I have 15 years experience as a secretary with knowledge of both medical and legal terminology.
This letter was printed using a very light script font, so it was difficult to read. There was no address, just a phone number in the middle of the page. The paper was drugstore standard, and the letter had no semblance of a professional look. Yet this person asked for a position conveying a legal firm's appearance to the outside world!
GOOD RESUME EXAMPLE
More than seven years of experience providing clerical and administrative support, including:
- Scheduling appointments, interpreting policies and procedures, answering heavy phones, and dealing extensively with the public.
- Proficient in the use of IBM PC, WordPerfect, Symphony, Professional File, and general office equipment such as: fax, copier, LaserJet printer.
This woman's resume was easy to read and review. She had excellent qualifications, and her presentation did her justice. Yes, she got the assignment!
YOUR RESUME HELPS YOU FOCUS ON A POSITION, NOT JUST SETTLE FOR A JOB
At the same time you're creating a resume, hopefully to encourage companies to recognize your employment potential, you should also be selecting the kinds of positions you're willing to accept. You can create target resumes dedicated to your interest in a single industry or type of position. And you needn't limit yourself to just one. Considered as a marketing tool with a variety of formats, your resume has infinite possibilities, especially when you create more than one. Though no resume alone will win the job for you, without a good one you can't even proceed to the next level.