Spring is here – which means it's not only time to clean out your closet, but also time to dust off your resume and give it an update. It's important to make a positive first impression on potential employers as you look for your next career opportunity.
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Notice I said "career," not "job." A job is a mere moment in time that may not be fulfilling or satisfying, but a career is a long-term professional endeavor that grows with you over time.
The average recruiter looks at each resume for six seconds before deciding whether to to pass or move forward. I want your resume to get a second or third look, so here are a few tidbits to help you prepare a resume that catches people's attention and advances your career:
Tidbit 1: Focus
Decide which field you would like to work in so that you can gear your resume toward that field. Many job seekers use a scatter gun approach and apply for whatever looks good, but it's more useful to focus and narrow your approach. For example, if you desire a position in healthcare, then you should create a list of the medical centers, hospitals, clinics, and healthcare associations in the geographic area where you wish to live and to commute. Review the ads for each position you're applying to and pattern your resume accordingly.
Tidbit 2: Format
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Resume templates are a nice starting point, but you will want to tailor your resume so that it does not look so cookie-cutter. Remember, a number of other people are looking at the same opportunity you covet. Your resume will not get you the job, but it will get you noticed. Make your resume stand out by including all of the relevant information that shows you're the most appropriate person for the role. In particular, be sure to include the following:
Education: If you do not have many positions to put on your resume, list your education here. If you have substantial work experience, put your education at the end of the resume, because it is not the most meaningful point about you.
Work Experience: Try not to use bullets and arrows on your resume. These distinguishing marks do not travel well, especially if the resume is sent across different platforms. For example, if you use a Mac and you send your resume to a PC, these symbols may turn into hieroglyphics. Also, remember that Microsoft Word is the standard software. Turning your resume into a PDF – unless the opportunity asks specifically for a PDF – may cause problems if the person you send it to does not have the right software to open it.
Skills: If you are bilingual or multilingual, it will be a big plus in our global economy, so be sure to list that. If you are skilled in relevant software platforms or know how to operate relevant machinery, please put it here as well.
Other Experiences: If you have attended conferences, participated in panel discussions, served as a mentor, volunteered for a nonprofit, or served on a board, you may wish to use this information to demonstrate how involved you are in the community/industry. Caution: You may want to leave out any information that may generate questions or cause people to form the wrong kinds of opinions about you. For example, your political or religious views do not belong on your resume.
Tidbit 3: Content
We have all had modest breaks in our employment or education histories. One way to minimize these gaps on your resume is to list only the years of your employment, rather than the months. For example, you may wish to present your resume as follows:
1996 - 1999 Administrative Secretary, XYZ Company, 2428 South Masa Tenafly, New Jersey
1999 - Present Assistant to the President, ABC Company, 1976 Vernon Place, Piscataway, New Jersey
May 1996 - May 1999 Administrative Secretary, XYZ Company
October 1999 - Present Assistant to the President, ABC Company
The second example exposes a four-month employment gap that may prove unsettling for some hiring personnel. Such a gap shouldn't startle people, but you want to be careful. You only get six seconds to impress a recruiter or hiring manager, so you want to be sure not to cause any alarm.
If the application calls for more detail, tell the truth about the gap. It is never a good idea to present a falsehood on an application because the truth will always come out eventually. Also, present a reasonable explanation for the gap – e.g., sick parent, death of a spouse, relocation, etc.
Tidbit 4: Proofread
Finally, you want to run a spelling and grammar check on your resume. No one wants to read a resume that has misspellings or grammatical errors. In addition to using a spell-checking tool, you may also want to proofread your resume yourself and have a trusted friend, colleague, or professional resume writer give it a look as well.
When it's time to print your resume, remember that off-white paper and 11- or 12-point font are standard.
Joanne E. Howard is on the faculty of the Stuart School of Business at Illinois Tech and an adjunct with MacCormac College.