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Resume Refresher: Less Is More

By Rebecca R. Hastings  6/1/2006

Those charged with reviewing resumes know their task is to quickly whittle down the competition to a manageable number of candidates. To keep your resume off the "no" pile, be succinct and pay attention to details, experts say.

The average resume is reviewed for less than a minute, says Kimberly Schneiderman, owner of City Career Services. That's why a nicely formatted resume is so important.

"A resume that is targeted [to a company's needs] is going to get an employer's attention much faster than one that is not," agrees Carla Vaughan, owner of Professional-Resume-Example.com.

Make It Easy for the Reader
"If you get too crazy with your resume format, employers are not going to know where to look for what they need," Vaughan says. She advises HR professionals to "stick to what works." Create a chronological resume, bolster it with accomplishments, enrich it with action words and focus on the specific job desired, she says.

Schneiderman agrees that it's important to include a chronological list of relevant experience: "People are always looking for where you've been and how long you've been there."

As for content, job seekers tend to be too focused on tasks and not focused enough on accomplishments, says Vaughan: "Don't tell me what you did; show me what you are capable of doing."

"A resume is not a job description," Schneiderman agrees. "It's a tickler to get the reader to want to call you." As a result, brevity is to be desired: "For most people, one page is plenty of room to convey the information employers need to know," says Vaughan.

Schneiderman says one page is preferred but that two pages can be used if both pages are impressive. Alternatively, she suggests that similar experience be condensed under functional headings like "benefits experience."

"Give yourself a title, such as 'Lisa Johnson, Human Resource Administrator,' " Schneiderman says. "It takes the place of an objective and makes it clear what your intentions are."

Schneiderman encourages job seekers to list involvement in organizations like the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) or other relevant volunteer experience on their resumes: "It makes you look passionate about your career in general." But when involvement in a community group may trigger a recruiter's biases, it may be best to leave the organization's name off, she says, and instead just list the skills and experience gained from such activities.

Transmit with Care
Nearly as important as the content of the resume is effective delivery of the document. "The vast majority of resumes are sent electronically," Schneiderman says, so a text version that is free of indentations and bullets is essential. Schneiderman recommends the use of keystrokes in the form of dashes, wavy lines and asterisks to highlight sections of the resume.

Vaughan says resumes saved in rich text format should ensure the text isn't garbled in transmission. "Many resumes are scanned for keywords once they reach the employer; garbled words are not going to be picked up," she says.

Some employers want resumes submitted as attachments, while others use an online form, Vaughan says. Whichever option is used, candidates should be sure to include the full name, e-mail address and telephone number in an e-mail message as well as on every page of all documents.

Unprofessional-sounding e-mail addresses should certainly be avoided, as should those that are long or difficult to spell, according to Linda K. Rolie, MA, career strategist for Career Counseling Services in Ashland, Ore.: "I'm all in favor of simple and professional e-mail addresses."

With so many resumes sent electronically, paper color is generally not a concern. But Schneiderman suggests that job seekers carry their resume with them at all times, printed on heavy white paper. Vaughan agrees, saying the choice of color should be "white, white or white--or off-white."

"There are a few occasions where colorful paper might work," Vaughan says. "But there are more situations where it will work against you." Faxing a resume on colored paper is "an absolute no-no" according to Schneiderman, because the color can affect the transmission and make the fax unreadable.

Though it's not necessary to send a resume via every option a company provides, an extra copy may give a candidate an advantage if handled properly. "I always recommend delivering a hard copy that is on beautiful unfolded paper so the employer can see a clean version," Rolie says. "If it can't be hand delivered, mail it in a large envelope."

Sticky Situations
When a career path takes an unexpected turn, a resume may need to be modified accordingly.

"Chronological is the format most employers can relate to," Vaughan says. "The only time I would really suggest a functional format is if someone is changing careers or re-entering the workforce" as a way to deemphasize employment gaps and experience that doesn't match the position being sought.

For those trying to change focus, Schneiderman suggests listing key knowledge areas in bold at the top of the resume. For example, a general manager seeking a human resource management position might list "Interviewing--performance management--employee relations" if he or she has skills in those areas.

Schneiderman says applicants who have held many positions may want to first list experience and accomplishments by company name and then include a chronological list at the bottom of the resume. Listing months as well as years is also recommended. And, if applicable, she suggests adding a brief note next to the dates, such as "(office closed)" or "(laid off)."

"Eliminating information from a resume isn't lying," Schneiderman says. "You should do that when the content isn't going to lend itself to your ultimate goal; don't feel obligated to include years of graduation, for example."

As for whether personal information, such as hobbies, marital status and religious affiliations enhances or detracts from a resume, Rolie says, "Avoid all of it unless it's relevant to the job."

Checking It Twice
Typographical and grammatical errors in a cover letter or resume are a surefire way to end up on the "no" pile, says Vaughan. When it comes to a resume with errors, employers are going to be asking themselves: "If they can't be attentive, professional and consistent on their resume, then how are they going to perform on the job?" she adds.

To find all errors Schneiderman suggests reading the resume and cover letter backwards: "It helps you see if you skipped a word or punctuation." Of course it helps to have someone else read it too, she adds.

As for what Schneiderman wants applicants to avoid, she says, "Periods or no periods--just make a choice and stick with it."

Vaughan's pet peeve: "Don't put the word 'resume' at the top at the top of the page--I think we know what it is!"

Rebecca R. Hastings, SPHR, is online writer/editor for SHRM.

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