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Rethinking the Résumé

Dec - 07

Rethinking the Résumé

Rethinking the Résumé: How to Write Your Way Into a Job Interview

More than 3.5 million job openings exist in the United States, and regardless of industry or type—whether it be freelance, contract, part- or full-time work—the process of landing one of these coveted gigs ultimately begins and ends with creating a successful résumé. A résumé has just one purpose: to get you an interview. That’s easier said than done in a marketplace where every job opening receives an average of 118 applications, and each application receives only a few minutes of attention. Competition is fierce, and the window of opportunity for you to make a strong first impression is incredibly short. In order to be recognized as a superior candidate, your résumé writing must be crafted as a bold and persuasive marketing tool—a personal advertisement that presents a well-designed and clearly defined argument for why you are the best person for a particular opportunity.


To paraphrase Pat Benatar, the job marketplace is a battlefield. Upon entering the field, most job seekers generally employ one of two résumé writing strategies. The first consists of creating a single, static résumé and using it to apply in bulk to as many job opportunities as possible. Favoring quantity over quality, this carpet-bombing technique treats all employers as if they were the same company looking for the same set of skills and experience.

Carpet-bombing your résumé does little to win the hearts and minds of your potential employers, and has proven to be dramatically ineffective. On average, only 35% of the applicants for a job meet the basic experience, education and skill requirements listed for the position. In other words, most jobseekers’ résumés don’t adequately address the details of the job posting, and they’re almost immediately weeded from the candidate pool.

In stark juxtaposition to this strategy is that of tactical deployment, in which you create a customized résumé for each job opening to which you apply. Instead of applying to job openings en masse, target only those jobs for which your particular mix of skills and experience are realistically suited. Create a master résumé that you can update regularly and modify according to the specifics of each application.

Before applying for a job, do your due diligence. Explore the employer’s website and social network, as well as that of its competitors, in order to better understand the company’s values, goals, and place within its particular industry. Compare similar job postings by other companies. Your mission is to gain insight into the services the company provides and the requirements of the job they’re advertising. This will allow you to tailor the content, format, and design of your résumé to clarify and emphasize the connections between your skillset and what the position requires.


Once you’ve done your research and reflected upon how your goals, skills, and experience can benefit your potential employer, you’re ready to create a successful résumé. You want to create a résumé that is enticing, clear, and concise – an interesting catalog of relevant professional achievements that will inspire an HR professional to follow up with you by phone or e-mail. All résumé writing should employ the following guidelines:

Stay Honest

It’s important that your résumé accurately reflect your professional and educational accomplishments. While it may be tempting to adjust or pad the details of your education or professional experience, even the slightest fibbing should be avoided. Apart from being unethical, most HR departments do background checks, and lying on your application is a sure way to get blacklisted. Don’t be ashamed of what you have and haven’t done. Instead, focus on emphasizing your strengths and be creative in thinking about how the diversity of your life experiences—the places you’ve been, the courses and seminars you’ve attended, the organizations you’ve belonged to, the events you’ve participated in—might relate to the job position.

Accomplishments, Not Clichés

Specificity is the key to avoiding the vague clichés that clutter so many résumés. Take, for example: “Utilized database software to maintain productive relationships.” “Responsibilities included social network management and other administrative duties.” Neither of these statements provides the recruiter with any real information about who you are, what you’ve done, and what you can do. Be specific about techniques employed and victories won! Avoid generalizations and focus on concisely communicating how your skills relate to your accomplishments. Use industry terminology, actual software names, and numbers or percentages when relevant. This in mind, the above statements become: “Used MailChimp database to distribute daily newsletter to over 20,000 subscribers.” “Implemented contest on Facebook, generating 25% increase in key metrics week over week.”

Hierarchy, Not Anarchy

Always emphasize relevant skills and experience— this goes for the overall order of your résumé as well as the individual sections. For instance, your professional experience is the most important part of the résumé, so it should be immediately visible in the upper half of the document. Within the professional experience section, your most relevant job (usually your most recent) should start the list. Exclude irrelevant skills, dated professional experience, and weekend hobbies.

Style Cues

No first person: There’s no need to use “I” or “My.” Your name at the top of the résumé makes it obvious who you’re writing about. Action Verbs: Use assertive and meaningful verbs to describe your achievements—the more specific the verb, the better. Not Descriptive: “Managed production process of X.”

Descriptive: “Supervised a team of 4 engineers, increasing production of X by 15%.

The Boston College Career Office provides a useful list of action verbs. Keywords/Buzzwords: A growing number of employers save résumés in keyword-searchable databases, which HR personnel can search using specific keywords. Most keywords are nouns and phrases, and are often the expertise, industry-related jargon, projects, and job titles that can be found in the content of the job posting. For example:

-project manager
-event marketing Web analytics CMS marketing campaigns

It’s important to include keywords to ensure your righteous résumé isn’t overlooked, however, do so modestly. “Optimizing” your résumé is important, but shouldn’t take precedence over sharp text and clean design. Business Never Personal: A résumé is not a biography. Do not include information such as political affiliation, sexual preference, or religion.


When it comes to the format of a résumé, conventional wisdom insists that it consist of five main sections: Contact Information, Objective, Professional Experience, Education, and Skills. But being conventional isn’t likely to help you stand out from the crowd. Let’s consider each section individually:

Contact Information

Your name, and all methods by which you can be reached, should always appear at the top of your résumé. At minimum, your contact information should include your first and last name, current address, telephone number, and email address.


Traditionally, the résumé always leads with the Objective section, in which the job seeker briefly describes why he or she is right for the job being offered. They usually go something like this: “Sales executive with a record of generating new accounts looking for opportunity to exceed sales targets and build enthusiastic customer relations.”

Writing about one’s self in third person is inherently awkward, and objective statements are notoriously vague. In an age where requiring a cover letter accompany a résumé is de rigeur, the Objective section is redundant. The question that the Objective section seeks to answer—What makes you best qualified for the job?—can be better addressed in the cover letter, where you have more wiggle room to introduce yourself anddescribe the specific achievements that make you a desirable candidate. The only time it may be a good idea to include an Objective section in your résumé is when a cover letter is not requested.

Work Experience

The Work Experience section—often also titled Professional Experience, Employment Experience, Relevant Experience, or just Experience— is, with the exception of your contact information, the most important part of your résumé. Your Experience section can be organized in reverse chronological order (most recent job first) or in order of relevancy. Usually, your most recent jobs are the most relevant, so focus on creating brief, vivid descriptions of your tasks and accomplishments for each of them. If you’ve had an extensive career, exclude or very briefly summarize early-career occupations. Also, consider including relevant internships or volunteer work.

Each position you list should include the following, in this order:

-Title or Position Held
-Name of Company or Organization
-Location of Company or Organization
-Dates of Employment
-Duties and Achievements If you feel the names of the companies or organizations you worked for are more impressive than your job title, then begin with the company name first—just make sure you do so consistently throughout the Experience section. Detailing the duties you performed and connecting them to specific accomplishments is perhaps the most important part of the Experience section, if not your whole résumé. The descriptions should be bulleted, and listed in order of relevance. Remember to use action verbs and keywords.


The Education section should be a simple listing of pertinent facts about your education and training. Begin the section with the highest degree you’ve earned. If you have a college degree or post-graduate degree, do not include information about where you went to high school. If you are in the process of attending college or technical school, state your expected graduation date. If you have not attended a college or technical school, then include information about your high school education, GED, or any additional training. For each degree earned, include the following information: Degree Earned Name, City, and State of Institution Graduation Date Minors and/or Emphases (optional) GPA (optional; do not include if below 3.0) The Education section is also where you can call attention to awards received while in school, as well as training or certification received outside of academia, including professional seminars, community workshops, or online tutorials.


The Skills section is a bulleted list of those skills, tools, and processes in which you are proficient. Your list should be organized, accurate, specific, and include keywords. If you are a computer programmer, highlight the software you’ve experience using; if you’re a printing press operator, include the type of machines you’re adept at operating.

Additional Sections

Create additional sections to emphasize relevant skills and accomplishments. If you’ve won a number of professional awards or honors, create an Awards section; if you are a writer who has published work, create a Publications section; if you’re applying for a non-profit job and have relevant volunteer or internship experience, remove it from the Experience section and create a separate Volunteer Experience section. Remember, your résumé is your marketing tool, so thoughtfully manipulate the format anyway you can to create a clear and powerful presentation of your experience and potential.


Given the amount of attention it is likely to receive, it’s important that your résumé be designed so that it is easy to scan and immediately understand. Before working on your résumé’s layout, review free résumé templates to get a better idea of industry standards. Approach the design of your résumé with the intent to impress the reviewer with the details of your career history. To do so, consider the following tips: Unless you are a nurse, professor, or academic researcher, try to keep your résumé to one page. If the content of your résumé spills over the one-page limit, review your content and remove any irrelevant information, including biographical material, outdated job experience, or vague phrasing. Emphasize the “Experience” section by boldfacing your job titles (or company, if more impressive). Use a different type and size of font to differentiate section headers and descriptive text. Font sizes should be no less than 10 point, and you should avoid using more than two fonts in the document. Make sure you apply them consistently, and stick to traditional fonts – Times New Roman, Helvetica, and the like. Use columns to create a clean organizational hierarchy. Most résumés are one column; see what your résumé might look like if it was two—it may allow you to place several important sections closer to the top of the page, where eyeballs tend to land. More importantly, use columns within your résumé sections to allow for easy, instant scanning of your skills and accomplishments. Keep your résumé clutter free by embracing white space. Set suitable column widths and maintain margins of no less than one inch.


The last step before submitting your résumé is to make sure it is free of those silly typographic mistakes that so often get a competitive candidate prematurely booted from the job race.


There’s absolutely no excuse for not using your word processing software’s spell checking tool.


Take a step back from the text of the résumé and scan the entire document for formatting inconsistencies. You’re looking to identify and correct misaligned bullet points, irregular line or margin spacing,

Third Party Review

It’s hard to objectively judge your own résumé after having spent so much time creating it. Ask a friend or family member to give you a quick first impression of your résumé. Then have them read through it, taking note of any questions or concerns that arise. If it doesn’t receive the response you expected, review your material and edit as you see fit. Many job seekers also find it helpful to employ an editorial professional to copy edit and/or proofread their résumé. If interested, feel free to contact Verbal Ink to discuss our writing services.

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