Struttin’ Your Stuff:
Your Jewish Fairy Godmother’s 10 Commandments for Resume Writing
There’s nothing like having a connection at the other end, someone you
know personally, or even a friend of a friend, some receptive audience on whose
desk your resume will land. But regardless of who’s going to read your resume,
what you put on it and how it looks will help determine if you get an interview,
and possibly even land the job or if you get round-filed.
Consider your resume as an extension of your self. It represents your
history and to some degree your personality. Think of it like a two-dimensional
greeting card. (Note: Three-dimensional resumes will be the subject of a future
column.) So try these ten commandments and boost your chances of getting to
the next step in the hiring process:
Commandment Number 1: Make a good first impression.
Think of it this way: the person who will hold your resume to decide if you go into
the maybe or never pile will spend perhaps as few as 10 seconds before
deciding. You’ve got to make a good impression, and quickly. The minimum: No
coffee stains, postage due, or anything that looks remotely like it went through a
typewriter. Next level: decent paper, a font that’s easy on the eyes, and good
organization. If someone asked to see your resume because they know you, you
might get a solid minute of attention, but that’s usually the upper limit. So ask
yourself, what do I want this person to remember about me, and what is s/he
looking for, in an employee and a person to fill a particular position. Make your
resume an invitation to learn more about you. Look intelligent, organized, and
Commandment Number 2: Think like the reader.
The single most important thing you can do in preparing your resume is to read it
like a stranger. You are so used to being you that it is easy to forget that the
person who will hold it doesn’t know you. Make no assumptions about your life,
and anticipate assumptions others may make about you. See yourself the way
you look to a total stranger who has only a couple of pieces of paper to go by.
What horror story is lurking in that several-year gap in employment? Why so
many short-term jobs? You do what as a hobby?
Commandment Number 3: Tell the truth.
It’s always tempting to embellish, to add a little gloss and glitter, up the ante on
your job titles and responsibilities. And a good euphemism can transform a
mundane-sounding job into something that seems classier, more responsible,
and more important. But if you get caught in a lie you might as well save the
stamp. Be sure your dates of employment are accurate (months and years are
better than just years), your job title is accurate, and your salary info is correct.
Any detail that can be verified is a landmine. Don’t step on it.
Commandment Number 4: Think skills, not chronology.
Scan down the page. If what jumps out at you is a list of bolded dates, you are
selling time, not your assets. Organize your resume by sections that are clearly
identified: Goal, Skills, Professional Experience, Education, Other Information,
References. Be sure what is most apparent are words the employer wants to
see, not just a list of dates. When a reader skims the page, what should be left
and bolded is the list of skills and job titles, words and concepts that help to
promote you. Employer and dates detail should be below the job titles in the
Experience section, italicized, and non bold. The skills and accomplishments
come first, like the worm wriggling on the hook of your life.
Commandment Number 5: Highlight your strengths.
Under Skills, have big headings that show off what you’re selling. You’ll shift the
order around for each job you are applying for. Think about headings like
Personnel Management (or Supervision), Budgeting and Finance (or Cash
Management), and Client Relations (or Customer Service). Or even other skills
like Writing and Editing, Organizational Development, Meeting Coordination, or
Fundraising. Be sure at least one category involves money. Computer skills go
last. Detail all the software you can even moderately use. It may seem simplistic
but hearing that an applicant can use word, excel, powerpoint, IBM and Mac is
Commandment Number 6: Look experienced, versatile, and successful.
For each title in the Skills section, include a bulleted list of achievements. Each
heading should contain at least three items (or it should be under another
category). Be sure to highlight anything you did to bring in income or save the
company money. Avoid generics; be specific and illustrative. Instead of saying
“supervised staff,” say “managed a department of eight staff, and was
responsible for hiring, firing, annual assessment of departmental efficiency, job
descriptions, and performance review. Make your achievements potential for
their own future.
Commandment Number 7: Sometimes less is more.
In the remaining sections be brief but explanatory. For the jobs under the
Experience section, give a job title, business, employment dates, and a one or
two sentence summary of what you did. For education, put the key elements and
degrees, not every supplementary keyboarding class or you’ll look desperate.
For interests and hobbies, tread carefully. Discrimination may be illegal, but it is
hard to prove that you didn’t get an interview because the personnel officer is
prejudiced against Rasta akateboarders. Give enough to show your value, but
not your whole life saga.
Commandment Number 8: Detail your references.
Go far past the “references available upon request” standard. Have a separate
page (with your contact info as a header) with the name, current phone number
and email address for each reference. Be sure to identify them by title and
company, and specify what their relationship to you is. (For example: Supervisor
of my outside sales experience: Beth Jones, Sales Manager, XYZ Corp,
123.456.7890, email@example.com) And if you have a letter that says you walk
on water, add it to the packet. In the ten seconds of attention, at least five will go
to a letter that ends with “You’re making a mistake by not at least interviewing
Commandment Number 9: Make them want to know you better.
Tailor the cover letter for the specific job you are applying for. You don’t have to
slobber your interest, but be clear about why you want it and why you are the
right person for them to consider. Talk simply, not in jargon. Avoid cliches and
generalities. Sound sincere, articulate, and personal, as well as professional. Use
whatever clues you can get from the ad. Check out the company’s website if
possible. Even if your qualifications are going to a blind POB, address your letter
to Human Resources or Selection Committee, not To Whom It May Concern.
Remember, your letter is the beginning of a ten-second infomercial for you.
Become someone they want to meet.
Commandment Number 10: Proofread. Proofread. Proofread.
Do it one more time and get a meticulous friend to do the same. Nothing will get
you tossed into the reject pile faster than a typo. Do not rely solely on an
automated spellchecker, which will give you form when you want from, or some
other correctly spelled word in the wrong place. When you say detail oriental
(when you mean detail oriented), you lose all credibility. And be sure to get the
contact name, the company’s address, and other relevant details 100% accurate,
or all your hard work is in vain.
You won’t score an interview for every job you apply for. But you can use the
commandments above to improve your odds of getting considered for one.