Resumes: Used And Abused!

Ah, the resume.  The most used and abused document in one’s job search arsenal.  I’ve seen great resumes, and I’ve seen really poor ones.  You can have the best skills, and the most extensive work experience, regardless of your industry, but if the written content of your resume is not organized and presented properly it will ruin your chances of being considered for that dream job. And even though the resume is no longer the first thing many employers see about a candidate, when it is finally presented, it’s either going to work in your favor, or not.
Among the major issues that distinguish a good resume from a bad one is the volume of content.  No matter how much experience is being represented in the resume, frequently the document is either too long or too short.  It either provides way too much detail, or not enough information about what the candidate can do to fill the employer’s needs.  Inexperienced job seekers tend to overemphasize minute details that have no bearing on the job being applied for in an attempt to make themselves look more professional and qualified.  Job seekers with long work histories often provide too much detail that is either irrelevant, outdated, unfocused or poorly prioritized. While a good resume doesn’t have to be restricted to one page, it should be tightly focused, and highly targeted to a specific employment situation.  If your relevant experience from the last ten years necessitates three pages of detail, just make sure that it is appropriately targeted and concise.
Another resume abuse happens when applicants misplace skills, experience and personal attributes under the wrong resume headings.  In simplest terms, your experience is defined by the accomplishments you achieved, large or small, simple or major contributions to the work that needed to be done.  Skills are the things you’ve learned how to do and used on the job; factors like specific software, equipment or language skills used in the course of doing your work.  Personal attributes are the intangible traits you bring to the job, like reliability, punctuality, friendliness, being respectful, professional, and personable. Occasionally some of these qualities can be interchangeably categorized, but for the most part, they are separate and should be distinguishable on the resume.
Most job seekers can be well served using a traditional set of headings in their resumes.  Briefly, these include, in order of appearance:

Objective – which states the specific title of the job being applied for, or a close description of the job you are after if the specific title is unknown.

Skills – a list of specific functions you can perform, or statements of proficiency and experience with particular hardware, software, or other tools of your trade.

Personal Attributes – are the most relevant work, cultural and personality qualities that you offer.

(Frequently, skills and personal attributes are combined into a single heading, or used in a Profile statement.)

Experience –details your accomplishments, and how you performed relevant tasks and specific functions on previous jobs, that are listed in reverse chronological order (most recent first).   Job title is listed first, followed by the company worked for, and the dates you were employed there.  It’s generally unnecessary to go back more than 10-13 years in your work history.

Education – is placed toward the bottom of your document, unless you graduated in the last two years in which case it could be inserted before the Experience section.  The school you graduated from and the degree received, along with the year course work was completed are sufficient.  Listing specific courses is unnecessary unless there is no work experience to convey the skills and training gained.

Awards and Associations or Professional Affiliations – can be listed if they are relevant to the position being applied for or the industry in which you plan to work.

Certainly there is room for variation to this basic formatting.  Things like length of work history and its contiguousness may necessitate the de-emphasis of some items and the addition or deletion of others.
And there are some industries where applicants will benefit from a less-than-traditional resume.  One and two-page mini portfolios are frequently submitted for jobs in graphics, illustration, fine art, photography and architecture.  Alternative page folds and landscape layouts are also used as attention-getters.  Attractive images in an eye catching layout can speak volumes about an applicant’s skill levels, and their ability to demonstrate an understanding of an employer’s needs.  With thanks to Bobby Fingeroth of for finding and providing this link to some creative, non traditional resume samples:
Regardless of style, I believe that readability is THE major factor that distinguishes a resume from used or abused status.  If the reader’s eye can not easily spot what it needs from a resume, it will be quickly dismissed.
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