How to improve your resume

You’ve decided to move closer to the equator and you need to find a new job. Or maybe you were laid off last November and are still looking. Or perhaps you’re hoping to move up the ladder and make more money.

Maybe all three? So you’ve searched through the files and pulled out that old resume, dusted it off, and are looking to update it with your new address and your current job information.

You may want to do more than just freshen it up. It may be time for a complete resume overhaul. Gone are the days of the three columns with the dates in the first column, the business name in the middle, and a few keywords describing your job in the third. Nowadays, a resume must be packed with information in a readable format that will catch an employer’s eye.

The purpose of the resume is just that – to get you in the door – to get you the interview. So, set that old resume aside, pull out a pad of paper, and let’s get started.

What do you want?

If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you won’t get it. Get out the classifieds and start scanning. Go to some of the job websites and get ideas.

Keywords – words not to use.

As you’re reading the employment ads, keep track of keywords that you see often. Jot them down so that you can work them into your resume. For example, Let’s imagine that Donna is looking for an Administrative Assistant/Office manager job.

She starts looking over ads and finds a number of words that come up often: self-starter, organization skills, communication, accounts receivable, seasoned, computer skills, phone skills. These are just a few she found in the local paper. These now become the areas she wants to focus on.

As an aside, studies have found that, more often than not, employers look for character and general qualities before they look for skills. These qualities include a strong work ethic, great communication abilities, honest, integrity, teamwork. Below those come computer and organization skills.

Words not to use in your resume: assist/assisted, effectively/carefully/quickly, cutting edge, facilitate, liaison, responsible for.

We’ve gathered all the information and keywords. It’s time to rough out the monster. Here are the sections you need to put together.

Objectives – in this section you’ll provide, in a sentence or two, what you want in a position.

Example: I am looking for an opportunity where I can make a difference and effect positive change. My goal in every job I’ve had is to improve: conditions, work processes, standards, or profits. I enjoy working with people who appreciate initiative and problem-solving.

Experience – in this section, you’ll provide the skills that you’ve accumulated in your jobs. The format you want to use is WHAT – HOW – RESULT. What did you do? How did you do it? What was the result?

Example: Built and maintain XXX County Government’s first local area network; currently using Windows XP. Significant, documented improvements in inter-office communication and coordination, as well as major improvements to customer service.

If you can use dollar figures in this section, so much the better.

Example: Responsible for $400,000 in accounts payable and receivable; critical role in developing and overseeing a $200,000 annual budget. Responsible for all purchases and leases for capital improvement.

Anticipate the employer’s unspoken needs. If you’ve worked in a similar position and know what things the ad left out, use that information to tell the employer what else you’ll do for him that he hasn’t even thought about yet.

You’ll want to use great action words in your resume. There are entire lists of these available online, but here are some to give you an idea: achieved, analyzed, founded, publicized, created, improved, educated, managed, minimized, etc

You’ll want to divide up your experience into sections, grouping skills together. Here are some possible headings: Technical, Administrative, Customer Service, etc. Another section you may want here if it applies is a Community Service section. Here you will list volunteer work and things you’ve done within your community.

Example: Over 15 years of saving lives with County Ambulance Service, Search and Rescue, Emergency Management, and Regional Emergency and Trauma Advisory Council.

Education – Here you will list your education history. For the most part, you’ll be filling out an application for any position you apply for. So keep this section short and to the point. List your college and any other classes taken that relate to the position you are after.

References – No more than three. Again, this is usually something that you’ll be filling out again on the application form. So, if you like, you may simply say References available upon request.

Formatting – put yourself in the employer’s shoes. Take a look online at various formats for resumes. Remember, the simpler the better. Hand your resume to a friend to look at. Watch his INITIAL reaction. If his eyes get wide and he frowns, you likely have way too much information packed onto the page.

If at all possible, keep your resume to one page, two at the MOST. If you end up with two pages, MAKE SURE, that the most important information – the priority information – is on page one.

Here are some formatting tips:

  • Use 8-1/2- x 11-inch white or off-white paper. The bright white paper is best.
  • Print only on one side of the paper.
  • Use a standard font, no smaller than size 10.
  • (Times New Roman, Arial, Courier)
  • Avoid italics, script, and underlined words.
  • Do not use graphics, highlighting, or shading.
  • Do not fold or staple your resume.

If you must mail your resume, put it in a large envelope.

Review and Critique – if you have a typo on your resume – you’re doomed. Spell check it, have a friend or two proofread it. Then, find a friend or acquaintance that does some sort of hiring.

Have him look over your resume and listen to his observations. It doesn’t matter if you think it looks fabulous. It matters what employers think.

Finally, you’ll need to write a cover letter. While this is a topic in and of itself, suffice it to say that it’s the cover letter that gets targeted for each specific job.

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