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In a job search, your resume plays an important role. It highlights your strengths and qualifications for prospective employers and can entice them to call you for an interview.
But when you apply for an opening, your resume could be just one of dozens, or even hundreds. Lacking the time to examine every document in depth, the hiring manager or human resources recruiter may give each resume only a quick once-over. How can you ensure your resume stands out? Using green or pink paper and multicolored ink is one option, but not the best one, since you're likely to come across as unprofessional.
Instead, follow these guidelines.
Keep it short. Unless you have decades of experience or are applying for a high-level position, keep your resume to one or two pages. To save space -- and impress the hiring manager -- prune anything not germane to the specific job you seek. Leave off personal, biographic details such as you hobbies and the names of your family members.
Use a clean, uncluttered format. Your resume should be easy to follow, with clearly marked sections. Use headings for main ideas and bullet points for specifics. Don't try to cram in more information by using small type or narrow margins, and incorporate plenty of white space so the page doesn't look like a sea of type. Use just one font -- mixing typefaces is tricky and best left to design professionals. In addition, use boldface and italics sparingly, and bear in mind that underlined text and copy set in all capitals is hard to read.
Many employers want applicants to copy and paste a resume into the body of an e-mail rather than including it as an attached file. In these instances, strip out formatting such as bullets, boldface and italic type to ensure the resume can be read on any computer system.
Lead with an objective. At the top of your resume, include a short statement outlining your career goals and the type of position you are looking for, along with two or three credentials that qualify you for the role. Concentrate on the value you can bring to the company and what it will gain from hiring you, not the expectations you have of the position. In other words, mention that you are a "detail-oriented accounting professional and team player" rather than "seeking position in a relaxed, congenial environment."
Customize the resume for each job opening. Submitting a one-size-fits-all resume for every posting is not a smart move. Instead, alter the content to highlight your skills and accomplishments that fit the opening you are targeting. You can create one generic resume and then adapt it to each opportunity you're applying for. The extra time you take to do this will pay off by generating more interest from employers.
Use keywords. Your resume may be scanned into a database and searched for keywords relevant to the job you seek. More and more companies are using this technology to quickly evaluate applicants. Examples of keywords include specific tasks or responsibilities, job titles, computer programs, or certifications.
Integrate keywords into the text of your work history or objective statement, but make sure what you write is accurate and not over the top. If you pepper the resume with too many keywords, the resume will look contrived, which could be just as off-putting as not including enough.
When choosing keywords, be aware of spam filters. Watch out for words that could be taken as suggestive or sound like a sweepstakes or marketing promotion. These could trigger a spam filter that consigns your resume to the junk e-mail folder. Instead of saying you "won awards" or "prizes," say you were "formally recognized" for your accomplishments.
Show successes. Demonstrate how you have contributed to former employers and how your next employer will benefit from hiring you. Use action words, verbs such as "increased" and "implemented," for example.
Quantify your accomplishments. Give your professional achievements weight by stating exactly how you affected a former company's bottom line. Include the cost savings, budget size, percent improvement in productivity, number of projects completed per year and similar figures. By quantifying your accomplishments, you demonstrate a business perspective and give hiring managers concrete evidence of your abilities.
Although employers want to see a solid record of success, it is always a mistake to inflate your accomplishments or invent degrees, certifications and software expertise you don't possess. The truth can quickly emerge through even the most basic reference or background check, and the consequences can be serious.
Proofread, proofread, proofread. Make sure your resume contains no misspelled words or errors in grammar and punctuation. Typos show a lack of attention to detail. Nearly half the executives polled in a survey by Robert Half said just one typo would disqualify a candidate from consideration. The lesson: Proofread, and ask an eagle-eyed friend to go over your resume. In addition, use your computer's spell-check feature, but remember it won't catch all errors, such as substituting "manger" for "manager," for example.
Accompany your resume with a two- or three-paragraph cover letter that goes into greater detail about specific accomplishments outlined in your resume. Then, don't just send your application off and hope for the best. If you don't hear from the company in a couple of weeks, follow up with an e-mail or phone call. Follow-up contact will reinforce your interest in the position and demonstrate initiative, as well as potentially prompt the hiring manager to give your resume a second look.
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