Archive for the ‘resumes’ Category

Achievement statements are a way of listing your expertise on a resume to attract a readers’ attention. They are small case-studies, really, that show-case both your skills and your effectiveness. They’re ideal for those with too wide a variety of experience to fit comfortably on a few pages, and probably more likely to tempt a reader to look at your resume carefully. At worst, their novelty makes them interesting. At best, they state very clearly what you have to offer.

If you decide to use achievement statements, divide a sheet of paper or a text file in a word processor into three columns. Label these columns “What,” “How,” and “Results.”
Then think of things you’ve done that have made you happy or proud. Ideally, these accomplishments should be about business, but you should also consider events connected with family, school, or volunteer activities, especially if they highlight a desirable trait that might help you to get hired.

For each accomplishment, state what you have done in the What column. To keep the statement short, start with the past participle of a strong verb (for instance, “created” or “organized.” Then summarize what the accomplishment consisted of.

Then, in the How column, write what you did in order to achieve the accomplishment. Again, use the past participles of strong verbs.

Finally, in the Results column, use the same structure to explain what happened as the result of your efforts. In many ways, this column is the most important part, because well, it suggests reasons why someone reading your resume might want to hire you. At the very least, it gives readers and interviewers a point in your favor about which they might want to ask more details.

For these reasons, make your results as specific as possible. For example, giving figures where possible is more effective than a general statement. Readers are going to be more impressed by “increased sales 65%” rather than just “increased sales.” Sometimes, though, you won’t have the figures, and have to make do with what you have.

Then repeat this process for each accomplishment that occurs to you. If you can get a colllection of twenty or thirty, you’ll have all the statements you need to match them to any job for which you are likely to reply.

Some finished achievement statements from my own resume preparations:

  • Consulted on policy decisions as Contributing Editor by senior editors at one of top 3 Linux magazines. Wrote two regular columns, technical articles and reviews; advised on individual issues and articles. Results: Wrote 4-6 pages per issue of 90 page magazine. Magazine increased circulation by 56% in 8 months.
  • Set direction of first software product for startup company. Researched and wrote competitive analyses; set feature list; created branding campaign. Results: Company met production deadline with a competitive product. Company praised for its advertising and corporate philosophy by reviewers and customers.
  • Corrected serious flaws in a company’s first software product. Found flaws while installing software at home; explained problems to company principles; prevented new employee from becoming scapegoat; coordinated emergency effort to correct problem over Christmas. Results: Problem corrected before product shipped. Company avoided sales loss due to negative publicity. QA and programming work methods revised.
  • Negotiated bundling deals for retail product. Researched potential partners; discussed terms with third parties; advised lawyer on licensing issues and contract terms. Results: Product’s appeal enhanced and remained within budget per unit.
  • Developed and supervised branding campaign for new company and first software product. Originated concept; worked with design company; planned ad placement; negotiated ad rates; planned trade fair activities; liaised with customer base, partners ,& media; wrote ad copy, newsletters, and public statements. Results: In 4 months, company was regularly regarded by media as one of top 6 in a field of 20 companies.
  • You can place five or six of these achievement statements on the front page of your resume, with your work experience on the second page. If you choose the statements well, not only will readers have read a page of your resume – an investment of time that will encourage them to read the rest – but, before they have read the details of your career, they will be thinking of you according to the perspectives that you have chosen – and that can’t hurt in any job-hunting situation.

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Of all the possible contents of a resume, the objective statement is by far the most controversial. Many consider it a waste of time, a piece of puffery that is as empty as a mission statement. Personally, I am in favor of using one, but only if it is written and regarded in the right way.

The major objection to using an objective is that it is too vague to carry much meaning. If you are referring to the sort of objective that most people write, I would have to agree. A single phrase like “a programming position” is wasted space on your resume, especially since you can put the same information in a title after your name.

Nor are hirers going to be impressed by “to be CEO,” a statement that I’ve seen at least a dozen times. This is the kind of objective that is passed around the office for its unintentional humor. It’s especially ineffective at a small company or startup where the person reading your resume is the CEO. Just what everyone wants to see — someone with ambitions to replace them.

The trouble with the kind of objective statements that you usually see are that they say nothing meaningful. However, if you view an objective statement as a kind of teaser, an executive summary that encourages those reading your resume to read more, then you can start to write a more effective objective.

And how do you encourage readers to continue looking at your resume, instead of scanning it and then tossing it among the discards? Simple: use the objective to summarize what you can do for the company. With any luck, the hirer will then read the rest of your resume more carefully.

Let’s take an example from one of my resumes. It has three parts: A statement of the general category of position for which I am looking for work, a description of the three main traits that I have to offer, and, finally, a description of how I can use those traits to the benefit of the company to which I’m applying.

The first part is simple: “A marketing and communication position.” I make it the first five or six words, so that readers know immediately what work I’m applying for.

The second part involves more thought. Before writing it, I made a list of two dozen job skills I could offer in marketing and communications, describing them in a phrase and polishing the phrases until they were as concise and precise as possible. Then, I chose the ones that I wanted to emphasize for this particular position: “defining and developing corporate strategy; building communication links; and marketing products.” These are general traits — if I had more specific information about the position, then I would try to use more specific ones.

The third part is crafted in much the same way as the second. I built a list of different ways that I could help a company, then chose the most appropriate ones based on what I knew about the company. Again, I didn’t know very much, so I kept the list general: “to enable a company to define and realize its objectives and production schedules and to create relations with business partners.”

The final version reads: “A marketing and communications position that involves defining and developing corporate strategy; building communication links; and marketing products to enable a company to define and realize its objectives and production schedules and to create relations with business partners.”

This objective isn’t perfect. It’s more general than I would prefer, but you don’t always have the information to do better. However, it does tell hirers what I am looking for. In a few lines, I’ve made clear that I am not looking for an entry level position, but a reasonably senior position (since I talk about shaping corporate strategy first and also mention defining objectives). It also suggests that I might be interested in product management, and that I have experience working with other companies. If I’ve done my research properly in looking for places to apply, with any luck I will have attracted a readers’ interest and he or she will be looking at my resume a little more carefully than the rest in the pile.

Also, since I use semi-colons correctly, I am signalling that I have a high degree of literacy. The implication, if anyone notices, is that I can be counted on to represent the company in a polished and professional manner.

Boiling down your career goals to a few lines isn’t easy. Realistically, you can expect to spend at least several hours coming up with an exact summary of your skills — and don’t be surprised if you spend even longer. But considering that the point is to interest readers enough to notice the details of your skills, then you’ll find that time well spent.

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For years, resumes were my life. As a marketing consultant, I not only submitted hundreds of resumes to clients but also maintained a stable of different resumes for all occasions. As a manager, I’ve waded through hundreds of the things. As a mentor, I’ve helped people write their resumes, and as a freelancer, I’ve written resumes for pay. From these experiences, I’ve learned that the average person’s ideas about resumes can be as strange and misguided as celebrity gossip.

The trouble is, unless you understand the conventions of resume writings, you are unlikely to write an effective one. Here are the most common misunderstandings I’ve run across — misunderstandings that, far from landing a job, may ensure that you aren’t even considered:

A resume will get you a job

Occasionally, people are hired on the strength of their resumes. However, more often, they are interviewed because of their resumes. A resume is really the second filter for applicants (the first is the cover letter).

Instead of thinking of a resume as an end in itself, think of it as the equivalent of a marketing ad. aimed at those with the power to hire. And, as with any ad, a resume should be tailored to its audience. That’s why taking the time to write and proofread a resume and format it in a professional manner is so important. A professional-looking resume suggests that the person it concerns is competent and business-like, the qualities that any hirer wants to see.

Your resume will be carefully read

Have you any idea of how many resumes may arrive for a single position, especially if it’s advertised in major newspapers or on the job-boards? Many companies can’t possibly afford to have anyone read every single resume. Just to survive, they have to develop techniques to weed out as many as 90% of all the resumes they receive.

If your cover letter is poorly written or suggests a lack of experience, at the most your resume will be scanned. It might not even be read at all. If your resume is poorly organized or relevant information is hard to find, only part of it will be read.

Think of the hirer as someone who is over-worked and has a low boredom threshold. This image is not very fair, but it should help you focus on the main goal of getting the hirer to read your resume all the way through. The easier your resume makes it for hirers to find the information they want, the greater the chances that they will read all the way through – and, as a result, invite you for an interview.

A resume is an objective job history

A complete and utter job history may be possible – and relevant – when you are just out of high school. However, people switch jobs so often today that, before you have been working for five years, becomes impractical.

Even more importantly, hirers are only interested in the parts of your resume that help them make a decision about you. Put in too many details, and they may miss the relevant ones.
A resume should be truthful and not exaggerate your experience. But nobody expects you to give all your history. Today, when nobody has a job for life, that’s just not practical.

It’s not a matter of honesty so much as the need to be selective. Think of the need to be selective as a chance to prove your organizational and communication skills.

A resume is a static document

Rather than writing a single resume and using it for every job application, you will probably land more interviews if you take the time to customize your resume for each job. Depending on the job, you may want to mention different skill sets, or even to describe the same job differently. For instance, if you were Manager of Sales and Marketing at a company, you might have one job description that emphasized your sales duties and and another for your marketing responsibilities.

Some job hunters maintain several different resumes, each with a its own emphasis. Another way to streamline customization is to use either the macro or autotext features of a word processor to store a variety of customizations in the same document. In this way, you can conveniently store variable content and quickly produce a custom resume. However, be sure to proofread each custom resume before printing it, just in case you’ve duplicated content.

A resume has an ideal number of pages

Ask each hirer how long your resume will be, and you’re bound to get different answers. Some will tell you a single page, citing Donald Trump as an example. Others will say two, or that it doesn’t matter.

The point is, no one agrees on the ideal length for a resume. The most agreement you’ll get is that if your resume is longer than four pages, you may want to take a long look at its content and layout. Yet, even then, some hirers might make an exception for exceptionally absorbing material.

Before you start fiddling with fonts and margins in order to squeeze your resume into an arbitrary length, ask the hirer what their preferences are. Alternatively, consider adding an executive summary, a single page description of your qualifications.

Whatever you do, think twice about removing content. Otherwise, you might wind up with a resume that is so general that you look unqualified for anything.

A resume is more effective if it includes keywords

Some larger companies scan resumes, then use software to look for keywords that cover some of the skills that the position required. This practice has led some job hunters to include a keywords section in their resume, sometimes in white letters so that they are invisible to humans.

Unfortunately, this practice is so easily abused that a prejudice against it has set in among many hirers. Many may actually resent keywords as an attempt to game the system.

To avoid this reaction, study job descriptions and try to fit the keywords naturally into your resume, so you don’t cause any resentment.

Education should come first in the resume

Since you want to gain the attention of hirers, the most relevant information should come first in your resume. If you are just out of school, that information may be your education. However, the older you are, the more likely that your education will be less important than your job experience. For this reason, experienced job applicants usually list education near the end of the resume. Some very experienced applicants even leave it off altogether.

A resume should include reasons for leaving a position

Forty years ago, some resume templates included this information. It was a different era, when many people wanted the same job for life, and switching jobs seemed unusual enough to require an explanation.

Today, however, people hold many jobs in their lifetimes, and the reasons for leaving a particular one are less important. Anyway, many hirers are more interested in what you can bring to the job than in such details.

Still, you should have explanations ready, just in case a hirer asks. But, whatever you do, don’t imitate one man I knew, who mentioned that he had left two positions after taking his employer to the labor relations board – then wondered why he never got an interview,

A resume should never include hobbies or interests

Hirers seem divided on whether they want such personal information on a resume. However, so long as it only takes up a few lines, such a heading can’t do much harm.

Moreover, in some cases, it can do you good, so long as you are selective about what you include. For instance, if you are a graphic artist, the fact that you design fonts shows another side to your skills that your work experience might not show. Also, some hirers like to see volunteer work listed, in the belief that such a background shows a team player with solid values.

Listing your interests also gives interviewers some talking points, a way to make both of you feel comfortable. For example, on my own resume, I list my interests as “Running; parrots; punk folk music; history, science fiction, and 19th century novels; Linux.” Almost every interviewer has asked me what I mean by “punk folk,” which gives us something to talk about.

Occasionally, too, you’ll find some common ground with the interviewer. I once got a job after a forty minute conversation about parrots that the interviewer and I had known. We didn’t spend five minutes talking about the job, but, by then it didn’t matter.

Understanding how resumes are used and written doesn’t guarantee that you will write a good one. You could note everything I say here, and still write an ineffective resume. However, at least you will avoid some of the more common errors – and that’s a start. The rest is up to your planning and ingenuity.

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