Sarah E Murphy Following Your Bliss
A Career Advice Column
by Sarah E. Murphy
writer, photoartist, entrepreneur and seasoned job-seeker

It Shouldn’t Have To Be This Hard:
How To Take The Sting Out Of Writing A Resume
Posted: June 2003

When Ben Franklin ruminated on life’s two certainties, death and taxes, he forgot to mention the third, writing a resume. If you’re like most of us, then it is a task that generates about the same amount of pleasure as the aforementioned. To be honest, even sitting down to write an article about writing a resume filled me with a mild sense of dread.

So what is it that makes it so unpleasant?

For the most part, it is the fact that we have to sell ourselves and sum up our existence on one sheet of paper. Or should it be just one page? The proper length of a "good" resume is just one of the many gray areas in this sometimes painful process.

"...we have to sell ourselves and sum up our existence on one sheet of paper. Or should it be just one page?"

Take It From The Experts

I spoke with Joseph Terach, co-founder of Manhattan-based Resume Deli (www.resumedeli.com) about the do’s and don’ts of resume preparation, and how to make your resume stand out from the crowd.

Joseph Terach (co-founder, Resume Deli) has seven years of experience as a career counselor, and has presented numerous workshops on resume and cover letter writing, interview coaching, networking, and online career management. Joseph’s advice has been featured in The New York Times and Newsday, and he has had articles published in Money Magazine and Tech News. He is also the co-author of Crane’s Guide to Writing an Effective Resume (Crane & Company, Inc., 2002). Joseph holds an MA in counseling and a BA in psychology and English, both from New York University.

Resume Deli’s team of 20+ experienced career counselors provides a top-tier resume and cover letter development service. Their mission is simple: to equip you with the most powerful resume and cover letter possible—no matter what your industry or level of experience. Within 72 hours, Resume Deli will rewrite, reorganize, reformat, and target your resume to your specific industry. Resume Deli clients are also provided with job search advice from their assigned expert.

Show Don’t Tell

What you should always do on a resume, and what most people fail to do, is focus on your results. Mr. Terach suggests offering statistics and tangible examples of your work experience. "Be as detailed as possible and use numbers/data where appropriate to describe your work. Think not only in terms of what you did, but how well you did it. Consider the results of the actions you took, and include on your resume the positive, quantitative effect you had on the company for whom you worked."

"how to make your resume stand out from the crowd."

"For example, take a look at the following at the following bullet points; each presents a progressively more detailed way of describing the same work accomplishment. See how each consecutive bullet point is more descriptive and quantitative."

  • Responsible for increasing revenues
  • Increased revenues in the third quarter
  • Developed a new client management database, resulting in a 25% increase in third quarter revenues—the firm’s largest quarterly increase in over 5 years.

Who Cares?

Resume Deli suggests performing the "Who Cares?" test when deciding what or what not to include in your resume. "Target the content of your resume, keeping in mind the specific job for which you’re applying and what the person reading your resume will want to see. While it’s commendable that you watered your neighbor’s plants in junior high school, is it really going to help you get a job as a banker today? Anything that doesn’t relate to the job you’re applying for can be safely left off your resume."

To Be Or Not To Be A Page

Forget what you’ve heard about confining a resume to one page. It’s not true! "Your Resume should be as Long as is Necessary. I’m not sure if that advice originated from recruiters and employers who did not want to read more than one page, or from jobseekers who thought it would take less time to prepare a one-page document. If you have enough experience and accomplishments to share—that is, experience and accomplishments that your target employer will truly care about reading, then by all means, include it! And if your resume runs to two pages, so be it."

Where Do I Begin?

Another area of confusion is how much information to include. "Go as far back into your employment history as you can find relevant experience where you have quantifiable accomplishments to share with your reader. On the other side of the coin, do NOT include work you did last year if it’s irrelevant to your current job search and your target employer." However, Mr. Terach encourages being as concise as possible. "Do not be wordy. When expressing your skills and accomplishments, get right to the point."

Room For Growth

We have all, at one time or another faced the old employment Catch 22. You need to get experience, but due to your lack of it, you can’t obtain it. "Even though you may have limited professional experience, you should not hide that fact that you are knowledgeable in your field. Use what you’ve learned from internships, volunteer work, and careful research to show more seasoned professionals in your target industry that you take your work and career interests seriously. Important skills can be developed through non-paid work experiences. Without being arrogant, show people what you know."

Just last week, Mr. Terach appeared on the CBS Daily Show. To view the broadcast, go to: www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/06/03/earlyshow/series/main556793.shtml

So What Are They Looking For?

I asked Bart Ferris, Solution Engineering Manager of Netegrity, a security software solutions company in Waltham, MA, what he likes to see in a resume. "I look for technical qualifications that are backed up by application in their daily job, and increasing levels of responsibility or technical complexity. I also look for breadth of experience in market sectors, such as Manufacturing, High Tech, and Financial, in addition to the length of time in jobs. You want to have folks that show some longevity."

Too Much Information

As far as what not to include, misspellings prove to be a surprisingly common, not to mention detrimental factor in resumes. "Irrelevant personal information is also something we are not interested in. We don’t need to know that you have five cats and enjoy nude sunbathing."

Ultimately, Mr. Ferris believes that what gets you in the door for an interview is the resume and knowing someone at the company. Therefore, if you don’t have a personal connection, your resume must speak for itself.

"...the first step in writing a resume is deciding on a job target or job objective, something that can be stated in about 5 or 6 words."

Tom Etheridge, Director of Worldwide Professional Services at Netegrity, agrees that personal information is not necessary, however, certifications, affiliations and other technical accomplishments are of interest (MCSE, CISSP, etc.). Mr. Etheridge says what they are looking for is experience and consistency. "For technical consulting positions we look to see if the person has any experience traveling, including international travel experience, to see how they will transition into the role of a traveling consultant. We touch a lot of customers in a short period of time, so we look to see if they've worked on multi-year projects for one or two clients or multiple clients in a year's time. We look for job bouncing, either multiple jobs in a few years’ time period or different categories of jobs over a number of years, such as developer to project manager to application architect then back to developer, which might indicate career uncertainty or a lack of goal orientation."

Now That’s a Damn Good Resume!

Yana Parker is the author of the Damn Good Resume Guide, The Resume Catalog: 200 Damn Good Examples, and many other extremely informative guides to resume preparation. Check out her website at www.damngood.com for many helpful tips.

According to Ms. Parker, the first step in writing a resume is deciding on a job target or job objective, something that can be stated in about 5 or 6 words. She says that leaving out a job objective is one of the most common mistakes people make, for prospective employers want to see a clear sense of direction.

PAR Statements

Ms. Parker believes that the best way to make them stand up and take notice, and to differentiate yourself from the rest of the pile, is to fill your resume with PAR statements.

"You need to get experience, but due to your lack of it, you can’t obtain it."

PAR stands for Problem-Action-Results. First you state the problem that existed in your workplace, then you describe what action you took, and finally you point out the beneficial results of those actions.

For example:

"Transformed a disorganized, inefficient warehouse into a smooth-running operation by totally redesigning the layout; this saved the company thousands of dollars in recovered stock."

Another example:

"Improved an engineering company's obsolete filing system by developing a simple but sophisticated functional-coding system. This saved time and money by recovering valuable, previously lost, project records."

In keeping with the idea of PAR statements, she encourages jobseekers to remove all statements beginning with the words “responsibilities included” and replace them with tangible, on-the-job accomplishments.

So What’s The Deal With Fancy Paper?

Another myth in preparing a resume is that colorful, expensive paper will get you noticed. However, this could actually hurt your chances, for according to Ms. Parker, employers hate “pretentious presentations” and usually toss them right out. Forget the pastel parchment paper. Keep it simple and genuine, and let your accomplishments speak for themselves. Or consider investing the money you’ll save on fancy paper and putting it towards hiring a professional, like Resume Deli, to do the work for you. The results will be painless and beneficial.

 

- Sarah E. Murphy