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Resurrecting the Perfect Resume, Part One

By Cheryl Lynch Simpson
Posted Thursday, February 24, 2005

Is your resume dead? Don’t be so quick to say, “No way!” Of the hundreds of resumes I’ve seen written by job seekers of all backgrounds and educational levels, easily 95% qualify to be labelled as dead-but-not-yet-buried.

A dead resume lacks a clear structure or chronology, does not present or quantify achievements, fails to offer a “big picture” of what you would bring to the employer and is impersonal rather than expressive. Worse yet, a dead resume fails to win you the response you’re hoping for from the employer: an invitation for a job interview.

To win more job interviews and dramatically increase the quality of opportunities your resume can help you attract, strip your resume down to bare bones and resurrect it using the same techniques professional resume writers use to reposition job seekers whose own job search campaigns have failed to yield the results they need.

Problem #1: Resume Lacks Structure

You cannot create a resume without first creating a structure for it. Resumes are complicated documents that include different types of information which they communicate to different types of readers. If your resume has a poor structure it will make no sense to the reader; he or she will simply discard your resume and move on the next one in the pile, and you will count yourself lucky to even get a rejection letter.

Solution #1: Create A Strong Skeleton For Your Resume

* Be as specific as possible in the content you want to communicate.
* Match your content to the job you are applying for and the industry you seek to enter.
* Avoid jargon yet be sure to use industry-specific key words.
* Organize and sequence all of your dates and details. You didn’t edit, then write and then initiate; you initiated, then wrote and then edited.
* List dates chronologically but in reverse order.
* Combine like skills together.
* Choose a resume style (chronological, functional, skills-based combination) that highlights your accomplishments.
* List resume sections with most important section first, least important section last and all other sections in their appropriate place in between those two poles. Education should rarely be listed first unless you seek work either in academia or in a field where education is paramount, such as in medicine.
* Be consistent in how you record information. Begin bulleted sentences and phrases with the same parts of speech. Give the same level of detail in all resume sections. Use first person for verbs, not second. It is inappropriate to refer to yourself in the second person as if you are someone else: “Resolves customer complaints promptly,” really means, “Mary resolves customer complaints promptly.” To imply, “I resolve customer complaints promptly,” say, “Resolve customer complaints promptly.”
* Double check all your details. Edit your resume at least three times yourself, then invite knowledgeable others to edit it as well. Then edit it again yourself, this time reading the whole document backwards, word by word. Do not rely on spell checkers to do this for you - they are only as thorough as you are!

Problem #2: Resume Contains No Substance

Many job seekers write a resume with structure but no substance, with a skeleton but no muscles. Remember that your resume is your brochure; its job is to highlight your best qualities and credentials, downplay your weaknesses and sell the reader on the idea of interviewing you. To accomplish this you must layer details and specific examples into your key resume sections.

Solution #2: Layer Achievement Muscles Onto Your Resume Skeleton

* Highlight the most vital points.
* Add deeper levels of detail; articulate clearly and succinctly.
* Tell success stories with brevity and power.
* Make each word count.
* Use graphics and bold, underline, or italics to draw your reader’s eyes to what you most want them to read.
* Describe results and outcomes to sell your highest level of achievement.
* Apply a journalism technique to craft powerful success stories. What did you do? How did you do it? Why? With and for whom? Where? When? What results did you achieve? Answer these questions fully on separate paper, then edit your story until it fits into 1-2 sentences and insert it in your resume. Use the original expanded version of your story to share verbally with employers in interviews.
* Characterize all numbers in their most powerful and realistic form. Let’s say you cashiered at a grocery store and closed out your register with an average of $1000 daily. Let’s also say that you worked five days a week. Multiply that $1000 times five days per week and it becomes $5000 weekly; or $20,000 monthly, if your prefer.
* Put yourself in your reader’s shoes and anticipate their questions, concerns and objections. Be honest in your assessment of your weaknesses and proactive in your defense against questions about them. If you know you lack specific experience, then go out of your way to translate your background into language and skill sets a potential employer will want to hear.
* What assumptions do you fear an employer will make about you? That you’re too old? Too young? Inexperienced? Overqualified? Build resume muscles on these specific issues by challenging assumptions before they can be raised.
* Use action verbs and concrete, quantifiable nouns. Avoid passive verbs. Use verbs that communicate to your reader’s senses and create the impression of action.
* Avoid vague terms like “several”, “many” and “some”; try specific numbers or number ranges instead.
* Choose verbs and nouns that demonstrate the highest level of skill you have achieved.

About the Author
Cheryl Lynch Simpson is a Spiritual Director and Solutions Coach who helps women discover and create the life they've always wanted to live. Cheryl is the author of over 30 print/Internet articles and the founder of Coaching Solutions For Women, a coaching website that produces and showcases career, business, and life solutions that improve the life balance of today's busy women. For a complimentary copy of her latest e-book, Ten-Minute Stress Zappers for Women Service Business Owners, visit (


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