Resume Success! Seven Best Practices

By Alesia Benedict, CPRW, JCTC

Your resume is the key to winning an interview; it helps you get your foot in the door. Therefore, it needs to be at its best. If you are like most people, you don’t think about your resume until you need it. Once you need it, you have to scramble around trying to find out how best to construct or update it. That’s two strikes from the beginning – you haven’t prepared a resume in years and you are in a hurry because you need to jump at an opportunity. The third strike comes with your lack of experience and resume insight. You don’t write resumes every day so you don’t know what works and what flops. You are out of practice, in the dark, and in a hurry – not a good combination for success in producing a great resume! To help you out, here are seven best practices for resumes!

1 - Think Ahead

In a way, a resume is like a will – you don’t think about it until you need it and then it’s too late! Racking your brain for achievements and performance metrics to include in the resume at clutch time is not very productive. Instead of ignoring it until you need it, always be prepared by keeping a career journal. Track everything you achieve in your career and note details. Save copies of all your job evaluations. Keep everything in one place and when you are ready to update your resume, you have the needed information already gathered.

2 - Keep Up

A great resume is kept updated and ready to go at short notice. In addition to making sure your contact information is current, keep the content of experience updated. As current or recent information is added, older information may drop off. Don’t let the resume run on like Santa’s list for pages and pages! Revisit your resume at least every six months. Changes in career can happen rapidly and unexpectedly. You do not want to suddenly find yourself unemployed with an old and outdated resume.

3 - Focus on Most Recent Events

Employers are primarily interested in the most recent events in your career. A general rule of thumb is to detail the most recent decade or maybe fifteen years of experience. Older experience may be removed or shortened to a list of job titles and names of employers. Many job seekers mistakenly think all their work history has to be included so the employer grasps their depth of experience, but that is simply not true. Early experience is foundational but it is not relevant to the challenges and needs of employers today. Here’s an example – an administrative assistant started her career in the eighties where she learned all the current office technology of the time – thermal fax machines, multi-line phone systems, and word-processors. Will touting that experience now set her above other candidates? No!

4 - Keep Content Relevant

A senior manager with over 15 years’ experience in leadership positions volunteers once a month at the downtown soup kitchen. Is it relevant to his goal of attaining a position as a regional manager of logistics? Probably not. Granted, it’s a great thing to do but most employers would not say volunteer work is the tipping point toward granting the interview. Civic involvement is good and it shows a community-mindedness that is positive; however, to sacrifice direct, job-related information in order to include volunteer information is usually not wise.

5 - Focus on the Employer

What are the requirements of the job you are targeting? What do employers need from candidates in terms of information? You need to know these things so the resume can be focused on specific needs of the employer. What you think was important in a previous job may not be what the employer wants to see. Conversely, you may inadvertently leave out information that would have tipped the scales to your favor with potential employers. Do you know what skills/experiences are really “required” and what skills employers would like to have? Career marketing is just that – marketing. Part of marketing is knowing what the buyer (in this case the employer) wants to buy rather than trying to sell him something you simply think he wants.

6 - Make It User-Friendly

In addition to the content of the resume, other factors can have significant impact on the usability of the resume. A simple thing is file format. Most employers want resumes in Word or text file format. If you send your resume in PDF, Works, or WordPerfect file formats, it is very possible the employer either won’t be able to open it, or he will have to go through extra steps to open it. That’s not user-friendly. Other issues might include font size so small it is difficult to read, a disorganization of information, and incorrect contact information. A user-friendly resume can be opened easily, read easily, and understood easily.

7 - Keep Information Accurate

When unemployed and feeling desperate, the temptation to fudge on your resume can be enticing. Do not make that mistake! A resume can be written powerfully and persuasively without stooping to lying or prefabrication. Do not claim qualifications you do not have. Invariably, the lies will catch up with you and you will have an even bigger problem. Honesty is the best policy. Many people have difficulty seeing their own accomplishments as achievements; they simply view their background as “just the job”. A professional resume writer can be a great resource when it is time to capture your value in a resume. An objective viewpoint of someone who writes resumes daily, works with job seekers closely, and stays in touch with the demands of the market is invaluable to making your job search go smoothly.

A successful resume is a combination of selection of information, presentation, wordsmithing, and knowing market demands. Just like continuing education and certifications, the resume should be considered a key career tool to be kept current and ready at a moment’s notice. The resume is your representative – it opens doors, introduces you, and makes things happen. That’s why it needs to be in great shape! Keep the resume toned up and follow these success strategies all the way to “You’re hired!”