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Career Center

 

 

Resume Writer: 

The Secrets To Successful Resumes

Most of us donít relish the thought of working on our resumes, and tend to rank it in the same category as filing our taxes, or writing thank-you letters. But, like it or not, you really do need a resume if youíre serious about moving ahead in your career, or finding a job thatís suited to your skills. Although a resume wonít land you a job on its own merit, you donít stand much of a chance of securing a job without one.

In todayís highly competitive job market, you need to think of your resume as a promotional brochure Ė a concisely targeted marketing tool about you. It should present your skills, strengths and capabilities in the most favorable light, without resorting to exaggeration or distortion. You need to bear in mind that the average employer will only spend about 20 seconds scanning your resume, so in that short space of time youíve got to grab their attention by matching your skills and experience with what they are looking for.

A well-written resume is in itself a good example of the effectiveness of your communication and organizational skills. Likewise, a disorganized, sloppy resume will imply that you have a similar attitude towards your work, and youíll be tossed out of the potential candidate pool before the selection process even begins. With that in mind, itís important to take the time to carefully develop your resume to be a compelling and well presented "sell sheet" of who you are and what you have to offer.

The Elements of a Resume

Objective

After you have listed your personal details, launch into the body of your resume with a clear, concisely written objective. The purpose of an objective is to grab the employerís attention up-front by communicating a powerful and important message about what you want and what you have to offer. If you donít have much experience, limit your objective to the type of job and industry that you are specifically seeking. However, if you have years of experience and valuable skills, be sure to advertise these assets in a way that will get you noticed. Here are some examples:

A staff accountant position with a financial services company in the Houston area. An elementary or middle school teaching position where a specialization in English and World History is needed. A middle/upper management position with a bank that offers the opportunity to utilize my expertise in commercial real estate lending and customer relations.

Summary

A summary, which follows the objective, gives you the chance to highlight your most valuable qualities, and entices an employer to keep on reading. This section is crucial in the "high speed resume review" world that we live in, and is your golden opportunity to summarize your key selling points so that employers can quickly and easily see what you have to offer. You should fine-tune your summary to suit the position you are applying for with three or four brief, yet relevant, bullet points. Here are two examples:

  • Over five years experience as a Registered Nurse.
  • Expertise in emergency medical procedures and treatments.
  • Extensive knowledge of clinical, community, and patient services.
  • Excellent communication, organizational, and problem-solving skills.
  • More than two years of progressive accounting and auditing experience.
  • Auditor internship with Price Waterhouse in Chicago.
  • Extensive experience with Excel, Lotus 1-2-3, Powerpoint, Windows 95/98, and Word.
  • Committed to the highest levels of professional and personal excellence.

Experience

If youíre using a traditional, chronological resume, youíll place your most recent job positions at the top of the list, and work backwards. If you have limited experience, you may want to include volunteer work or other activities that demonstrate leadership qualities, responsibility, or other transferable job skills.

With each job listing, make sure you include the company name, when you worked there, your title, responsibilities, and accomplishments.

Donít be vague about your achievements. Describe things that can be measured objectively. Stating that you "improved sales" doesnít say much. However, saying that you "exceeded your sales target by an average of 15% for three consecutive years" certainly makes a much bolder statement.

Employers are attracted to high achievers, so donít hesitate to include any awards, achievements, or involvement in special projects. For instance, if you won the Employee of the Month Award, or helped develop a new program, add this to your work experience.

Education

If your education is more impressive than your experience, place it first. List your highest degree, dates of attendance, your majors, awards, and any relevant programs or projects. If your major or overall GPA is 3.0 or higher, list it on your resume. Only list your high school if it is a strong selling point.

References

Itís sufficient to state in your resume that references are available upon request. If you need more room on your resume to describe your work experience, you can leave out the References paragraph altogether. Most employers assume that you do have references, and will request them if thereís a need to do so.

Resume Writing Tips

  • Place your contact information at the very top. Include your full name, address, phone number and e-mail address.
  • Never send out a resume without a cover letter. It shows lack of interest, and an unprofessional attitude.
  • Strategically organize your categories. Place the most relevant and impressive information at the top of the page, and less important information near the bottom.
  • Keep it to one page if possible, and two if absolutely necessary. A long, wordy resume will put off someone who is already short on time. A two page resume should only be used if you need it to fully disclose your experience and achievements.
  • Be honest. Employers check references, so be sure not to exaggerate your job responsibilities or embellish your educational background.
  • Avoid long paragraphs. Keep your paragraphs punchy, to the point, and no longer than six or seven lines.
  • Make every word count. If a word or phrase does not support your objective, throw it out.
  • Use active verbs and power words. These will help to emphasize your accomplishments. (eg: developed, managed, created, established, implemented, generated, directed, initiated, planned, etc.)
  • Never begin a sentence in a resume with the word "I". Instead of saying "I managed..", simply say "Managed ..."
  • Tailor your resume to specific positions. If you are going after more than one job opening, customize your resume to each position. It can be detrimental to use the same resume for every job.
  • Avoid gimmicks. Stay away from exotic or unusual font styles, brightly colored paper, photographs, clip art, fancy borders, or anything that will give your resume a less-than-professional appearance.
  • Presentation is important. Use a high-quality ink jet or laser printer with easy to read (not too small) fonts. Use quality paper in white, ivory or neutral tones only. Format the page with standard 1" margins. Do not send out photocopies.
  • Proofread your resume. Check your resume very carefully for grammar and spelling mistakes. Nothing will ruin your chances of landing an interview faster than a resume thatís filled with errors.
  • Eliminate unnecessary details. Donít mention personal details such as age, marital status, height, race, religion, hobbies, favorite sports, and number of children. It is best to let these details surface in an interview, if necessary.

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Cover Letter: 

How to Write a Winning Cover Letter

A cover letter is just as important as your resume, and is a very effective way of introducing yourself to an employer, and demonstrating your communication skills, attention to detail, enthusiasm, and intellect. Itís important to remember that your cover letter serves a separate function to your resume, and should not be used to rehash the details of your work experience, education, or personal objectives. Use a cover letter to add a warm handshake to your resume, and zero in on why the employer should be interested in you.

Below is a sample cover letter layout, together with guidelines on what you need to communicate and how.

Your address

Date

Individualís name

Employerís address

Dear (name):

FIRST PARAGRAPH: Introduce yourself, and explain how you learned about the company or the specific job opening. If you were referred to the company by a mutual friend or associate, mention them. Indicate what line of work you are interested in, and how you could fill the companyís need.

SECOND PARAGRAPH: Use this section to highlight your strongest points, and to briefly show how your talents, skills, and experiences could benefit the company. Donít go into too much detail (your resume will do that), and donít talk about what the job will do for you.

THIRD PARAGRAPH: In the final paragraph you need to indicate what you would like to happen next. Take the initiative by requesting an interview, and/or state your intention to call in a week or two. Give details about when and where you can be reached, and offer to provide further information upon request. Be assertive, but polite. Close by thanking the reader for his or her time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Your name (signed)

Your name (typed)

COVER LETTER WRITING TIPS

  • Personalize the letter. Address your letter to an individual, rather than an anonymous Sir, Madam, or To Whom It May Concern. If you donít know the hiring personís name or title, call the company, visit your local library, or use the Internet to find out. Be sure to spell the personís name correctly.
  • Keep it to one page. Donít waste the readerís time on unnecessary details. Limit your letter to three focused paragraphs, and make sure every sentence has something to do with explaining your interest in the company, and what you can do for them in return.
  • Do your homework. Show the reader that you have a genuine grasp of the company, its business philosophy, and personnel needs. Be sincere in your praise, but donít overdo it.
  • Avoid using a form letter. If you are applying for more than one position, write each cover letter separately. Personalize the content of the letters to reflect your genuine interest in each company and job opening.
  • Be natural. Use simple, straightforward language. Donít try to impress the reader with jaw-breaking words and convoluted sentences.
  • Donít repeat everything in your resume. Your cover letter should only serve as an introduction to your resume, and not be a carbon copy of it. Highlight relevant experience, show your enthusiasm, and let your personality and energy shine through your words.
  • Avoid cliches. If you want to stand out from the crowd, avoid using wishy-washy, overused phrases like "Iím a peopleís person", "I work well under pressure", or "Iím a good communicator". Itís tough to sell yourself when your letter sounds like most of the other job applications in the pile.
  • Be positive. Donít complain about your previous jobs, or say anything negative about your boss or coworkers. No one wants to hire a whiner, a pessimist, or someone whoís prone to personality clashes.
  • Be confident. Explain why you are qualified for the job, but donít demand it. Thereís a difference between confidence and arrogance. Also, donít sound like youíre begging for a job. A sense of desperation will raise a red flag in the readerís mind.
  • Proofread. Check and recheck your letter for grammar and spelling mistakes. Typos, bad punctuation, and poor spelling give the impression that you simply donít care about the quality of your work.
  • Make it look professional. Print your cover letter and resume on matching paper. Avoid any cute gimmicks or fancy fonts, and only use printers that produce neat, easy to read text with no smears or smudges. If possible, do not use dot matrix printers or manual typewriters.
  • Keep a copy. Make sure you keep a copy of each letter you send out, and that you follow up according to your stated intentions.

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Interviewing: 

HOW TO ACE A JOB INTERVIEW

Okay, so your cover letter and resume got the attention they deserved, and now youíre faced with the next challenging step Ė the job interview.

No matter how impressive your resume is, the interview stage is where you will ultimately make or break your chance of being selected for the job. During the short amount of time it takes to be interviewed you need to create a good and lasting impression that will give you the winning edge over the other candidates. Letís take a look at what you need to do to ensure that your interview is a slam-dunk success from start to finish.

Before The Interview

  • Research the company. Once the interview is scheduled, find out as much as you can about the company and the job for which youíre applying. Gather information about the companyís products and services, its customers, history, philosophy, their competition, and any recent developments. Financial reports, newsletters, the library, and the Internet are all good sources of information. The interviewer will be impressed by your interest and motivation, and youíll be able to explain in more detail what you can do for the company.
  • Practice answering questions. By rehearsing interview questions and answers, youíll become more familiar with your own qualifications, and will feel more confident during the interview when you need to discuss how your skills and experience make you a perfect fit for the job. Here are a few examples of some commonly asked interview questions:
     
    • Tell me about yourself
    • Why did you apply for this position?
    • What did you like/dislike about your last job?
    • Explain what you know about our company and this position.
    • What are your greatest accomplishments?
    • What are your career goals?
    • Why do you think you will be successful in this position?
    • What is the most difficult work situation you have faced, and how did you handle it?
    • Do you prefer to work on your own or with others?
    • What is your major weakness?
    • What is important to you in a job?
    • What motivates you in your work?
       
  • Be prepared to ask questions. Towards the end of the interview, the employer will usually ask if you have any questions. You should be prepared to ask a few questions that demonstrate your knowledge of the company and your interest in seeking a position at that company. Here are some examples:
     
    • What is the next position that this job typically leads to?
    • What other positions or departments will I interact with in this job?
    • What is the companyís policy with regards to performance evaluations?
    • To whom does this position report?
    • How would you describe the companyís work environment and management style?
    • Does this position offer a training program?
    • With respect to the supervisor of this position, how would you describe his/her management style?
    • What skills are considered most valuable in the job I am applying for?
    • What makes your company different from its competitors?
    • I read in the Wall Street Journal thatÖ..and was wondering if this would have any impact on your business?
       
  • Prepare your interview materials. Nothing shows less preparation and organization than being asked for another copy of your resume, and not having one. Bring several copies of your resume with you to the interview, as well as a list of references, letters of recommendation, and, if appropriate, any work samples. Also bring a pen and a pad of paper for taking notes.
  • Arrive on time, or early. Do whatever it takes to be on time for your interview - this is the first example of your professionalism and dependability. Nothing will sour the mood of an interview quicker than making the interviewer wait for your arrival. Be sure to allow enough extra time for unexpected traffic jams or delays along the way.
  • Dress for success. First impressions are hugely important, and this is largely based on the way you present yourself and your appearance. It is better to overdress than underdress, so use your best judgment and wear whatever is both professional and comfortable for you. Good personal grooming, however, is more important than finding the perfect outfit. Be sure that your clothes are clean, well-fitting, and neatly pressed, and that your hair is tidy and well-groomed. Avoid wearing excessive jewelry, makeup, and perfume.

During The Interview

  • Relax. Keep in mind that the interviewer is genuinely interested in you, they were impressed with your resume, and they now want to get to know you better. Think of the interview as a conversation, and not an interrogation.
  • Be positive and enthusiastic. You can greatly increase your chances of landing a job by being upbeat and cheerful during your interview. Employers like to hire people who are easy to get along with and who are excited about their company. Even though you might be feeling nervous, remember to smile frequently during the interview, and to respond to questions with enthusiasm and energy.
  • Show self-confidence. Make eye contact with the interviewer, speak in a clear, articulate voice, and avoid using negative body language. The following are all nonverbal signs of nervousness, tension, and lack of self-confidence:
     
    • Chewing on your lip
    • Biting your nails
    • Walking with your hands in your pockets
    • Slouching
    • Avoiding eye contact
    • Folding or crossing your arms
    • Twirling or tugging at your hair
    • Swinging your foot or leg.
       
  • Listen carefully. Pay careful attention to the interviewerís tone, gestures, and the clues they may provide about what they feel is important. Give specific answers to their questions, and donít try to side-step questions that you donít know how to answer. Instead of being vague, ask the interviewer to explain the question in a bit more detail.
  • Avoid one-word answers. Donít answer questions with a simple "yes" or "no". Give complete answers that enable you to market your strengths and qualities, and to demonstrate your knowledge of the company. Never use slang.
  • Donít make negative comments. Donít kill your chances of being offered a job by bad-mouthing a former boss or colleague. Even if your boss was an unpopular character, this isnít the time or place to divulge those details. Instead, focus on the positive aspects of your previous jobs, and talk about the learning experiences and skills that you gained with each position.
  • Donít be afraid to admit mistakes. Hey, nobodyís perfect, and weíve all made mistakes at work. An interviewer would rather hear about your mistake and what you learned from it, than hear you lie about it. (Remember, they will check your references!)
  • Ask questions. Ask questions that demonstrate your interest, intelligence, and enthusiasm for the job. Avoid asking questions such as "Will I have to work weekends?" or "How much vacation time do you offer?" These kind of questions will give the impression that you are inflexible, or that youíre more interested in taking time off than contributing to the company.
  • Be courteous to everyone. Donít be aloof or unfriendly to anyone in the company. Everyone, including the receptionist, may be asked to express their opinion about you.
  • End the interview by shaking hands. Thank the interviewer for their time, and reiterate your interest in the position. Politely ask if you can telephone in a few days to inquire on the status of your application.

After The Interview

  • Send a brief thank-you note. This should be done within twenty-four hours of the interview. Feel free to mention any topics that were discussed during your interview, express your continued enthusiasm about the position, and recap your strengths by relating them to the requirements of the job. Make sure the letter is personalized Ė donít send out a canned letter!
  • Donít be discouraged if you donít get an immediate response. Most companies interview many applicants before they make a final decision. Use this "wait-and-see" time to hunt down other positions and to schedule more interviews. That way, if you donít get the job, youíll already have other avenues to explore.
  • Follow up with a phone call. Allow the employer five to ten days to contact you after receiving your letter. If you havenít heard anything after this time, give them a call.
  • Donít give up. If you donít land the position you interviewed for, donít despair. Rejection is an inevitable part of job-hunting, and it happens to everyone. There are plenty of good jobs out there, and if you keep believing in yourself and your abilities, youíll find that success is just around the corner.

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