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
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.
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
- Expertise in emergency medical procedures
- 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
- Extensive experience with Excel, Lotus
1-2-3, Powerpoint, Windows 95/98, and Word.
- Committed to the highest levels of
professional and personal excellence.
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.
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
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
- Strategically organize your categories.
Place the most relevant and impressive information at the
top of the page, and less important information near the
- 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
- 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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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
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
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.
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
- 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
- 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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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
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.
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
- 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
- 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
- What is the next position that this job typically
- 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.
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.
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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
- 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
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