TIPS FOR GENERATING A SUCCESSFUL RESUME
AND FINDING EMPLOYMENT
by: Melissa Stilley Avery
First and foremost, before even considering applying, read the description of the open position in its entirety! Take a moment and ask yourself, “Am I really able to meet all of the job’s requirements?” If not, keep searching for something for which you are truly qualified. If a job calls for two years of recent experience and you have less than two years of experience, or your experience was ten years ago, then you are not able to meet the requirements. The same can be said if you do not have the education level required, or do not have experience with required software. In short, the requirements listed for a job are just that – things that are required by the employer in order for you to be considered as a candidate for their open position. When reading the job description, pay special attention to the employer’s application procedure – these days most applicants are requested to either fill out an online application or email their resume. If emailing, make sure that you send your resume in the format requested by the employer. If they ask that candidates send their resume in MS Word (.doc) format and you send it in another format, A) you show that you may have problems following directions and B) the employer may not be able to open the file, which will pretty much mean wasted time for both of you.
Now that you have determined that you are truly qualified to apply for certain positions, take a look at your resume and see if it sends the correct message about you and your abilities...
1 – Be sure that ALL of your information is current! If you have recently moved, changed or added a phone number, been married or divorced (resulting in a name change), or ended a position, make sure that those changes are reflected. Include multiple ways to contact you – for instance, home telephone, cell phone, and email address. You don’t want a prospective employer to be interested in scheduling an interview but unable to reach you! Also, a resume that is not up-to-date gives the appearance that you are not on top of things – an impression that you do not want to give to someone that you are asking to consider employing you! One thing to think about – since you want to come across to the potential employer as professional and respectable, you might want to think hard about your email address and what kind of message it sends. If you have an email address that is your name (jane.doe@---.com) or something similar, you’re probably fine. If your email address is something fun or funky (such as sexyfunnyhoney@---.com), please realize that this is not giving out an image that will impress an employer. As a matter of fact, it may do more harm than good. If your email address is something of this nature, sign up for a new professional-sounding email address at one of the free providers like Gmail, Yahoo, etc. Then don’t forget to check it daily!
2 – When writing the “Previous Employment” section of your resume, be sure to include ALL employment from the past 15 years, even if it does not seem relevant to the position for which you are applying. This shows a continuity of employment and keeps the prospective employer from wondering, “Where was he/she during this missing time?” If you have a gap in your employment history, explain it. It doesn’t take much space or time to include a short entry such as, “June 1, 2000 to August 12, 2000 – Relocated and actively seeking employment”, or, “March 7, 2003 to July 10, 2005 – Stayed home to raise small child(ren)”. Think of other things that you did during that time, as well – while raising your children, did you volunteer on a regular basis that might reflect positively towards your ability to perform the job for which you are applying? For instance – did you hold a position as a treasurer for your church group, or help prepare the Sunday bulletins? These could be previously unthought-of examples of your abilities. You could include this information in such a way: “March 7, 2003 to July 10, 2005 – Stayed home to raise small child(ren). During this time volunteered as treasurer for Mommies Morning Out group at Sunshine Church.” Also, when writing this section on your previous employment, be sure to be as exact as possible on your dates. Do not just put “2000-2003”. Preferably, list the month, day, and year of both your start and end dates. Don’t know the exact dates? Call your former employer and ask! Most times this information will come from either Human Resources or the Payroll Department. Other ways to find out? Look at your old paystubs or tax returns – you should have a W2 for each employer. This will at least verify the exact years, and with a little thought you can probably remember at least the month you started and the month you left.
3 – Keep it professional! A good resume will be professional in many different ways – overall appearance, wording, spelling, punctuation, grammar and more.
***For overall appearance, your resume should be uniform. Use the same font throughout and don’t overuse the Bold, Italics, and Underline features. If using bullets, keep it simple – use one or two types only. For instance, use squares only, or if using two types, use squares for one type of information and circles for another. Use a professional border, if any. Those smiley-faces may be cute and reflect your fun personality, but they detract from the overall appearance of a professional resume. When setting your font type, go with something traditional – Times New Roman or Arial are good options. Don’t use a font type that is difficult to read such as Edwardian Script or Lucida Handwriting. Also, avoid the use of over-capitalization. It’s okay to type your name in all caps, but typing your entire resume that way comes across as brash and unprofessional. A note about using backgrounds and colored inks – remember that you are trying to create a professional resume, not an art project or holiday newsletter. Leave out the backgrounds, and preferably stick to black ink for your text. When an employer advertises an available position they are likely to receive hundreds of resumes, which prompts some candidates to think that they need to do something to make their resume stand out from the crowd – in truth, your professional background and abilities are what will make you stand out from the other candidates, not your use of multiple colors or fancy page backgrounds.
***In choosing your wording, be sure that you use correct terminology, don’t overuse abbreviations, and avoid the use of slang. Also, don’t attempt to make yourself look more important by using large words that are not a normal part of your vocabulary. You do not want to confuse a potential employer by showing them one person on paper and a different one in person.
***Spelling, punctuation and grammar are key! The lack of proper use of these three very important things can make or break your resume. If a prospective employer begins reading your resume and thinks that you cannot spell, or cannot put together a grammatically correct sentence, they might think that you lack the education to perform the job correctly. The majority of today’s computers feature free built-in spelling and grammar checking programs. Most of these will also catch small punctuation issues. These are great programs, but should never be used as a sole solution – always proofread your resume again after using Spell-Check! You may have spelled a word correctly, but it might not be the correct word to use. An example: “Experienced with the use on QuickBooks software”. The correct word “of” was accidentally replaced with the word “on”, which is spelled correctly and therefore not caught by Spell-Check…but even though the word is spelled correctly, it is not the proper word. Thorough proofreading can catch and correct this error.
4 – The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! When it comes to creating a resume, applicants sometimes take the “creating” part too much to heart. Avoid the temptation of padding your resume with stretches of the truth or outright falsehoods. Be honest about your title, the dates, and the tasks that you completed on a regular basis. Prospective employers DO check references, and discovering that your resume is not correct makes you, the applicant, look as though they cannot be trusted. An employer would rather see that you were a ‘Billing Clerk’ who also did some managerial-type duties than to be led to believe that you were a ‘Billing Manager’ and upon verification find out that you were not a Manager at all. Padding dates to give yourself the appearance of longer employment, and therefore a more stable work history, will almost always backfire on you. As mentioned before, if you have gaps of employment, list them along with the reason that you were not employed at the time. As for your list of daily tasks & duties – keep it concise and honest. If you didn’t do it, don’t list it. If you are to be invited for an interview, or eventually hired, you do not want to prove unequal to the tasks required because you listed experience with something that in truth you have never done before.
5 – Play it safe! Listing your first and last names, address, telephone numbers and email address are important in creating your resume, but there are some things that you should never add. First, absolutely never, ever, put your Social Security Number on your resume! While a great many legitimate employers are listing their open positions online at places like Craig’s List, Monster and Career Builder these days, there are also occasionally scam artists and outright crooks who review the online resumes or post their own ads requesting resumes. Access to your name, address, and Social would be the perfect combination to allow identity theft. Other things that you do not want to list in your resume: your date of birth, marital status, personal family information such as the name of your spouse or children, information that could let someone know when you are not home, or information about your pets. Avoid any entry such as, “My husband Ben, our 12-year old son John and I love our dog Spot and Friday night bowling!” Some people actually do list such information (usually in a “Hobbies” section or similar) on their resume in an attempt to show a personal side to the employer, errantly thinking that it will give them a little more edge on the competition. What it could, unfortunately, end up doing instead is telling a crook, “Hey – here’s my address and notice of when we’ll be away from home – oh, and our dog’s name is Spot, so call him by name and bring him a treat and he’ll think you’re a friend and let you right in!” Or, worse yet, this person now knows your child’s name, address, telephone number, parent’s names, dog’s name, and the work history of at least one parent – lot’s of information they could use to pretend to be your former co-worker or a family friend to your unsuspecting child. Want to make things even safer? If it’s at all convenient, get a P.O. Box at your local Post Office. This generally costs less than $30 for 6 months (depending on box size), and can give you a way to list a contact address on your resume, receive mail from prospective employers, and yet not let the wrong person know your physical address. PO Boxes each have their own individual secure lock and you have the key. To allow for easy mail retrieval, the Post Office leaves the lobby door to the PO Box section open 24/7 – you can check your mail whenever it is convenient for you.
6 – Always include a cover letter! Your cover letter is your chance to tell the potential employer something about yourself that might not be listed in your resume. This is the place where you can mention the title of the job for which you are applying, a brief synopsis of why you feel that you would be a good candidate for the position, and any other pertinent information. Is the job in a city that you will be moving to, but haven’t settled in yet? Let the employer know that you will be moving to the city, and give a firm date. Don’t just state that you are planning to move there or that you’ll be moving in December – tell them, “I will be moving to (name of city) on December 15th (give whatever date you are moving) and am available for interviews prior to my relocation”. If you are changing states and it is too far to drive for an interview, suggest that you are available for a phone interview at any time. Some employers use initial phone interviews to screen applicants and decide if they have the potential to be the right fit for the job and company. Also, in your cover letter list your salary requirements and whether they are negotiable. After all, if you would like to make $55,000 a year but absolutely HAVE to have at least $45,000, you do not want to lose out on a possible salary of $50,000 (if that is what the company has budgeted for the position) because you didn’t mention that your requested salary is negotiable. At the same time, you do not want to waste either your own time or that of the potential employer if they are only offering $40,000 annually and you are not able to accept the job for that rate of pay.
7 – Cell phone music and voicemails: Remember that you want to give a potential employer every indication that you are a professional, so before beginning the job search process, think about what your phone says to someone calling to schedule an appointment. Do you have music that plays while the person waits for their call to connect? What type of music is it? If something classical or along the lines of ‘elevator music’, that may be fine. If it’s a party song, a song with lyrics that could be objectionable or anything unprofessional, your best bet is to remove it! You can always reinstate it once you are hired. Also, think about re-vamping your voicemail message. Is your current message aimed at your friends and family or towards an employer? If your message is more casual, you might wish to change it to something along the lines of, “Hello, you’ve reached (use your real name – not some cutesy nickname like “Nicky-poo”). I am unable to take your call at this time, but if you will leave your name, number and a brief message I will return your call as soon as possible. Thank you and have a great day!” Remember to put a smile in your voice when you record your message, speak clearly, avoid background noise, and if you hesitate, say ‘ummm’, or don’t sound happy to hear from the person, simply re-record it until it sounds good.
If you follow these guidelines you will be able to create a professional resume that will be a good representation of you and your abilities. This is what prospective employers are looking for – not frilly designs, resumes that are incomplete or out of date, or one’s that are not professional. You want the employer to be able to read over your resume quickly and see that you are the best candidate for their open position. One other tip…the propensity lately has been for people to include a photo of themselves in either the cover letter or the resume. An employer is not interested in how cute you look in a photograph; they are interested in what you can bring to the table, what you can do for their company. Including a photo is not professional, so avoid it at all costs…even though it seems (for some reason) to have become trendy…