When it comes to careers, your resume is like a pick-up line poised to either attract or deter by a prospective employer. An effective resume makes a strong first impression by highlighting your strengths and featuring the most important information clearly. That can be accomplished through the structure of your resume, as well as the information you supply. For parents out there attempting to do-it-yourself, here are some pointers based on some common resume missteps that my clients have made.
Chronological vs. Functional: Most people are familiar with chronological resumes that list your work history in reverse chronological order. But that isn’t necessarily the right format for everyone. One recent client had greater success with his job search when he shifted from a chronological resume to a functional, or skills-based, resume. His chronological resume listed nine different jobs in three different fields (advertising, real estate, and the arts) over 20 years. He was able to explain in conversation how the positions all utilized similar skill sets, but that story did not come across in his paper resume. His resume made his career looked unfocused and it appeared as if he hadn’t developed deep skills in any one area.
We reorganized his career information into a skills-based format, highlighting three major skills categories: Creative Development, Management, and Marketing. We then took his accomplishments from the nine jobs and turned them into bullet points under the three skill sets. By reorganizing the information, the revised resume emphasized my client’s strengths and reinforced his experience and accomplishments. The fact that he worked in different fields became secondary, as his nine jobs were listed in a skeletal format (employer/title/dates of employment) under the longer, more detailed skills section. Significantly, the new resume landed him interviews.
So how do you know which resume suits you? Generally, chronological resumes highlight consistency and depth within a profession, and they are a good choice for more traditional, linear career paths and professions such as law, medicine, accounting, and academia. If you’ve changed careers, have gaps in your employment history, or otherwise have had a non-linear career path, a functional, or skills-based, resume may be more advantageous.
Use Sections to Accentuate Your Strengths: The average employer spends only 6 seconds looking at a resume, so you need to highlight the most important information at the beginning. Depending upon your circumstances, the two core resume sections (Experience and Education) alone might not be enough. This became apparent with a seasoned development professional that I worked with recently. She had prepared a chronological resume that listed the five jobs in her field she has held over the past decade. Although the format was right, her skills didn’t stand out. In order to strengthen her resume, we added two sections: 1) Professional Summary and 2) Areas of Expertise. The Professional Summary was brief and established her as an experienced professional while connecting her to the broader category of nonprofit organizations:
Results-oriented, creative development professional with over 10 years of experience successfully managing multi-million dollar fundraising campaigns and developing effective strategies to realize the institutional goals of nonprofit organizations.
The Areas of Expertise section allowed my client to consolidate all of the skills she had acquired over her long career. Here’s what she included:
Areas of Expertise
|Strategic Planning and Vision||Donor Development and Stewardship||Innovative Fundraising Strategies|
|Major Gift Solicitation||Volunteer Recruitment||Organization|
|Event Planning||Relationship-Building Among Core Constituencies||Marketing Materials Design and Development|
|Team Leadership and Motivation||Public Speaking|
The section directly addresses the specifications in many job postings and focuses the reader on her skill sets.
Provide Enough Information: A strong resume should inform a prospective employer about your career accomplishments. Yet one of the most common mistakes I see is a job description that doesn’t provide sufficient information.
This is a resume entry prepared by a clinical social worker who recently completed a 2-month assignment in Alaska processing soldiers returning from one-year deployments:
Clinical Social Worker, March 2012 to May 2012
Ft. Wainwright, Fairbanks, Alaska
Psychologically screened referred soldiers at Ft. Wainwright, AK returning from one-year deployment. Helped screen over 4,000 returning troops. Made proper referrals to Behavioral Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic when needed.
By not elaborating upon what’s involved in screening and making referrals, my client provided only a very general sense of the tasks she performed and very few of her accomplishments. It also didn’t explain why she held the job for only two months. Here’s how we expanded on the position:
Clinical Social Worker, March 2012 – May 2012
Soldier Readiness Program, Ft. Wainwright, Fairbanks, Alaska
Psychologically screened referred soldiers from the Stryker Brigade returning from their one-year deployment, as part of a six-week assignment to help the United States Army facilitate and process approximately 4000 soldiers.
- Made immediate assessments and appropriate referrals
- Worked with returning soldiers of all ranks flagged as having experienced some category of crisis while deployed
- Without any documented information, assessed full scope of behavioral disorders, interpreted problems associated with soldiers’ overseas deployment, and determined best intervention strategy
- Educated soldiers on normal reactions to deployment, combat, and reintegration, and stress management
The revised paragraph addresses the short-term nature of the job and provides qualitative details about my client’s skills and accomplishments.
Quantify Your Accomplishments: Perhaps the best way to demonstrate your accomplishments is to quantify them. That means be specific. Instead of “managed department budget,” write “managed $300,000 department budget.” Instead of noting that you simply “supervised staff,” include how many staff if this is a strong number. I’m often surprised by how many successful development officers have resumes that reference fundraising events and campaigns without highlighting measures of success. There are many ways to quantify success: you can say you raised $300,000, or that you exceeded the campaign’s goal by 30%, or that you doubled the annual fundraising during your tenure. Nearly every field is capable of being quantified. In management you can talk about staff retention rate, in law you can reference your caseload or the dollar amount at stake in a lawsuit. If you’re a blogger, include how often you post and the volume of traffic you receive.
Make it Interesting: Ideally, your resume should pique someone’s interest. So try to avoid generic information. Listing “reading” as a Personal Interest is generic. Listing “historical fiction novels” is a little more interesting. The same is true of your job descriptions. If you are the head of a school music department, which of the following descriptions of your position is more interesting?
Option 1: Coordinate classroom, vocal, and instructional music program at private school.
Option 2: Overall responsibility for music education at 250-student private K-8 school with a strong emphasis on the arts and a goal of providing practical musical training, as well as a well-rounded appreciation and understanding of music.
Option 1 sounds like a boilerplate job description. Option 2 provides a richer, more interesting portrayal.
Use a Professional Email Address: It can be pretty difficult to make a first impression with your contact information, but you run the risk of making a negative one if your email address is unprofessional. Ideally your email address should be YourName@xxx.com. If YourName is taken, try a close alternative. If you have any doubt as to whether your email address isn’t professional enough, don’t use it.
A lot of time and effort goes into constructing a high quality resume. A resume professional is a worthwhile investment, but if your circumstances do not allow for that, do your own research and familiarize yourself with the formats and protocols of your profession. You can do that by consulting a basic or specialized reference book, or by using the search function on LinkedIn to view resumes of members in your field and get a sense of best practices.
Barri Waltcher is a New York City-based career advisor who helps women navigate the transition from parenting back to a satisfying career. She is the co-founder of Mind Your Own Business Moms (MYOBmoms.com) and a frequent speaker on career topics.