Writing a great resume can catapult your career.
Writing a poor one can sink it.
This is especially critical for baby boomers, many of whom have seen their careers upended in the single biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Jobs are simply disappearing: In October, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that there were nearly five workers per job opening, down from 6.2 earlier in the year but still much higher than most figures going back to 2000, when the survey began. Many jobless are age 55 or older.
What’s a boomer to do? Begin with a well-thought-out, grammatically correct career document bolstered by action verbs. It will elevate your strengths and make hiring managers take notice.
It’s sad, then, that so many people insist on bragging about themselves, rather than describing what they can do for an employer right now. Companies want to make money, so showing them how you can help them do that makes sense.
Your job duties from five years ago — especially if they are ordinary — do you more harm than good and make your resume read like an epitaph.
For example, I’m a journalist, so I could say that I “edited stories, wrote headlines and captions and designed pages” for the XYZ Gazette from 2005 to 2009. So what? I was supposed to do those things.
Going above and beyond means employing detailed examples to back up your claims. These work better than the well-worn phrases people trot out to describe themselves, such as “proven track record of success.”
Career adviser Liz Ryan, CEO of AskLizRyan.com, lists some of the biggest offenders for CBS’ “Early Show,” such as describing yourself as a “results oriented professional” (as opposed to sometimes-successful amateur?). Also hopeless is saying you have “excellent communication skills” (you wouldn’t say something as frivolous as that if you did).
Distinguish yourself instead: “Increased widget sales by 5 percent in third quarter, leading to profit of $10.2 million.”
Let’s drill down and examine what goes into creating an exemplary resume.
First, take a complete inventory of your qualifications and achievements, even ones you might have discounted as trivial. Did you help expand business and implement goals that are still in place? Explain. Expand.
Which brings us to the resume itself. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are several important things not to do:
- Write as concisely as possible. This means cutting all articles. You’ve got, what, maybe 20 seconds before the hiring manager reaches for another resume? The less he or she has to read “and,” “the” or “was,” the better. Also slash all personal pronouns while you’re at it.
- Don’t include a picture, even the one from 10 years ago, and don’t list marital status, your current health or religious affiliation or the years you attended college. It’s immaterial and can really hurt if you’re older than 25. Also strike your street address, unless the company specifically requests it. It’s (for “it is”) privileged information.
- Check your grammar. And syntax. And spelling. Then do it again. Have someone take a crack at it as well. Watch dangling participles and pesky homonyms, and get your “it’s” in order (or is it its?). Is it your or you’re? There or they’re? Affect or effect?
- If you’re bragging, you’re lagging. Don’t say you’re an exemplary leader, a superlative retail clerk or an innovative Web designer. Provide some rich detail that will cause the employer to say, “Gee, this is one ingenious scientific researcher.”
- Steer clear of industry gobbledegook. Linda Galindo, a consultant to executives at Abbott Laboratories and Sundance Institute and elsewhere, warns against this type of lazy writing: “It starts at the top, where most six-figure, MBA-toting executives could care less that they are not understood by the boots on the ground,” Galindo told Forbes. Also don’t use highfalutin words such as “utilize.”
- Don’t arbitrarily capitalize the names of positions or departments; a big letter doesn’t lend anything more credence. You worked in the human resources department and had the title of director.
Here are some things that are always a good idea to do:
- Target your resume specifically to each opening you apply for. If the ad lists “widget coordinator” as the position sought, use that for your objective.
- Go into some depth, especially if you have years of experience. Two pages are normal and a third is warranted if you’re an academic or have many certifications.
- In most cases, make your job titles bold and the name of the company lightface, unless it was somebody like IBM, Google or Bank of America.
- Use liberal amounts of white space as the cumulative effect is pleasing to the eye. Stick to one or eye-pleasing fonts (including Times New Roman, Arial, Verdana, Garamond) and use consistent bullets and other styles.
- Write a cover letter to accompany your resume — but don’t parrot it. The letter (which does include articles and personal pronouns) should tell the employer exactly why you have designs on that particular company. Address it a person — not “dear hiring manager” or the outdated “to whom it may concern” — and find out their title. No name equals no chance at a job.
- Bolster your resume with a personal career profile on LinkedIn. This is a must as many companies check you out there first.