What Exactly Is a Resume?

By Peter Newfield, President of Career-Resumes.com®

If your resume isn’t a WINNER, it’s a KILLER

In today’s job market, a resume is your ticket in to the big game -- a marketing tool designed to present your professional career experience in a strong, concise format to get you called in for an interview.

A good resume does not guarantee your getting a new job but a terrible, unprofessional, amateurish resume will guarantee that you are never called in for an interview. You never get a second chance to make a first impression. With a resume, your next job could be hinging on this critical document.

A resume should be tailored to present your career history, talents, achievements, and accomplishments in a tight, informative one to two page document. The resume allows the screener to evaluate your qualifications in thirty seconds before deciding which pile your document is relinquished to -- the to be contacted pile or the reject/recycle pile.

A professional resume should contain the following sections: SUMMARY OF QUALIFICATIONS, AREAS OF STRENGTH, PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE, and EDUCATION. Depending on your particular field of interest and level of experience, resumes may also contain sections for COMPUTER SKILLS and/or PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS.

Unless you have graduated in the last couple of years, an OBJECTIVE is not required on a resume. By including an objective on your resume, you are labeling yourself as inexperienced. You are also limiting yourself to the specific title you include. If you are changing fields or do not have any experience in the industry you are submitting your resume to, then include this briefly in your accompanying cover letter.

Most resumes start out with a SUMMARY OF QUALIFICATIONS, a 3-8 sentence overview of your professional background. The Summary of Qualifications should include strong action words and briefly touch upon your various selling points -- “results-oriented”, “strong analytical skills”, “excellent negotiation and presentation skills”, etc.

Key words are very important, whether a resume is scanned visually or electronically. A section or category entitled AREAS OF STRENGTH can highlight the key words that prospective employers need to see on a resume. Key words indicate what you do really well or what you have extensive knowledge of or training in. For example, “Strategic Planning” “Budget Development” “Benefits Administration” and “Sales Presentations” can appear under Areas of Strength.

The meat and potatoes of a resume is the PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE section. Here is the place to list your career experience in a reverse chronological order, starting with your present or most recent position. List company name, dates of employment, and title for each position and give a brief synopsis of your responsibilities under each title. For the most effective resume, separate the responsibilities from the accomplishments by highlighting your best achievements in a bulleted list under each job description.

How you present your accomplishments will determine your perceived worth compared with the hundreds if not thousands of resumes received for each job posting. What makes you stand out from the herd? The Accomplishments listing should include brief statements of how you were instrumental in making sales, reducing expenses, improving employee turnover, expanding market share, etc.

Most H.R. professionals do not want to read through your 25 year career, line by line. Focus on your most recent 10-15 years of experience and then summarize or list previous companies/titles.

Remember, your resume should not be more than two pages long.

After Professional Experience, the next category on the resume is most often EDUCATION. Include the name of the college or university, your major, GPA if you are a recent graduate, date of graduation, and any pertinent scholarship or awards gained during this time. If you did not graduate from college but did take some classes, you may list “Undergraduate courses in Economics” or something similar to indicate that you did not graduate.

Sometimes, a section on COMPUTER SKILLS is appropriate, if you have a lot of relevant hardware, software, and applications experience that would be important for a prospective employer to learn about. The Computer Skills section can go under the Education section.

PROFESSIONAL AFFILIATIONS or additional professional training may also be included in a separate category on your resume, if you feel that the information is relevant and will add to your credibility as a candidate for the position you are applying for. Only list current or most recent professional memberships or continuing education courses/seminars. If you were Treasurer of the local branch of the AICPA in 1976, it really won’t help your candidacy for a new job in 1999.

The presentation of the resume itself is almost as important as the content of the information included. Resumes should be printed in 10.5 or 11 point type, use bold, underline, and italic to emphasize and highlight titles and accomplishments, and use a good balance of sharp text vs. white space to make the information easy to read.

Choosing the right format for your professional resume is also extremely important. The Block Style was a popular format years ago and is still used by recent college graduates. If you use the Block Format it almost automatically brands you as an inexperienced student or recent college grad. Typically, your job information should be presented in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent position and going backwards. The same holds true for educational listings - start with the most recent such as a Masters Degree in Social Work, and then work backwards in listing your B.A. and then A.A. Degree if applicable.

The best all-purpose resume format is called a Modified Functional format. In the Modified Functional, the resume can start out with a Summary of Qualifications and Areas of Strength section before getting to the Professional Experience category and then Education, as discussed above.

However, for the job seeker who has worked in more than one industry, has changed careers, has gone back and pursued education and training in a new field, then a better format would be the Functional Format. In the functional format, you can give more attention to your skills, talents, and broad areas of experience. After the Summary of Qualifications and Areas of Strength, you may choose to have one or two sections such as Marketing Experience and Teaching Experience which will allow you to list four or five points under each to demonstrate your knowledge and experience.

A functional format can prevent a job candidate from being pigeon-holed into one specific field or level of experience. It can provide the platform for you to showcase your varied strengths, talents, and experiences which may appeal to the hiring authority reviewing your document.

There you have it -- a resume can be may things to many people -- but one thing that holds true for all job applicants is that the resume must be accurate, concise, and strong. Remember, if your resume isn’t a winner, it’s a killer.

For a free critique/price quote, email Career Resumes® at Peter@career-resumes.com.

Peter Newfield is President of Career-Resumes.com®, one of the premier resume writing services in the United States. He is The Resume Expert for BlueSteps.com, ExecutiveRegistry.com, NETSHARE.com, DirectEmployer.com and the former Resume Expert for Monster.com, Spencer Stuart Talent Network and the Career Center on AOL. View samples at: www.career-resumes.com