Sitting down to craft a resume has created more than a few cases of writer's block. Writing about yourself is never easy. Then there are all those "issues" that come with resumes. Should it be one page or two? How creative should you get with fancy formats?
What parts of your background deserve emphasis and what's best left unsaid?
Here's what some experts have to say:
"The biggest mistake jobseekers make in writing a resume is merely listing previous job duties rather than explaining how their performance in that job contributed to the company's bottom line," advises Annabelle Louie, an executive with One Step Resume Service in San Francisco. "They need to show their accomplishments by seeing their resume in a different light."
She observes that when it comes to summarizing qualifications, people have a lot of trouble putting the right words together. For example, write that you assisted in a marketing campaign that increased business by 20 percent rather than just saying you folded brochures and made phone calls. Such a statement reflects the ability to quantify, a skill employers value.
David Kessler, owner of A to Z Marketing in Ripon, also believes a resume needs to be result oriented. "Jobseekers should list everything that has to do with saving time and money on the job - special projects, achievements, promotions - rather than boring a prospective employer with former job descriptions," he states. "It is a focusing mechanism that helps to highlight your skills."
Another tip is to keep it simple. Don't use fancy fonts, colored paper or a personal photo; they only diminish a professional image.
"We have had twice as many clients coming in lately and they all want a resume immediately," Louie says. "It's because of the economic downturn and more competition in the job market. People have to have a competitive resume to stand out."
It's true. A resume is a powerful tool when used correctly. "It's the golden key that will get you an interview," insists Brian Keagy, a professional resume writer with Valley Temporary Service in Stockton. "I think wordiness is the most common error jobseekers make in a do-it-yourself resume. Just keep it simple."
He also advises his clients to use a lot of bullet formatting and white space at the top of the resume to summarize their qualifications and to target the points that will sell themselves. You can get into more depth in the body of the document.
"In addition, make sure everything is laid out correctly with no spelling errors," he says.
Kessler believes using presentation folders and sprinkling buzzwords in a resume can get you noticed. "Use terminology and jargon that are used and understood in the job for which you are applying," he urges. "Words like partnering and empowerment are popular and acceptable.
"Jobseekers should dare to be different because different is good," he declares. "But a resume also needs to be subtle and conservative."
Dan Greitzer, owner of Resumes by Design in Sacramento, agrees. "Avoid strange fonts," he adds. "If it's hard to read, prospective employers won't."
Hold the Fast Food
"Resumes should speak to the jobseeker's objectives rather than non-related information, but there are carry-over skills," he contends.
"For example, if a person supervised 10 people at a pizza joint, concentrate on the management skills and hold the fast-food reference."
He says the most common mistake in a homemade resume is organization. Have a plan, be consistent and stick to the objective. And avoid references to age, race, health and other unnecessary information.
"A resume could be a great help or an embarrassment," Greitzer says. " If the jobseeker isn't up to the task, ask a friend, an English teacher or a professional resume writer for help."
Get to the Point
Experts say employers spend as little as five to ten seconds glancing at resumes before discarding them or setting them aside for further review. So what is the most important information about yourself to grab an employer's attention in that critical glance?
Harry Revill, owner of Best Resume Service in Oakland, says the first six lines of a resume should grab a prospective employer's attention, and most jobseekers don't know that secret.
"The best resumes get to the point quickly and explain who the jobseeker is and what he or she can offer," he explains. "Most people are too wordy and list information and details that don't have any bearing on what they are looking for."
Richard Tanski, owner of Phoenix Writing in Millbrae concurs. "I think most people list too many former jobs on a resume when it's only obligatory to go back ten years," he says. "Eliminate the jobs that are not pertinent to current skills."
Citing his concern that a job search can get bogged down in paper, Tanski feels that, for most people, multiple versions of resumes are not necessary.
He understands when the job market is tight, jobseekers tend to use their discretionary funds for "essentials" rather than a professionally written resume. So he approves of the homegrown variety with one tip:
"Writing a resume is like writing a short story. Every word should be concise and in the right place."
The One-Page Debate
Finally, should a resume be limited to one page? Here are experts are not on the same page. "I tell our clients their resume should be limited to one page only if they are sending it online," Louie relates. "But if they are going to headhunters or to an interview, a resume should be long enough to cover everything that is relevant. Some jobseekers need two pages to show their accomplishments." Keagy, however, reasons that a one-page resume is always the best; with a separate page for references. Greitzer also believes you should try to hold your resume to one page under the "less is more" theory.
So, when it comes to resumes, one size does not fit all. One-page resumes may work well in one field, and not so well in another. Perhaps the real key is making your resume readable. After all, a poorly crafted resume can ruin your chances - whether it is one page or two.
10MinuteResume.com - A free service available online with forms to create resumes that can be printed, e-mailed or faxed. The site also has tips on writing resumes.
The Confident Resumes - tcresume.com, a resume writing service. Click on "Career Resource Center" for free articles, tips and links to other resources.
Damn Good Resume - DamnGood.com, provides writing services and sells their guides/books online. Also has tips, examples, links, and "50 Job Seeker's Questions" about resumes.
The Riley Guide - RileyGuide.com, click on "Resumes and Cover Letters" for free tips and articles on resume writing.
Resume.Monster.com - Monster.com's resume resources includes articles on writing resumes, samples and example resumes, and links to resume writing services.
ProvenResumes.com - Online resume service offers some free tips on resumes, cover letters, and job searching.