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EXPERT: Michelle Dumas, Distinctive Career Services, Boston

Many of us have stared at the screen, willing vague experiences and anxious words to form into a compelling statement of how suitable we are for the job. But often, the result doesn’t work for employers—which means it doesn’t work for us.

To fix up your résumé, follow these tips and check out our résumé makeover (below).

MAKE THE LIST

  • Make a detailed list of all your professional, educational, and extracurricular experiences. This exercise will help you remember everything you have done.
  • Save this list. It might be useful if you need to fill out a form for your complete work history.
  • Pick out the best stuff: everything that’s relevant to your intended career.

Now you’re ready to start making this look fancy.

WHAT TO SPOTLIGHT

Make this info very easy to find. This is what people who look at résumés focus on:

  • Your name
  • Your education, with dates
  • Your current job, with dates
  • Your previous jobs, with dates

WHAT TO INCLUDE

  • Specific accomplishments, quantified wherever possible.
  • “The résumé shouldn’t be one’s entire life story,” says Darby Scism, executive director of the career center at Indiana State University, Terre Haute. “It’s a snapshot of your most significant work and professional experiences, accomplishments, and skill sets.”
  • Remember, there are other ways (including cover letters and interviews) to present what isn’t on your résumé.

WHAT TO AVOID

  • These are the 10 most overused buzzwords, according to the career networking site LinkedIn:  innovative, motivated, results-oriented, dynamic, proven track record, team player, fast-paced, problem solver, and entrepreneurial.
  • Terms like “references available upon request” are implied. Delete them to save space.
  • Typos. No self-respecting résumé can recover from a typo. Find a detail-oriented friend, print your résumés, and proofread them bottom-to-top. Then do it again with someone else.

KEEP IT SIMPLE AND EASY TO SCAN

  • Use bulleted lists instead of paragraph descriptions. “The résumé needs to be easy to read, with clearly marked section headings and bullet points,” says Darby Scism.
  • Use a conventional font like Helvetica or Century Gothic (but not Times New Roman, unless you want your résumé to look like everyone else’s).
  • Don’t put a border around the page.
  • Don’t include a photo, unless you’re an aspiring actor or model.

WHAT THIS RÉSUMÉ GETS WRONG

This resume makeover is based on a resume submitted by an undergraduate in California.

LENGTH
This candidate was smart in keeping her résumé to just one page. One page is often appropriate for a student résumé. But your résumé should fill the page. This resume is too succinct. It should include:

  • A summary section
  • More detail on education
  • A little more information
    about work

LACKS SPECIFIC DATES
Using the word “present” or “current” is not helpful. What does this mean?

FILLER WORDS
Every word in your résumé should have a purpose. Do not pad your résumé with filler material just to make it longer.

BARE-BONES JOB DESCRIPTION
Just saying what you did does not set you apart from all the other candidates.

UNHELPFUL EMPHASIS
Right now this applicant’s most important qualification is her education. She has little work experience. She should prioritize education on her résumé and showcase her academic credentials.

WHAT THIS RÉSUMÉ GETS RIGHT

SUMMARY
When an employer reviews your résumé, within the first few seconds they should have a clear understanding of the type of position you are targeting. The best and most modern way to accomplish this is by writing a summary section. This is sometimes called a Career Objective statement.

The summary section should include:

  • The type of work you’re seeking
  • The specific job or field
  • The skills you’re contributing
  • The value of those skills to the company

“This section can take up a lot of space and is often poorly written. Many of these details are included in a cover letter and can be removed from the résumé. However, if there is no cover letter, a Career Objective statement is necessary.”
– Kara Renaud, career services resource coordinator at Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario

“Availability is often the most important thing for retail or food service jobs. Consider adding an availability chart at the bottom of the page.”
– Paul Goodrick, career advisor at Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario

BE SELECTIVE
A résumé is a marketing document. If a piece of data you are including is not relevant to the type of work you’re seeking, there is no harm in leaving it off.

This is especially true of volunteer work, training you have completed, or other activities. If you keep it in, find a way that does not dilute the focus of your résumé.

NOT TOO SELECTIVE
Don’t leave out relevant experience, accomplishments, and credentials just to make your résumé shorter.

If you really need two pages to persuasively illustrate to the employer that you are the best candidate for the job, write a two-page résumé.

DEMO YOUR COMMITMENT TO YOUR CAREER GOALS
Include on your résumé:

  • Courses that are relevant to the work you are targeting
  • Relevant projects and extracurricular activities
  • Memberships of relevant professional organizations (to enhance your credibility)

SPECIFIC DATES & LAYOUT
If you are still working on your degree, say: “Graduation anticipated 2016”
(or whatever year).

Layout essentials

  • Add space between sections
  • Use bullet points
  • Use different size fonts:
    • 14-16pt for headings
    • 12pt for primary text
    • 10-11pt for bullet points
  • Consider elements like horizontal lines, shading, columns, or other design elements. But make sure it looks professional, not cluttered.

DEMO YOUR POSITIVE TRAITS IN ACTION
Use examples from your work history or your education.

For example: “Reorganized the office at Leaps & Bounds Rabbit Rescue, creating a filing system that saved two hours daily.”

FOCUS ON ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Show how your employer benefited from your work. For some positions, this can be challenging, but you should still make an effort. On what factors was your performance assessed? How did you know you were doing a good job? What did you improve?

For example, don’t just write, “Helped with clerical tasks.” Instead: “Assisted with clerical tasks, saving teachers four hours daily and enabling them to spend more time with students.”

Bulleted accomplishment statements are more user-friendly than paragraphs.

The job prob: resumes


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Chris Stuck-Girard is a Boston-based attorney and earned his MPH from Tufts University, Boston, this year. His work has appeared in various Boston Globe publications and Esquire.com.