The purpose of your résumé is to get an interview, not a job offer.
Once you have a solid résumé with all of the information essential to interest an employer, apply these final touches to target your résumé for the specific job you’d like:
1. 15 to 20 Years of Work History - With the exception of very senior-level executives’ résumés, it’s standard practice today to present only 15 to 20 years of your most recent and relevant work experience. This may allow you to shorten your overall résumé to focus on the experience most applicable to the position. You can summarize all other skills and background in a brief paragraph noting your industries, occupations, and employers’ names.
2. Naming and Formatting Your Résumé - Your résumé will go unnoticed if recruiters can’t find it in the electronic clutter on their desktop or files. When electronically submitting a résumé, save the file by using your name, name of job, and the job-posting number. For example, I might write “R. Skladany, Senior Accountant, Job# 15274.” For the same purpose, when submitting your résumé as an e-mail attachment, put this information in the Subject line of the e-mail.
Unless specifically asked to do otherwise, it is best to format your résumé in an older version of Microsoft Word. Documents prepared on Windows Vista OS can be particularly pesky. You can avoid these issues by saving your file to an older version of Microsoft Word. You can find this option under the Save As feature on Word. If you’re pasting your résumé in an online form, you might want to submit it as a plain text file.
3. Pay Attention to Keywords - Employers and recruiters put a good deal of thought into their job postings. Look for keywords, or words that are repeated several times, in a job posting. These are notable terms that relate to the employer, specific job duties, and qualifications the employer is seeking. Whether employers initially scan résumés by eye or by computer, they’re looking for these “keywords” in your cover letter, résumé, or application.
Using the same keywords in your own résumé is the best way to customize it for a specific employer and job without having to create an entirely new document. So if you’re applying for a customer-service job, make sure your résumé includes an emphasis on telephone skills, telemarketing, and other prior experience. Or, if you work in the Information Technology field, list software, programming languages, and certifications.
4. Emphasize the Top Half of Your Résumé - Recruiters are pressed for time. They will scan the upper half of the first page of your résumé and then decide whether or not they want to continue reading. Make sure you pay special attention to the following:
Contact Information - Your contact information should be on top, with your name prominently bolded. Some people do not include street addresses, but it’s advisable to give your city and state of residence, home and cell-phone numbers, and e-mail address. Create an e-mail address exclusively for your job search, and do your best to stick with your initials and last name.
Occupational Objective - Just beneath your contact information, state your occupational objective in a large, bold font. Here are some examples:
- Senior Accountant and Financial Analyst
- Supervisor, Grocery Retailing
- Certified In-Home Medical Caregiver
- Customer Services, Banking and Insurance
Occupational Summary - This is your 30-second, “elevator speech” summary of your background. In three sentences, describe your experience and the strengths you bring to the job. Here’s an example:
Innovative and detail-oriented senior meeting and events manager with ability to develop and produce successful programs that communicate an organization’s mission and goals. Distinguished by exceptional interpersonal skills in balancing client priorities with support-staff needs on multiple projects. Accomplishments demonstrate marketing abilities, creative design, developmental organization, strong leadership, management skills, and strategic planning. Produced cost-effective and profitable events.
Finally, list your top three to five outstanding capabilities, talents, and qualifications. Ideally, these coincide with the employer’s job qualifications and other keywords. They can make an impression when set off as a bulleted list, with a very brief explanation of each attribute.
5. Addressing Résumé Gaps - No recruiter expects perfection and an error-free career track. Today’s standard of showing only years and not months of employment may blur some short-term gaps in employment.
If you have gaps exceeding a year or more, explain what you were doing, such as, “Family Caregiving.” If you were unemployed for an extended period, you may want to state, “Independent Contract Work” or “Continuing Education.”
Many people who have been “fired” feel guilty and awkward about it years later. Stop worrying about it. You have no obligation to disclose having a work assignment terminated. Just be prepared with a plausible and honest explanation if you’re pinned down—but it’s likely you won’t be.