Your resume and your cover letter, taken together, become an employment proposal. They introduce you to a potential employer and clearly show you have the knowledge, skills and record of success to solve a problem, meet a goal, or fulfill a need for their organization.

Your cover letter says, "I'm the right person for this job". Your resume proves it! Combined, they provide a snapshot of your professional brand - the features and benefits of your unique value proposition.

Resume Content:
An Overview

This is such an important document that you'll want to labor over it as much as, if not more than, anything else you've ever written! While you are writing it, keep checking to be sure your stays firmly on the following:

The prospective employer's needs, not yours. Hiring isn't any organization's favorite pastime and right now the last priority on their list is lending a helping hand to a stranger who happens to need a job and income.

Your results, not your duties. Your accomplishments, not your job titles, are your most important assets. Be sure they come across clearly. NEVER use the phrase "responsible for". Instead, use active verbs such as led, increased, reduced, streamlined, published, approved, wrote, etc.

Decide Which Format to Use

There are two basic resume formats: chronological and functional.

A chronological resume presents your professional accomplishments and employers listed in reverse order by date. If you want to show a long employment history with few if any gaps and are not making a change in career direction, consider this format.

A functional resume emphasizes your abilities and accomplishments without necessarily detailing where and how you achieved them. It emphasizes your transferable management skills, is appropriate for women with a shorter work history and is the preferred format if you are considering a change in career direction.

(Note: Some hiring managers, particularly in the Human Resources area, see a functional resume and tend to wonder if an applicant is hiding gaps in employment. If this scenario is relevant for you, don't specify months, just years.)

I strongly encourage you to use the functional resume. It is the preferable format to showcase your successes and at the same time it is the most helpful way for a prospective employer to find relevant information about you quickly and easily. Therefore, the following assumes you are preparing afunctional resume.

Divide Your Functional Resume
Into Four Sections

When you make it easy for hiring managers to find answers to their questions about you in your resume, you separate yourself from just about everyone else! A resume that flows logically and is easy to read because of the tactically savvy use of section titles and subtitles predisposes a reader to a favorable decision!

The first section. Give this section a title something like "Executive Summary" or "Professional Summary".

The first person who screens your resume will spend only about 10 seconds deciding whether you have what they are looking for. Make those seconds count by front-loading your resume with a concise summary of your accomplishments - what you are all about.

If you communicate this information to them in your opening statement, a resume screener can quickly determine if you will add value or solve a problem for them and, even more, in what capacity. This person's critical decision determines if your resume is forwarded for further consideration and action or consigned to a "never mind" collection in a crammed file drawer somewhere. Your opening statement HAS to count!

If you know the exact job and title for which you are applying, your opening statement might read:

    "Operations Manager with a five-year track record of increasingly successful budgeting and expense control who will increase your profitability by streamlining administrative processes".

If you don't know the specific job or title you are applying for, your opening statement might read:

    "Seasoned Operations professional seeks a position in which five years of successful budgeting and operations management will increase your profitability by streamlining administrative processes".

Look at how much information you've given a prospective employer in either of those brief statements: your area of expertise, your level of performance, what you can do for this employer, and even how you will do it.

The second section. Give this section a title such as "Professional Accomplishments", and divide it into subcategories such as Marketing, Communications, Operations, Training, Information Management, etc. Under each subcategory, list your accomplishments (regardless of when they occurred or for whom you were working at the time you achieved them). Remember to use active verbs and cite the value you added for each one.

For example, one bullet point under Operations might read:

    "Achieved measurable increases in productivity through design and implementation of new employee training and incentive program".

A bullet point under Communications might read:

    "In preparation for federal congressional oversight hearings, researched, analyzed and wrote corporate report on customer service operations that prevented threatened industry regulation".

Your first pass at writing your second section starts with a "core dump" - list every accomplishment you can think of, being careful not to repeat the same verb if possible. Then go back and streamline the section by consolidating similar subcategories, then similar accomplishments within each. Remember: NEVER use the phrase "responsible for", which tells your reader nothing about the quality or business impact of your action.

Obviously you'll want to put the best possible fact on everything listed in your second section. But be sure what you say is verifiable because a potential employer will probably ask for your permission to speak with a couple of your bosses and might ask them about something you listed on your resume that they are particularly interested in having you do for them.

The third section. Give this section a title such as "Professional Experience". Here is where you list, starting with the most recent, the organizations for which you have worked and where they are located (city and state).

To a potential employer, this list shows whether you've worked mainly for large or small companies, helps them to make a well-educated guess about how well you would fit into an organization their size.

Include your job title for each employer and the dates you were employed by each one - again, at least the "from" and "to" years. You don't necessarily have to specify the months but if you omit them, it might raise some questions.

The fourth section. Give this section a title such as "Formal Education" or "Formal Education and Certification".

Again, list these in reverse chronological order listing dates, specify the college or university from which you received your degree and the source of your certifications and dates you received them. Especially if you are in a rapidly changing field, a potential employer may want to ensure you are certified, or at least trained, in the latest technologies.

Anything else? I've seen some job applicants include their hobbies and interests at the end of their resumes. This information does not add to the credibility or usefullness of a well-written resume. So unless, on the outside chance that such interests are hugely relevant to the job you are applying for, don't even go there!

Well Done!

Within the four sections above, you have provided a prospective employer with:

  • A brief summary of the reasons why you should be hired
  • A list of your accomplishments (proof you can do the job)
  • A list of employers for whom you have added value
  • Credentials that further qualify you for this job

Keywords and Resume Scanning

Scanning resumes for certain keywords ia a growing trend in many industries (especially high technology) and companies (especially large ones). Companies using this process will scan resumes into databases and search for keywords indicating applicants have held certain jobs or have earned specific degrees or certifications that uniquely qualify them for a job they are trying to fill.

How do you know what keywords to use? When you identify a company to which you would like to apply, check their website and put together a list of descriptive nouns that appear often. The same holds for education- and training-related abbreviations that could be used in the company's search.

Examples of popular job titles containing recognizable keywords include: Software Engineer, Project Manager, Quality Assurance Analyst, Programmer, System Administrator, Web Site Developer, Budget Planner, Technical Support Specialist, etc.

Examples of degrees and certifications would include: A.A.T. (Associate in Applied Technology), A.A. (Associate in Arts), B.A. (Bachelor of Arts), B.S. (Bachelor of Science), M.B.A. (Masters in Business Administration), Ph.D. (a doctorate degree), J.D. (a law degree), M.C.S.E. (Microsofe Certified Systems Engineer), P.M.P. (Project Management Professional), C.F.M. (Certified Financial Manager) and the list goes on and on. Use the monograms (or at least use monograms in combination with the full spelling) for your degrees and certifications.

Unfortunately, scans may comprise the first elimination round in the hiring process that a potential employer uses. Maximize your use of industry- and hiring company-specific buzzwords in your resume.

Only the organizations themselves are privy to which keywords they scan for so make your best guess based on your experience in your current job and your research about a particular prospective employer.

Formatting, Finetuning and Getting It There

Now that you're confident the content of your resume will secure you an interview, your next challenge is to be sure that it looks and reads the same way when it arrives at its destination. Here are some tips and techniques to help ensure that it will.

Length Keep your resume to a miximum of two pages, with your cover letter being a third. If you are applying for a scientific or teaching position, you will be preparing a Cirriculum Vitae, which is longer and goes into significant detail about academic and research experiences. A Curriculum Vitae focuses on completeness while resumes are succinct and brief.

Word processing software Microsoft Word is the most universally readable. With apologies to MAC devotees and owners, do prepare your resume and cover letter in Microsoft Word to be fairly certain your recipient's computer will read it. (If you are sending your resume to an advertising agency or graphic artist firm, that's another story. Just confirm which software they use.)

Punctuation When using bullet points, be sure they are the round, solid ones. Hollow bullets or arrows can become jumbled or misread in an e-mail if your recipient is using different word processing software than the one in which you prepared it.

How you get your resume to a potential employer depends on how the lead to that employer was generated.

  • If you are responding to a newspaper ad, the ad will specify whether you are to mail, fax or e-mail your resume and cover letter.
  • If you are following a lead from a networking colleague, ask him or her to contact the decision-maker on your behalf so that person is expecting to hear from you. Then telephone him or her - lots faster than the mail and safer than risking your resume winds up in someone's junk mail box.

If you are "snail-mailing" your resume, be sure it is printed on high quality (heavy rag content) white paper. You dond't want a potential employer to be distracted from your content by having to get past a color they don't particularly care for.

If you are e-mailing your resume, cover your bases and send it twice - once as an attachment to your cover letter and the second time include it in the body of your e-mail. Send the package to yourself first to be sure there are no problems.

Creatively title an e-mailed resume. Most people will simply be attaching a document titled "resume", their name, the receiving company name, or a combination thereof. Grab the opportunity to stand out by titling your resume "your name - experienced advertising manager.doc" or whatever the job title is for which you are applying.

References: Who, When and How?

Wait until a prospective employer requests your references. When you are asked for them, it will be a strong "buy signal" to use sales jargon. You are probably among the finalists being considered for the position!

DO NOT include references on your resume. You need those precious two pages to prove you are the person for the job based on your experience. If you use the space for references, the whole document becomes suspect. Besides, all hiring managers expect that the personal and professional references you provide will be top notch anyhow!

Always ask a person for their permission to use him or her as a personal or professional reference and be sure it is O.K. for your prospective employer to contact him or her at their place of business - especially if they are being used as a professional reference. Your boss and your mentor are obvious choices for professional references.

For personal references, your spiritual advisor is a good choice. Other credible personal references might come from non-profit association leaders, especially if you are on their board or have been a volunteer in their organization. NEVER use relatives or an immediate family member as a personal reference, even if one of them is the CEO of a Fortune 500 heavy hitter.

A legal note here: Your previous employer is legally permitted ONLY to verify your employment at the company and the dates you worked there. Without written permission from you, they are forbidden to provide any additional information - such as why you left, your performance, whether they would rehire you, your salary history, etc.

An organization considering hiring you will probably ask for your permission to speak with your previous boss and some of your peers. You might want to give your potential employer your boss's and a few select peers' direct lines so their calls don't float around the office.

When asked for your references, present them in a separate document.

All hiring managers expect the personal and/or professional references you provide will be top notch!

Proof! Proof! Proof!

Have at least four or five people proof your resume before you do anything with it! After you've worked so hard on it, you might see what you think should be there and miss an obvious typo or punctuation error.

Market Yourself on Your Own Personal Website

Want to be really creative and memorable? Use the web to present your resume and cover letter by building your own personal website. It has advantages over traditional coverletters and resumes by allowing you to use color, graphics, music and a video to introduce yourself to potential employers. This is a relatively new phenomenon and approach to job seeking but hosting your own website has become inexpensive enough that it can be used as one more way to get the word out - and the name of the job search game is "cover all your bases".

If you want to investigate this further, start at

I certainly would NOT coach you to abandon traditional resume formats and distribution methods, but this one could be fun - if you can figure out how to get hiring managers to visit your site.

And Finally . . .

A major effort to carefully prepare and effectively present your job search resume is the best use of your time and has the highest payback potential of all the elements in your job search plan.