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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
- The details. How big was your department? What population did you serve? “By being more specific, you increase the credibility of your résumé and enhance its keyword value,” says Michelle Dumas, executive director of Distinctive Career Services, Boston.
- Specific accomplishments, quantified wherever possible. “It’s important to show that you made a positive impact in your previous positions,” says Greg Lewis, career & alumni services specialist with Ashford University.
- Relevant experience. Focus on the positions and accomplishments that are most relevant to the potential job.
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 to proofread your résumé top-to-bottom. Then do it again with someone else.
KEEP IT SIMPLE AND EASY TO SCAN
- Use bulleted lists instead of paragraph descriptions, and differentiate each section with a heading.
- Use a conventional font like Helvetica or Century Gothic.
- 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 résumé makeover is based on a résumé submitted by a graduate student in Massachusetts.
LACKS SUMMARY SECTION OR CAREER TITLE
The summary section or career title is necessary to clearly identify the position you seek, set the tone for your résumé, and highlight your “selling points.”
LACKS SPECIFIC DATES
Using the word “present” under masters-level education is not helpful to the reader. What does this mean?
LACKS SPECIFIC DETAILS
What is a “social work awareness program”? What was the event date? Who was the audience? What was the topic?
INFORMATION IS HARD TO FIND
By leading with employer name instead of job title, readers are unable to quickly scan and evaluate your experience, roles, and responsibilities.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS ARE NOT HIGHLIGHTED
Simply saying what you did (e.g., “helped patients”) does not make you stand out among applicants. Instead, focus on the positive outcomes experienced by your clients, patients, co-workers, and/or employers as a result of your work.
WHAT THIS RÉSUMÉ GETS RIGHT
Tackle the burning question: A one-page résumé or two? “One page is often appropriate for a student résumé, although two pages are acceptable if you are a person with many accomplishments,” says Michelle Dumas.
- Do make sure every word in your résumé has a purpose.
- Don’t add additional words just to fill a page.
- Don’t remove relevant experience, credentials, and accomplishments just to make it fit on one page.
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. “Remember you want to tailor your skills and experience to the job you seek,” says Greg Lewis.
Review and modify your summary, career title, and keywords in preparation for each résumé submission.
Start each bullet point with an action verb. Use a variety of verbs to communicate to the reader what you have done and accomplished. For example:
CAREER TITLES AND KEYWORDS
The goal is to show you are a potential match early in your résumé. It is essential to use the appropriate keywords for the type of position you are pursuing.
- Review several job announcements similar to the position of interest.
- Collect the common keywords and integrate them into your résumé.
FOCUS ON SPECIFIC ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Be as specific as possible. How many patients were in your caseload? What types of treatments did you provide? How many staff members did you supervise? What populations did you serve?
Even if you don’t work in a field with clear measurable goals (e.g., sales), you can still highlight the impact of your work. For example:
- Instead of: “Helped patients focus on improving coping skills.”
- Try: “Helped patients build coping skills, resulting in 90% successful re-entry into the workforce.”
CLEAR & READABLE FORMAT
- Use the job title to introduce each position you’ve held, and make sure it’s easy to spot (use bold).
- Format your content consistently.
- Use bullet points for easy scanning.
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