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on Monday, June 13, 2011


Q&A on the Resume
By Karen Schaffer

What is a resume?
A brief account of one's professional or work experience and qualifications, often submitted with an employment application. French, from past participle of résumer, to summarize, from Old French resumer, to resume.

Should I be writing RESUME or CURRICULM VITAE at the top of my page?
No. First of all, most of us pretty familiar with the resume format. If it has a name in big at the top, then an address and then a work history, we’re all pretty sure that we’re looking at a resume. And secondly, given that we all know what we’re looking at, it’s better to use that space to send a message about YOU, rather than a statement about what the document is.

Do I have to write a resume?
To tell the truth, I have met people who have never had to write a resume. They are typically people who a) are very good at networking, b) have had two jobs in the last twenty years, c) are always unemployed or d) are related to the President. If you are particularly good at creating relationships with the people who make hiring decisions then you might be able to get out of it. Otherwise, fire up that computer!

What’s the first thing I should think about in writing my resume?
That writing a great resume takes time. Think of this resume as a project that takes at least four stages. You will create a rough draft of ideas. You will work on the content until you can demonstrate what makes you both qualified and unique, and finding your accomplishments in previous jobs. Then you will incorporate all that into a resume format that is clear and readable. You will edit it down so it is one or two pages. And then you will give the resume to a few dependable people to give you feedback. This process takes more than half an hour. Plan for at least a week.

Can I have more than one resume?
Recruiters and hiring managers would prefer you to have one resume. This is because they are looking for you to ‘brand’ yourself with one job role that you’re targeting. Then they can keep you in mind for when a particular role comes up…and they don’t have 5 versions of your resume on their database.

However, it is fine to have more than one version, and in fact to target your resume not only for different roles but for specific jobs. You are best to have a main resume that you work from, and then see if it can be adapted slightly for each job you apply to. You can then bring to the forefront various Key Qualifications and attributes that match the job you’re applying for. In the content, you may want to re-order things to strengthen particular skill sets and responsibilities to better match key job requirements. Overall, the resume body should remain 80 to 90% the same, with minor adjustments to speak to the specific application.

When is it too much?
If you find however that you have 10 very different resumes for 10 very different jobs, consider that you have made your search parameters too wide. It’s possible you’re trying so hard to be available to everyone that you’re nothing to anyone. It is far more powerful to have one main focus for your job search so that recruiters, friends, colleagues and network acquaintances are clear about what you’re looking for. People can help you if you’re specific. If you shrug your shoulders and say, “I’ll take anything…a job…whatever”, people tend to wish you the best and then change the topic.

And recruiters?
Pick one specific role and stick to it with each recruiting firm you approach.

How long should it be?
A resume is ideally no more than two pages in length. Some of the best resumes are tight and focused; I’ve seen CEOs who have done more than I will ever think of doing get the captivating essentials on one page. But most of us seem to top out around two.

The only exceptions to this rule are for very specific industries, for example technology roles. There the standard is to list all projects and programs used.

For the majority, I recommend the two page maximum rule. That’s the optimum length a reader can handle; after that their attention diminishes. If your resume goes to a page and a quarter, you can definitely get it to one. Play with wording and font sizing – it’s worth it for stronger impact.

Mine’s waaay too long. What do I do?
If you are trying to write a resume and it keeps coming out book length, help might be necessary to edit it down. Some tips: you are likely giving too much explanation to every single job or project you’ve worked on. Step back. What are you applying for? What are the basic skill sets and qualifications? What specific accomplishments do you have that match these criteria? Edit out anything that doesn’t fit.

Another trap is repetition. If you have handled accounting duties at one job, there’s no need to tell us you did it at a job seven years ago too. Jobs that are more than three jobs away don’t need detailed explanation unless there is both something in it unique to the rest of your resume and crucial for the current job search. Focus on your latest two or three jobs in particular.

Finally, let someone else try editing it. You probably feel too attached to let go of great examples. An objective eye might help you select the best. Remember that a resume is a “taste” of who you are, not the full meal deal. You can always go more in depth in the interview.

These articles first appeared as a series for The Toronto Star in 2005

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