I am floored.
I have been talking to Phyllis Shabad for 10 minutes, and she
has just described my resume to a frightening T.
This is no small feat: I live outside Washington; she lives in
New York's Westchester County. We've never met. We're talking by
phone. She has never seen my resume. And all I've told her is that
it's in essentially the same shape as it was in college (which,
um, I've been out of for quite some time). And she's off:
- Experience in reverse chronological order? (Check)
- Dates delineated by month and year and justified left? (Check)
- Lots of bullets? (Check)
- Most recent jobs tacked on top? (Yep)
- Phrases like "duties included" and "responsible for"? (Uh,
- The phrase "references available on request," used primarily
as a way to fill space on a second page? (Ouch)
I am beyond embarrassed. I write about business and careers, for
goodness sake. (Although thankfully, Shabad, CEO of CareerMasters
and a certified resume writer, is very nice. "I have stopped being
astonished," she says of the resumes that cross her desk.)
But here's the thing: I'm not alone. Most seasoned professionals
(and if you've been in the job market for awhile, you can call yourself
"seasoned") have woefully out-of-date resumes.
Luckily, there are a bunch of people out there who can help them -- and me -- polish the pathetic things up. The trick is to throw
out all that conventional wisdom we bought into during college career
fairs and to start appreciating our resumes for what they really
are: A marketing/branding tool that will set us apart from the job-hunting
The experts' advice?
1. Make it relevant.
You may think your resume is a tidy picture of who you are, but
how well does it speak to the company you want to work for? That,
after all, is your target audience, says Kevin Morris, founder and
president of Best IT Resume (www.bestitresume.com)
in Lake City, FL, and president of the National Resume Writers Association.
So forget the one-size-fits-all resume you created in college to
mass mail. When looking for a job today, research the companies
and positions you're interested in, then customize your resume for
that job and that firm.
2. Make it e-savvy.
We live in a techno world. Indeed, more than 80 percent of all
resumes today are processed electronically, says Pat Kendall, head
of Advanced Resume Concepts (www.reslady.com)
near Portland, OR, and a nationally certified resume writer.
What does that mean for you and your resume?
A lot. When companies look for stellar job applicants, they now
sift through their electronically processed resumes by looking for
"key words" -- industry buzzwords or phrases that serve as a sort
of qualifications filter. So when you write your resume, you need
to find out what key words are pertinent to the job you want.
These are so crucial that Shabad (www.careeriq.com)
even suggests including a "key words" section in your resume that
contains the buzzwords employers are looking for.
3. Make it current.
We all did things 20, 30 years ago that were really profound. But
most employers don't care. Rather, they want to know what you're
up to now, Morris says. So don't feel compelled to list out every
task, award and citation you've received throughout your entire
career. Instead, draw back only 15 or so years.
And even then, don't list jobs and duties in reverse chronology.
The minute you start listing months and years on your resume, Shabad
says, hiring managers will start looking for a gap in your work
history -- "not a good thing."
4. Make it engaging.
Shabad is a fan of what she calls stories. Choose experiences from
your career that you can mold to showcase the challenges you faced,
the goals and results you achieved, and the value you brought to
your company. Apply these experiences to the needs of the company
you now want to work for. Present them with headlines, bullet points
and strong writing, and your experience will "resonate off your
5. Make it interesting.
Write in active, exciting language. Summarize your strengths, your
qualities and your key words at the very top of your resume, Kendall
says. Use active verbs to describe what you've done. Write like
you're excited about your career and what you can do for a new company.
And by all means, avoid hackneyed expressions like "proven record
of," "strong communication skills," "well-qualified," "visionary,"
or "seasoned veteran," Shabad says. "I would run for cover if I
saw these words."
6. Make it as long as it needs to be.
Remember the "one page only" rule? Please. Your resume should be
as long as it needs to be, Morris says.
7. Make out-of-office experience pertinent.
Mine community service and volunteer activities for gold. This
is particularly key for folks reentering the workforce after a time
away. Look to see how the work was relevant to the position you're
now seeking, Morris says. Look at any leadership roles you held.
Any contributions you made. Then include them.
"Active involvement in the community portrays an energetic person
with a lot of value to offer," he says.
8. Make it a marketing piece.
Your resume should be your marketing piece. It should be your brand.
And it should speak directly to the company you're applying to.
"If somebody gets a job with a generic resume these days," Kendall
says, "it's just an accident."
So I guess I'd better get busy. I have a really outdated resume
that needs some tough love. Any parting advice -- for me and others
"You have to wow them," Kendall says. "You want to be a masterful
Susan Bowles is a business journalist based in Washington, DC.
She has 20 years journalism experience and has written for USA Today,
USATODAY.com, the Washington Post, the St. Petersburg Times and
The Palm Beach Post.