Careers: Anatomy of a Good Resume

June 5, 2008
For an active job seeker, a resume is one of the most important tools for getting your foot in the door.

Edited by Victoria Burt

Long before the first interview, you must present your background, experience, and potential in a one-to-two-page document, and make that document count. Without a good resume, nothing happens.

An executive search firm recently studied the resumes of people currently looking for jobs. Palladian International ( targeted manufacturing and sales managers with more than 10-years experience, and recent college graduates. They discovered most resumes have room for improvement.

First, one-third of resumes use the wrong format — either a chronological order when a functional organization would do better or vice versa. The choice of structure can make a significant impact on the effectiveness of a resume. Chronological formats are recommended for most situations because they are organized in a clear fashion and hiring managers are accustomed to reading them. Often a hiring manager will make a decision within the first 15 to 30 sec, and having a resume that’s easy to scan improves the chances of making the yes pile.

Functional resumes are recommended for recent graduates and people changing careers. This format highlights their skills, abilities, and potential while drawing attention away from their lack of experience.

Almost half of the objective statements on the surveyed resumes did not provide any information on the job or industry the seeker was pursuing. Generic objective statements, such as the common “I want to utilize my skills and abilities to the benefit of my employer” serve no purpose and are, at best, a waste of space. Objective statements are not required, but they are common, and often the first thing a hiring manager reads. They should be specific and define the job and industry.

The work experience section forms the core of a chronological resume. However, the study found that 27% of job seekers provided no accomplishments and only 40% provided three or more accomplishments for each job held. Most emphasized their responsibilities. Although responsibilities are important on a resume, they must be backed up by accomplishments. The average resume contained 2.5 accomplishments/position and 3.2 responsibilities/position.

Presentation of work history can highlight career progression or emphasize job changes. One way to accomplish this is to group jobs by employer. If you’ve held multiple positions with a single employer, list them separately under each employer to make the progression appear clearer.

Only half of resumes provided both months and years for the start and end date of each position listed, leaving the other half of resumes missing key data most hiring managers want. Also, few resumes give any background on employers. It is unlikely a hiring manager will research your company so provide a one or two-sentence description.

Unlike dates of employment, graduation dates for degrees are typically not important. For older workers, graduation dates may draw attention to their age. Though age discrimination is illegal, it’s not recommended to disclose your age. The only exceptions are when the graduation date is recent or when it explains a gap or change in employment.

Seventy-seven percent of resumes included a list of continuing education activities in the education section of their resume. Over 90% of manufacturing managers listed relevant classes on their resumes.

Some job seekers feel their personal background helps portray personality and they include this information on a resume. The study found, however, that when personal information, such as hobbies, interests, and family status was provided, it rarely related to the job seeker’s career. Including information unrelated to an individual’s business background could give the false impression that you have little to offer professionally.

The study found that less than 8% of resumes surveyed contained a single spelling or grammatical error and less than 3% contained multiple errors. This means if you have a typo, it will stick out. In addition to spelling and grammar, formatting can be significant. For example, if you bullet information, you can end the sentence with a period, or omit it. Both forms are correct. What’s important is maintaining a consistent convention from beginning to end.

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