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Résumé Begins or Ends a Job Search

Thirty seconds. Studies say that's all the time you have for your résumé to make an impression on a prospective employer.

When job searching, the résumé is often the only mechanism a prospective employer has to evaluate you unless you are working with an executive search firm. Consequently, if the résumé doesn't grab the reader's interest, there's little chance you'll get an interview, much less land a new job.

A résumé is a "snapshot" of you. A résumé that sparks the interest of a prospective employer's hiring manager must powerfully communicate the "who, what, where, when and why" about you in a detailed, reader-friendly format. It needs to make you rise above the crowd and your competitors vying for the same job.

Components of a High Impact Résumé:

The different sections, or headings, of the résumé provide a framework for organizing your information.

The standard résumé has five main sections:

  • Personal Directory
  • Work History
  • Education
  • Accreditations and Licenses
  • Professional Memberships
The "personal directory" is placed at the top of the resume. Here, your name, mailing address, telephone numbers, and e-mail address, if available, should be provided. The directory, of course, informs the hiring manager where you can be contacted. As incidental as it may seem, positioning of the personal directory can be a make-or-break part of a résumé. Sometimes, in an attempt to make the document stand out, an individual deviates from the standard format by positioning the directory in a different spot, such as a margin; uses an artistic typeface; or applies other kinds of creativity. Changes like these can actually impede the "life" of a résumé because they make it difficult for the hiring manager to find information. Altering the personal directory format also conflicts with the utilization of electronic technology, common in businesses today. More and more companies are building electronic databases with submitted résumés, either to refer to them for future job openings, or to track and create statistics on factors such as the number of résumés submitted per job opening or the length of time spent to fill positions. Résumés are either input manually or scanned by optical character recognition (OCR). Those who are keying in data need information to be easy to locate and read. With the use of OCR, the scanning software may be incapable of interpreting fancy typefaces. These distractions -- a "misplaced" or "illegible" directory -- coupled with the fact that résumés are abundant in today's market place, create a high probability that the résumé may not be seen by anyone involved in the hiring process.

Some résumé authorities say an "objective," a short summary statement describing what you want to do and what you have to offer an employer, should follow the personal directory. Contrary to this belief, I advise excluding an objective for a number of reasons. The hiring manager of a prospective employer is mostly interested in the skills and achievements you bring to the table. Additionally, by stating an objective you may box yourself in; if your skills are suitable for a job, but your objective doesn't match the employer's, the hiring manager may take you out of contention. There are times when an objective may be acceptable to include. For example, if you're sending your résumé directly to a specific person and have thorough knowledge of the job under consideration, you can craft the objective to be consistent with the opportunity. If you feel an objective is important to state, my recommendation is to include it in an introductory cover letter accompanying your résumé.

Assuming an objective is omitted, "work history" is the next section of a résumé. Work history is the core and most impactful part of the document. It must communicate and illustrate, in detail, your career success and enable the hiring manager to clearly link work responsibilities with measurable results. The data you share is translated into your value to the prospective employer.

The following outline shows the order in which information should be presented in the work history section:

Current employer, current job

  • Company
  • Geographic Location (city, state and country, if other than U.S.)
  • Present job title (and, if pertinent, department name)
  • Starting Date in Job to Present
  • One to two Sentence Summary of Current Responsibilities
  • List Achievements using a Bullet Format, Quantifying when Possible
  • Company
  • Geographic Location (if different from current position)
  • Previous Job Titles in chronological order working backward (and, if pertinent, department names)
  • After each job title:
    - Starting and ending dates in job
    - One to two sentence summary of job responsibilities
    - List achievements using a bullet format, quantifying when possible
  • Name of each company
  • After each company:
    - Geographic location (city, state and country, if other than U.S.)
    - Job title or titles in chronological order working backward (and, if pertinent, department name)
  • After each job title:
    - Starting and ending in job
    - One to two sentence summary of job responsibilities
    - List achievements using a bullet format, quantifying whenever possible
Quantifying accomplishments in relation to your job responsibilities is where the rubber meets the road. Statistics, benchmarking, before-and-after comparisons and other numeric reporting best illustrate your skills and qualifications.

Let's take a look at a basic example of quantifying results -- the wrong way and the right way. A chief financial officer (CFO) states in his work history, "Reduced capital expenditures in 1998 expenditures by 10%." This is a weak sentence because there's no point of reference. It leaves the reader dangling and begs the question, "What were the capital expenditures when the CFO began in the position?" A better statement is: "Reduced capital expenditures from $114.2 million in 1997 to $102.8 million in 1998, a 10% decline." The before-and-after figures are impressive and illustrate that the CFO has gained control of problems and is on pace to restore expenses to an acceptable level. From this statement, the hiring manager might hypothesize that this candidate could bring the same success to his/her organization.

For a broader view of quantification, the following examples were drawn from the résumés of two different individuals:

Example One

National Sales Manager-Vice President (November 1997-Present)

XYZ Corporation has more than 5,000 employee’s nationwide and managed receivables in excess of $60 billion. The company is recognized in the industry as a leader in technology, conservative business practices, and quality personnel training programs.


  • Supervise operations for 1,500 branches in 48 states with more than 5,000 employees.

  • In 1998, the company produced more than $20 million in loan growth compared to a -$15 million loss in 1997, the largest percentage improvement in company history.

  • In 1998, the company reduced delinquency $4 million dollars, or 1.00% from 4.12% to 3.12% in 1998

  • The largest percentage reduction in the company.

  • Improved productivity in 1998 in the two most important categories, receivable loan growth and receivable bad debt.

  • Reduced staffing levels by 14% while improving growth and delinquency results.
"Education" follows work history. Degrees and advanced degrees and the institutions where they were earned should be listed. Next, cite honors, awards, achievements and scholarships. Special courses taken to upgrade or enhance job skills should also be included here.

"Accreditations and licenses" are appropriate to include next if licensure or certification is required or of significance in the respective industry. In the financial services industry, for example, we have a wide range of broker licenses, insurance agent certifications, underwriting certifications and financial investment accreditations, just to name a few. Some are essential for certain positions while others are voluntary and serve to enhance a professional's capabilities, competence and credentials.

The résumé continues with "professional memberships," denoting affiliations in any industry, commercial or professional associations. Officer positions, committee chairmanships and other involvement, as well as outstanding contributions, accomplishments and awards associated with memberships should be highlighted. Besides demonstrating a commitment to your industry and conveying your ongoing interest in expanding vocational experience, this information illustrates qualities such as leadership ability and teamwork.

Different Variables Affect Presentation Format

A variation to the standard résumé format is listing skill sets as the first section of body text following the personal directory. This diversion is suitable only in certain circumstances and therefore should be used selectively.

The modified format may be appropriate for someone changing careers. Placing skills that relate to a future job at the beginning of the résumé accentuates the skills and immediately focuses the reader in the new direction. Another example fitting to the skills sets format could be a project manager position that requires a blend of skills, such as project management, technology and process reengineering. A person in this type of position may benefit by following the modified presentation style. While this format has advantages, a major drawback is the challenge it presents to the hiring manager to connect the skills referenced with jobs in the work history section.

Regardless of the presentation format you choose, you may have one lingering question: How long should my résumé be? There's no set maximum or minimum number of pages. Experts have different opinions about résumé length, but one popular formula is to make the document as long as it needs to be to present your information logically, concisely, interestingly and honestly. No matter how many pages your résumé fills, misspellings and grammatical errors are inexcusable, and almost assuredly, the document will be dead on arrival.

"Honesty" merits extra attention. In your résumé, tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Information will be verified during a reference check, which may include sources such as a credit company or an investigation service. Deceit will result in automatic disqualification for a job or automatic job termination, and it could haunt you and your job hunting success for a long time. A résumé is a work in progress. Continually update the information. You never know when a great career opportunity will cross your path, but when it does, you'll be prepared. If you're applying for a specific job and have knowledge of the criteria being sought, you can tailor the information to be more relevant to the employer's needs. If you work with an executive recruiter in your job search, the recruiter can help customize your résumé in relation to the employment opportunity.

Let the Search Begin

Now that you've completed your résumé, it's time to distribute it! There are numerous ways to conduct a job search.

  • A shotgun mailing -- simultaneously sending your resume with an introductory cover letter to many potential employers -- is one approach. You may want to engage an executive recruiter, who can selectively identify job opportunities and be your marketing representative; executive recruiters primarily place professionals in middle- or upper-management positions.

  • If you know the name of the hiring manager or key contact person at a prospective employer, sending a résumé by certified mail to that individual can be a way to initiate interest in you and make you shine above the clutter. If you want to use this approach but don't know who should receive your résumé, you can make a phone call inquiry.

  • Job hunting on the Internet is growing in popularity because you gain much greater exposure. There are hundreds of sites offering job-posting and resume-posting services today. You may want to try several to determine which ones are most appropriate for your skills and the type of job you're seeking. If you're not getting activity from the sites you select, try others.

These are just a few résumé distribution methods. There are many others. Choosing which path will be the most effective for your job search depends on variables such as the type of job you want, where you want to be located and the hiring techniques of your particular industry. To improve the odds, don't confine yourself to just one option.

The résumé is your launch pad. Without the right ingredients to fuel it, your journey -- your job search -- will never get off the ground.

Understanding the purpose of the individual sections, the content of each and how information should be presented paves the way for creating a captivating résumé and reaching your destination -- securing a satisfying new job.