Your resume needs to stand out, but forgo the scented stationery, glitter ink, and Gorilla Grams. What catches a recruiter’s eye aren’t bells and whistles but what you bring to the table. Says Charlotte Weeks, president of the National Resume Writers’ Association, “Your resume is a marketing document that reveals why you are the perfect fit for a job, not a laundry list of everything you’ve ever done.” So, unless you intend to teach everyone in accounting how to fetch and roll over, there’s no need to include that dog-walking gig from the summer of ’02.
Employers will eyeball the top third of your resume first: Devote that real estate to highlighting job-specific skills and outstanding accomplishments. If an industry heavyweight has praised your performance, consider putting a quote front and center. Most of your resume consists of you talking about how great you are: A few words from someone else, especially someone respected, make the point that others think you’re great, too. Direct quotes are most effective; for example: “‘The most talented salesperson I’ve ever hired’ –Donald Trump.”
The chronological vs. functional resume debate is one that only you can resolve. If you’ve held a string of impressive titles at name-brand companies and want similar work in the same industry, a list of your past jobs and responsibilities can be compelling. On the other hand, if you have little work experience, a spotty employment history, or are seeking another field, a document emphasizing the most transferable skills and abilities might be a better marketing tool. For the best of both styles, try the combination resume.
For those currently out of work, Susan Ireland, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Perfect Resume,” recommends “filling in your employment gap with any paid or unpaid work that’s relevant to your job objective.” Volunteering, taking classes, or regularly defragging the computers at your nephew’s school all count. “If you can’t come up with anything relevant,” advises Ireland, “fill your employment gap with a ‘job title’ that indicates your good character, such as family management, caregiver, travel, or something wholesome you were doing.”
Applying online? Follow the instructions. Some employers don’t open attachments, so if a job listing requests a resume in the body of an email, do it. If it’s OK to send an attachment, put your name in the document’s title so that HR can find it easily. And never send your resume into the world unaccompanied; always compose an enticing cover letter to introduce yourself and your skills.
Convert your resume to a text (or ASCII) file. Yes, all the bolding, italics, and underlining that look so awesome on paper will disappear. But in exchange your potential new boss will see exactly what you sent, not a series of wobbly hieroglyphs. For the tech-savvy, senior corporate recruiter Michelle Rowe advises using Microsoft Word resume templates instead of online resume builders, and saving in PDF format. PDF and Word files are easiest to send by email and through the applicant-tracking systems that big companies use.
Make sure your work history corresponds to your Web presence, such as your LinkedIn profile. Employers searching for you online — and they will search — should find nothing but solid credentials and glowing references.
Whether your resume is electronic or hard copy, details count: Make sure every line is proofread and office-appropriate. No matter how qualified you are, no one’s going to believe that you are if your email address is email@example.com. Create an address like firstname.lastname@example.org that’s easy to search and sort for, and as professional as your interview suit. That way, you’ll soon have a reason to wear it.
Mireille Majoor writes, edits, and tweets for the Yahoo! Search Blog and edits the Yahoo! Spark blog. She has written and edited for such publishers as the Better Business Bureau, Hyperion, Penguin, and HarperCollins, on subjects ranging from Anastasia to zeppelins. Mireille is also the author of two books for children, one about the Hindenburg explosion and the other about the sinking of the Titanic, making her the undisputed master of disaster for the under-12 set.
Jessica Hilberman contributed to this article.