If your resume is not a winner, it's a killer.
Done right, it can be your ticket past a personnel officer who is screening applicants for a job. It can provide talking points during an interview with a prospective boss. It can even set you up for a job you weren't applying for.
Done badly, it can virtually guarantee that you never get past the front door.
"A resume is a marketing piece, not a document of past history," said Yana Parker, author of "The Damn Good Resume Guide" and "The Resume Catalogue," both published by Ten Speed Press in Berkeley. "Its intent is to get you an interview. If it does that, it's a winner."
So how do you write a resume that sells you to an employer?
Start by thinking long and hard about your career goals, Parker advises. Then write a rough outline of your career and education and describe how each former position and your schooling relate to your goals. Include brief descriptions of what your accomplishments--not just your responsibilities--were on each job.
Finally, take a close look at the employer to whom you're applying and tailor your resume to meet his or her needs.
An investment in a word processor with a letter-quality printer is a good idea, many experts say, because you can produce "original," fully individualized resumes for each job application.
"Tailoring is a question of emphasis, inclusion and exclusion. For most positions, a resume should emphasize power and control," said Walter Brown, associate director of UCLA's Placement and Career Planning Center. "Most employers are not even concerned about achievements except as they show what you can do for them."
Brown suggests putting yourself into the employer's shoes to make sure you're writing an effective resume. "Your mind set needs to be, 'What does the employer want and how can I convince him of what I can do?' "
If you have time, research the employer. "Look up newspaper articles in the library, get a copy of the company's annual report," Brown said. "Pull together a picture of their perceived needs and see what their emphasis is."
For instance, if a company's corporate culture seems to focus on productivity, "then hammer that home, in both your resume and your cover letter," Brown said. "Say, 'as you can see, my concern has been a bottom-line orientation.' "
There is one fatal mistake you can make on your resume--lying. In fact, many employers have written policies of terminating employees--no matter how long they've been on the job--if a fabrication is ever discovered on their resumes.
"Dishonesty or distortion is a slow fuse. What usually happens is that a resume gets into a personnel file and sits there for years," Brown said. "Then an office political battle erupts, and that is the first place enemies go."
Then what's the smartest thing you can do on your resume? "Manipulate the truth," said Bob McCarthy, president and chief executive of McCarthy Resource Associates, an employee outplacement firm based in Century City.
To do this, McCarthy advocates a format that arranges your experience by function rather than in the traditional reverse chronological order. "This allows you to put your priorities and values up front and not be a slave of history," he said.
A resume put together with this format would group all management experience, for example, into one category; all sales experience into another, and so on.
UCLA's Brown sees no problem with the more common historical arrangement, if that is the style that sits best with you and the prospective employer. "The format is like the clothes you wear to an interview," Brown said. "Not everyone looks good in a dress."
"In defense of the chronological resume, it's tried and true," Brown said. "Employers are familiar with it. Some employers may be a little bewildered by the newfangled formats."
"A chronological format is fine if your past history is right in line with where you're going," said author Parker. "But if you're changing your career at all or if your past jobs aren't very important considering what you can really do, a functional arrangement works better."
Regardless of the format you choose, Parker said, the focus should be on accomplishments, not job descriptions.
Egregious errors, according to Bob McCarthy, are bad grammar and typos. "There is no excuse for misspelled words or bad grammar," he said. He warns that a prospective employer may be thinking, "If this is your first impression and you're trying to put your best foot forward, I'd like to see you with your guard down."
Most experts urge you to keep your resume short and concise. "No one has time to read a seven-page docudrama of your life," McCarthy said. He suggests two pages as the maximum length; Parker said a resume contained on one page is a "big advantage"--the employer reviewing it can see a summary of your skills without even having to turn the page.