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Selling Yourself

In Creating Your Resume, Don't Get Hung Up on Form--Content's What Counts

September 15, 1997|NANCY RIVERA BROOKS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If prognosticators are correct and the coming world of work is one in which employees hop from job to job collaborating with ever-changing partners, then the perfect resume of the future will be just like the perfect resume of today: one that best fits the job seeker.

Ideas of what makes a good resume are always evolving, but experts agree that the perfect resume is an individual thing, which sounds stunningly obvious until you try to write your own.

Resumes are a lot like personal ads for the lovelorn: You need to figure out how to highlight your most alluring attributes and how to camouflage the rest. Depending on the work history and career objectives of the job hunter, that could mean using the tried-and-true chronological format, the trendier "functional" skills-based format, or a crossbreeding of the two.

Resumes are also a lot like blind dates. First impressions count and there's no way to know for sure what the person meeting--um, reading your resume likes best.

The chronological format arranges work experience by years, usually from the present job back to earlier jobs.

The functional or "experiential" format focuses on types of jobs and skills, perhaps grouping achievements under headings such as "personnel management" or "sales" or "needs assessment."

Resumes also can combine elements of both formats.

Resume expert Yana Parker of Berkeley said that each format has its uses--the trick is tailoring the resume to you and to the job and industry you're pursuing.

"Substance is what matters," said Parker, who has written four books about resume-writing, including "Damn Good Resume Guide" and "Blue Collar & Beyond: Resumes for Skilled Trades and Services" (Ten Speed Press). "The most important thing is to say what you did in that job, how did you distinguish yourself from a lousy employee."

The chronological format has fallen out of favor in some quarters because it can become an easy crutch for job hunters who merely type up a list of job titles and wooden descriptions that do little to help someone reading the resume understand what sets this person apart. But it is still the favorite format of many overloaded resume readers.

The functional format is preferred by some because it allows the resume to trumpet the skills of the job seeker. But the format turns off some employers who like the familiarity of the chronological approach.

The chronological form works best for those seeking work in traditional fields such as banking, and for people with unbroken job histories that show progress, Parker said.

The functional form is useful for those changing careers or industries, for packaging what may seem a disjointed job history, or for hiding flaws, she said, because it shows off the skills you can bring to a new job.

Or resume writers might take elements of both, highlighting skills at the top and listing jobs and accomplishments at the end, Parker said. For example, a temporary employee who worked several jobs in a short time might package them under one job category followed by employers, such as:

"Administrative Assistant: ABC Corp., XYZ Inc., Widget International"; or "Waiter: Chow Down, Salads on a Stick, Le Chew."

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The biggest mistake most people make in their resumes is to fail to state a clear job or career objective. Another common failing is reliance on previous job titles rather than bold descriptions of what was accomplished on those jobs, Parker said.

"The chronological resume can be just as useful as the functional if people describe what they accomplished and not what their job titles were," Parker said.

Parker advocates an approach she dubs PAR for Problem-Action-Results, which describes a problem, how you solved it and what the results were. A resume might say, "Redesigned an inefficient office layout, finding room for three employees in the same space and eliminating the need for a costly office expansion."

Sandra Deming reads resumes every day as regional director for contract services for the Marquis Group, an El Segundo-based human resources consulting firm. What does she like? Something easy to read and scrupulously honest.

A chronological format gets Deming's vote. In fact, more than three-quarters of human resources professionals surveyed by author Timothy D. Haft for "The Princeton Review Trashproof Resumes" (Random House) said they prefer the chronological approach because it is the easiest to read.

"My daily life is looking at resumes," said Deming, who will be president next year of Professionals in Human Resources Assn. of Southern California, the nation's largest chapter of the Society of Human Resource Management.

"I like honesty, whether it's good, bad or indifferent," Deming said. "I like to see it chronologically with an employer, the job title and some bullets stating what their accomplishments were, with a little summary at the top, plus education and professional associations."

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