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Crafting a resume that will grab recruiters

Some old rules no longer apply. Creativity can help, but going too far can ruin your chances for a job.

March 29, 2009|Tiffany Hsu

Even in choppy waters, recruiters are still angling for the perfect job candidate.

But employers don't have the time or resources to sift through all the applications churned up by the recession. California's unemployment rate hit 10.5% in February -- the highest in nearly 26 years -- while the national rate stands at 8.1%.

To boost your chances of getting plucked, you'll need a top-notch resume. That means one that combines eye-catching details and a fast, modern pitch with old-school basics, including impeccable grammar and spelling.

Today's successful resumes are marketing tools, not encyclopedia entries. They're capable of selling your story on paper or online.

Here's how to get a recruiter to fall for your resume, hook, line and sinker.

Be a profit center

In these tough times, many companies are concerned with just staying afloat. Show how you can boost revenue, increase productivity or cut costs for your prospective employer.

"Focus on accomplishments, not responsibilities," said Doug Hardy, a resume expert for job search website Monster. "Look for numbers and put them up high."

Mention how, as a purchasing agent, you sought out bargains and negotiated millions of dollars of savings on supplies. Or show how, as a sales manager, you were responsible for 80 employees and helped double their sales figures in just two months. Even busboys and bank tellers can demonstrate how they boosted efficiency.

Remember to quantify the results. Dollar amounts are the most effective, followed by time saved, then percentages, Hardy said. Employers often search resume databases for candidates who "saved 20%" or "increased revenue $100,000."

But don't act like a hot shot and list your salary demands right off the bat. Unless you're Manny Ramirez, you're likely to turn off employers in the current environment if you appear pricey and inflexible.

Go digital

Many employment applications now consist of online forms. But that's just the first round. If you hope to be seriously considered later, have a resume handy. And be prepared to send it digitally.

More employers are using computers to scan resumes for certain keywords and phrases before any human recruiter sees them. The trick is figuring out the code. Here's one strategy: Browse job search engines such as, or (which is part-owned by Tribune Co., the parent of the Los Angeles Times) and search for positions that match your skills. See what terms employers are using and start using those in your resume.

Go easy on the italics, bold lettering and underlining. Keep the font simple. Minimize graphics and colors. It will make the resume easier to read and download.

"Don't cutesy it up," said Robyn L. Feldberg, president of the National Resume Writers' Assn. "Clip art and photos in general look tacky."

Some recruiters now read resumes on smart phones, devices that can send e-mail and browse the Internet. Send a trial copy to a friend's BlackBerry or iPhone to see how it looks.

"Sometimes, a bullet point comes across as a question mark -- not quite the brilliant first impression you were trying to make," she said.

Develop a permanent online home for your credentials. The networking site LinkedIn lets you create a personal profile where you can list your education, professional experience and skills. When you share your contacts with someone, that person in effect has access to your electronic resume.

Sites such as LinkedIn can put you on the radar of prospective employers, who increasingly are using online tools to hunt for qualified candidates.

But be warned: Companies trawl sites such as Facebook and MySpace to verify the backgrounds of prospects. You'd be wise to yank those online pictures you posted of yourself drunk in the hot tub while you're job hunting.

Be (a little) creative

Creativity counts when you're looking for work. Graphic designers have screened their resumes onto T-shirts. One recent applicant scored a manager position with a Manhattan accounting firm after wearing a sandwich board inscribed with "Experienced MIT Grad for Hire."

If you're applying to a smaller, local company, show your enthusiasm by going into the office and handing the resume directly to the recruiter. Who knows -- if you're likable enough, you might be offered an interview on the spot.

But there's a fine line between self-expression and self-destruction.

Skip the smiley faces, exclamation points and pink, scented resume paper -- only Elle Woods of "Legally Blonde" fame can pull that off.

And beware the video resume. Less than a quarter of executives said their companies accepted them.

And consider the cautionary tale of Aleksey Vayner. The Yale senior constructed a video resume a few years back, replete with clips of his weightlifting prowess, fancy dance moves and bizarre ramblings about what it takes to succeed.

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