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by Ellis Chase | March 10, 2009

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Everyone has an opinion about resumes. Some of them are even valid, some of them are questionable, and unfortunately, some of them are counter-productive and discouraging. But no one will shy away from expressing those opinions. And, unfortunately, many of the opinions carry too much weight, and can interfere with the confidence needed, and therefore, the effectiveness of a job search.

There is an interesting paradox about resumes, which I think would be a great starting point: Job seekers (and all professional people, for that matter) must have great resumes, superior marketing documents.

The paradox is that most people lean too heavily on the important document, as though it will do all the heavy lifting necessary in the search. One main problem is the old concept of throwing thousands of resumes out there and hoping they'll stick somewhere, or that all those resumes "out there" will walk around and find everyone interviews and powerful contacts. Constant editing and obsessive reformatting tend to make people focus on the wrong issues; the resume becomes its own purpose after a while. And that's not effective search. I frequently advise my private clients to use the resume as a tool, to offer it when asked. It's important to realize that the resume is frequently utilized as a "screen out" device, that often it is the instrument for eliminating you, rather than inviting you in. We encourage clients to get themselves in front of prospective employers, contacts, research sources, and others, rather than relying on letting the piece of paper talk for them.

A few basics (All of the following should be considered suggested guidelines, although not necessarily the only prescribed way; there are many approaches.):

1) Don't use the "references available upon request" line. Of course they're available; are you going to refuse them?

2) Don't use "health - excellent". Would you point that out otherwise?

3) Good quality white paper is always safe, easy to photocopy cleanly, and in my opinion, best looking.

4) Try to keep paragraphs and/or bullets short, at the most three or four lines. Anything longer is daunting to look at. You want your reader to be able to assimilate everything fast.

5) Unless you're an administrative assistant, don't point out that you know Microsoft Word. Everyone does. It's no big deal anymore. "Computer literacy" will suffice.

6) My usual rule about length is that if you're under 30 one page resumes are fine, and if you're over 30, two pages maximum.

7) Resumes should have summary statements on top (not objectives, which I think are presumptuous), to describe what you are, what your primary skills are - so the reader can understand your major selling point immediately. (You don't want to make the reader work too hard.)

There are many more important items to understand about writing a good resume, and reading the book named above would be of significant help.

But, it's important to remember that it's what you do with the document, rather than what the document can do for you. The resume is only a marketing tool, as well as a piece of a larger job search campaign.

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