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by by Jane Allen | March 10, 2009

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You've done your career change preparation, and now you're ready to start working on your resume.

I asked Debra Mugnani Monroe, the president of Monroe Personnel Service and Temptime Temporary Service in San Francisco, and Amika Antoniades-Rao, who works for a Pleasanton, Calif., software company, to tell me what makes a great or not-so-great resume. And Billie Mandel, who has been a hiring manager on both sides of the Atlantic, gave me some recommendations for cross-cultural resumes.

Debra on the best resumes:

"The best are well formatted, easy to read, easy on the eyes, clean. ... They are not in a narrative format and not overly descriptive, but paint a broad-stroked picture of what the person did and show that they know what they were doing and did it well.

"Here's an excerpt from an executive assistant's resume that oozes competence as well as good command of the English language: 'Managed all senior administrative functions with complete confidentiality and professionalism, including schedule coordination, preparation of presentation materials, creating and maintaining databases and heavy interaction with clients and the public.'

"Here, on the other hand, is the way another executive assistant poorly describes one of her duties: 'Corresponded with oversea HQ Administrators on daily activities to maintain communication level.'"

If you have large chunks of experience totally unrelated to your former or new career, Debra recommends separating them into Related Experience and Other Experience and making the "Other" brief and in narrative form. But consider carefully which experience actually is unrelated.

If you're entering the employment/recruiting field, for example, Debra would be interested in your jobs at Macy's and at the Hyatt's concierge desk. She says that what seems like "unrelated experience may actually be useful. In my industry, we like to hire people who have either hospitality or retail experience, not necessarily human resources experience. The true people come from those two industries."

If, however, you worked part-time jobs as a dog groomer and pizza chef while getting your MBA, that experience would go under "Other." Rather than listing them individually, such as:

Jumpin' Joe's Pizza Express, Chef. ...
The Precious Prancing Pet Parlor, Dog Groomer. ...

You would say, "While completing my MBA during 2002-2004, I had two part-time jobs as ..."

Good grammar and typo-free resumes and cover letters should be a given, but Debra and Amika see these major no-no's frequently. You cannot rely on Spellcheck! Here's a proofreader's secret: read backwards - from the last word to the first - so you're more likely to see typos. Ask several people to proof the documents (but only if their grammar/spelling skills are better than yours). If in doubt, hire a proofreader.

For Amika, poor grammar can be fatal. "If your cover letter is a grammatical mess it gives the impression that you're a 7-year-old trying to apply for a 'grown-up' job. I view this type of mistake as [an indication of someone] who is not serious about really getting a job. I immediately throw it in the bin."

Debra agrees, "Poor spelling and grammar are major turn-offs."

Some of Amika's must-do points:

"Use [a] regular-sized font. Don't use an 18-point font just because you're trying to make your resume three pages. It looks unprofessional.

"Put your name on every page of your resume and keep your experience bullet points concise and articulate.

"Personalize your cover letter. You don't need a person's name, but you should at least have the company name listed. If you send out a cover letter with [the wrong] company name in the 'TO' field, right away a flag goes up in my mind. You've just blown your first impression at being 'detail oriented.' It's not a deal-breaker ... but your resume [had] better be in good condition."

If you are planning to change countries as well as careers, you'll find many differences in resume expectations. In some countries, you are expected to list high schools and personal information (age, physical description, religion, marital status, number of children). This information is not only inappropriate for a U.S. employer it might destroy your chances.

Another common practice in Europe is sending a photo with your resume. This is a definite no-no in the U.S. In France, a handwritten cover letter is often requested. (Yes, they want to do a handwriting analysis.) And be careful with acronyms and industry jargon, particularly for names of diplomas (BA, MFA, etc.). Avoid confusion by writing them out.

Billie Mandel says that Europeans often downplay achievements because they are very sensitive about appearing arrogant. In the U.S., that can read as lack of achievement and self-confidence. Billie characterizes playing up your accomplishments as, "Extruding them like gold from the drudgery of [your] overall job descriptions."

Foreign-born job seekers looking for U.S. employment, Billie recommends, should, "Get on the job boards and look for resumes in their field to cross reference language, tone, translations of vocational buzzwords, etc." And, she says, "Get a proofreader, even if you have to pay."

The bottom line for cross-cultural career changers is: get some help. Use a professional service in your destination country to prepare your resume and cover letters.

Amika's final bit of advice applies to all job hunters:

"Don't rush through your resume and cover letter. These documents are your selling points, so be sure you invest time in creating and developing them. They should show you in the best light and convey to the reader [that you are] an articulate, serious, hardworking candidate."

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