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Resumes Are Like Bikinis

Truth be told … it’s a crap-shoot finding recruiters & staffing specialists at the top of their game! And, since there are no real rules for writing résumés, the odds of getting one’s résumé beyond that cursory first read are stacked against us! Staffing specialists and professional recruiters have their own personal rules about what it takes to move a résumé to the “interview pile”. So, it’s up to the job seeker to figure out what will snag the recruiter’s interest. Savvy job seekers know what information and formats will set them apart from applicants who don’t get tapped for personal interviews.

Your resume should read like a bikini! Write as little as necessary to capture the reader’s interest but be sure to cover the subject completely! There are two very obvious aspects of your background to cover … your education and your work experience. After that, briefly describe the other stuff that makes you stand out … like “Career Objective”, “Military Service”, “Licenses & Certifications”, and “Other Interests, Affiliations & Memberships”.

Highlight your assets! Use your cover letter to highlight the experience that sets you apart from everyone else. Determine the key aspects of work emphasized in the vacancy announcement; then ask your self honestly, “Do I really have the experience necessary to do that work?” If you answer ‘yes”, be sure it’s easy for the reader to find your qualifying experience in your résumé! Don’t throw in “buzz words” to try and beat those electronic resume scanners … if you have the right experience, those words will appear naturally in your résumé! If you don’t have the right experience, by sprinkling in those “buzz words” without good evidence you may move along your resume, but only so far! Yet, a greater harm will come out of using misappropriated “buzz words”; you will have managed to frustrate the recruiter with your insincerity (and that is definitely not going to set you apart in a positive light!)

Revealing your incidentals might be too much! Often times job seekers include every incidental, paid work experience thinking it’s all significant or that whatever “sticks” can’t hurt. Yet, they don’t think it’s worthwhile to detail the meaningful periods of volunteer experience that relate to the job for which they seek employment. Job seekers have also told me they fear being disqualified because they didn’t disclose every employment experience in their cadre of jobs or because a background investigation won’t match up with the information they do provide in their résumés. Writing and updating résumés is about making wise choices about what information sets us apart; it about restraining ourselves from detailing experience that doesn’t enhance the credentials we submit for the vacancy at hand.

Don’t hide what you think looks bad! Being honest with ourselves isn’t easy but it’s simply the best way to get comfortable with difficult realities from a past event. For example, if you were let go from a job and still have bad feelings about the experience and/or the employer, don’t leave out those dates of employment just because the gap between jobs looks bad! That gap will start the bells-a-ringing with an experienced recruiter. It’s better to explain a time gap between jobs! Go ahead and show the month/year your employment ended from one such experience, then list the inclusive month/year dates of your unemployment but… head that period of time with something like “Job Seeking”. I don’t recommend using the heading “Unemployed” because that word suggests that you were doing nothing during that time when, in fact, you were! You were seeking employment, going on job interviews, getting job retraining and/or taking additional courses, or you may even have been filling in the gap with short-term assignments. Use what you did during that time to your best advantage!

You know what they say about “opinions”! Job seekers have a lot of opinions about what they think should should appear in their résumés! Most job applicants firmly believe they possess at least 90% of the qualifications posted in a job announcement. Perhaps, that’s because the “typical examples of work” and the “qualification requirements” described in the announcement leave too much room for interpretation. Or, perhaps job applicants have previously held similarly titled positions. I’ve heard job seekers say that a résumé should summarize only the past 10-15 years of professional experience. Others think it’s important to include every unique aspect of work, even if their accomplishments cannot be fairly evaluated against the work to be done in the vacant position. I’ve also heard that 40+ year old job seekers should not provide graduation dates in their résumés. And one of the most surprising beliefs I’ve heard from employees for internal job opportunities is that they are entitled to the new, higher paying job simply because they’ve “paid their dues” with the company; they just can’t understand why the employer decided to hire someone “off the street”.

Like it or not, the fact is … employers are permitted to hire whomever they choose! If you’re not the chosen person, try not to chisel a chip onto your shoulder. Try to learn from your experiences and turn them into optimistic lessons! The best way to make yourself the chosen one is to be honest, Honest, HONEST! The right employer for you will recognize and respect your honesty and you’ll both find the right fit with each other!

Capitalize on your nuggets! Recruiters are human! They have various levels of writing skill and come with various degrees of knowledge about the vacancies they’re trying to fill! But one thing all recruiters have in common, they all want to make the placement (and their commission, if applicable), That’s why some job announcements have vague, catch-all phrasing; they use that tactic like fish bate! When people aren’t sure what the job is, they can be sure the recruiter is trying to attract a LOT of applicants. This will improve their odds of finding a few applicants who actually meet the employers’ needs. So be one of the smart fish! Apply for the jobs that fit your background really well and spend the rest of your time developing those nuggets!

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Sara Cope

You mentioned detailing periods of volunteer service on your resume. This is something I have on mine but, I’m not sure really where the proper place for that info is. The volunteer work I do relates to my career field and so I add it under experience. I’ve wondered though, if that should be identified separately under an “Other Projects” section maybe? I also work on several other projects (also related to my career field) outside of my gov job and am have no idea how to organize those either. Any advice? Thanks!

Doris Tirone

Volunteer work is the same as paid employment except it may not have been full-time. Showin this nestled in chrono-order with paid employment experience gets the proper recognition from employers for this type of experience! Just be sure to show the days/week, hours/day, etc. that it covers so you don’t confuse the reader into thinking you held or have two full-time jobs!

Ari Herzog

Sara: If you are using a default reverse chronological resume, then either place your paid and unpaid work under the same “experience” section or classify each under “professional experience” and “other experience” (or “volunteerism” or such). The other option is to forego that type, and go with a functional resume.