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Creating a "Seasoned" Resume
By Susan Bowles, Special to Gannett
I am floored.

I have been talking to Phyllis Shabad for 10 minutes, and she has just described my resume to a frightening T.

This is no small feat: I live outside Washington; she lives in New York's Westchester County. We've never met. We're talking by phone. She has never seen my resume. And all I've told her is that it's in essentially the same shape as it was in college (which, um, I've been out of for quite some time). And she's off:

  • Experience in reverse chronological order? (Check)
  • Dates delineated by month and year and justified left? (Check)
  • Lots of bullets? (Check)
  • Most recent jobs tacked on top? (Yep)
  • Phrases like "duties included" and "responsible for"? (Uh, yeah)
  • The phrase "references available on request," used primarily as a way to fill space on a second page? (Ouch)

I am beyond embarrassed. I write about business and careers, for goodness sake. (Although thankfully, Shabad, CEO of CareerMasters and a certified resume writer, is very nice. "I have stopped being astonished," she says of the resumes that cross her desk.)

But here's the thing: I'm not alone. Most seasoned professionals (and if you've been in the job market for awhile, you can call yourself "seasoned") have woefully out-of-date resumes.

Luckily, there are a bunch of people out there who can help them -- and me -- polish the pathetic things up. The trick is to throw out all that conventional wisdom we bought into during college career fairs and to start appreciating our resumes for what they really are: A marketing/branding tool that will set us apart from the job-hunting pack.

The experts' advice?

1. Make it relevant.

You may think your resume is a tidy picture of who you are, but how well does it speak to the company you want to work for? That, after all, is your target audience, says Kevin Morris, founder and president of Best IT Resume (www.bestitresume.com) in Lake City, FL, and president of the National Resume Writers Association.

So forget the one-size-fits-all resume you created in college to mass mail. When looking for a job today, research the companies and positions you're interested in, then customize your resume for that job and that firm.

2. Make it e-savvy.

We live in a techno world. Indeed, more than 80 percent of all resumes today are processed electronically, says Pat Kendall, head of Advanced Resume Concepts (www.reslady.com) near Portland, OR, and a nationally certified resume writer.

What does that mean for you and your resume?

A lot. When companies look for stellar job applicants, they now sift through their electronically processed resumes by looking for "key words" -- industry buzzwords or phrases that serve as a sort of qualifications filter. So when you write your resume, you need to find out what key words are pertinent to the job you want.

These are so crucial that Shabad (www.careeriq.com) even suggests including a "key words" section in your resume that contains the buzzwords employers are looking for.

3. Make it current.

We all did things 20, 30 years ago that were really profound. But most employers don't care. Rather, they want to know what you're up to now, Morris says. So don't feel compelled to list out every task, award and citation you've received throughout your entire career. Instead, draw back only 15 or so years.

And even then, don't list jobs and duties in reverse chronology. The minute you start listing months and years on your resume, Shabad says, hiring managers will start looking for a gap in your work history -- "not a good thing."

4. Make it engaging.

Shabad is a fan of what she calls stories. Choose experiences from your career that you can mold to showcase the challenges you faced, the goals and results you achieved, and the value you brought to your company. Apply these experiences to the needs of the company you now want to work for. Present them with headlines, bullet points and strong writing, and your experience will "resonate off your resume."

5. Make it interesting.

Write in active, exciting language. Summarize your strengths, your qualities and your key words at the very top of your resume, Kendall says. Use active verbs to describe what you've done. Write like you're excited about your career and what you can do for a new company.

And by all means, avoid hackneyed expressions like "proven record of," "strong communication skills," "well-qualified," "visionary," or "seasoned veteran," Shabad says. "I would run for cover if I saw these words."

6. Make it as long as it needs to be.

Remember the "one page only" rule? Please. Your resume should be as long as it needs to be, Morris says.

7. Make out-of-office experience pertinent.

Mine community service and volunteer activities for gold. This is particularly key for folks reentering the workforce after a time away. Look to see how the work was relevant to the position you're now seeking, Morris says. Look at any leadership roles you held. Any contributions you made. Then include them.

"Active involvement in the community portrays an energetic person with a lot of value to offer," he says.

8. Make it a marketing piece.

Your resume should be your marketing piece. It should be your brand. And it should speak directly to the company you're applying to.

"If somebody gets a job with a generic resume these days," Kendall says, "it's just an accident."

So I guess I'd better get busy. I have a really outdated resume that needs some tough love. Any parting advice -- for me and others like me?

"You have to wow them," Kendall says. "You want to be a masterful candidate."


Susan Bowles is a business journalist based in Washington, DC. She has 20 years journalism experience and has written for USA Today, USATODAY.com, the Washington Post, the St. Petersburg Times and The Palm Beach Post.