The Elements of Resume Style

Essential Rules for Writing Resumes and Cover Letters That Work

The Elements of Resume Style

Author: Scott Bennett
Pub Date: September 2014
Print Edition: $9.95
Print ISBN: 9780814433935
Page Count: 160
Format: Paper or Softback
Edition: Second Edition
e-Book ISBN: 9780814433942

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Writers Make Choices

The content of your résumé, cover letters, and other pre-­interview documents is really a series of choices. This guide will provide you with an employer's perspective so you can make informed choices. Apply this new knowl­edge and you will avoid common errors, create maximum impact, and generate more responses than ever before. The choices you make as you write are crucial to gener­ating re-sponses. But there's more going on here.

Why Sometimes You Can Do Everything Right and Still Get 
No Invitation to an Interview

An error-free, clear, focused, and targeted cover letter and résumé may yield no interview for many reasons.* Here are eight:

1. As bizarre as it may sound, many organizations advertise openings already filled. Advertising such "pre-wired" jobs seems silly, but policies, contracts, or regulations often re-quire it.

2. Some less-than-scrupulous headhunters trawl for résumés by placing an ad even when no specific position really exists, hoping to attract candidates for potential employer-clients.

3. Sudden changes (reorganizations, budget cuts, hir­ing freez-es, or layoffs, for example) remove the need to fill an adver-tised opening.

4. Inefficient organizations of all sizes may take months to move from placing an ad to contacting applicants.

5. Mismatch. An employer receives enough responses from other candidates whose skills and experience appear more closely suited to a specific position.

6. Timing. A targeted inquiry reaches an organiza­tion with suit-able positions but no current openings.

7. Employer idiosyncrasies. The varied preferences of decision makers mean that the most talented can­didate doesn't al-ways prevail. For example, some hiring managers reject all graduates from certain schools. Decca Record Company re-jected the Beatles in 1962 and declared, "We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out."

8. Lack of civility often accounts for the absence of any re-sponse (e.g., an invitation to interview or a courtesy letter, postcard, or e-mail).

Notice something in common about all these situa­tions? The ab-sence of an invitation to interview in such situations has absolutely nothing to do with you or your cover letter or résumé. These situations are beyond your control. Remember this, or you will mistakenly blame your cover letter or résumé or yourself for the absence of a desired response when none of these is at fault.

Pay Attention to Items Within Your Control

The trick to writing a winning cover letter and résumé is focusing carefully on the many items you can control.

Choose to use the tips in this guide and I believe you will increase the number of responses you receive from prospective employers. Here's why: Your compelling cover letter and résumé sent to targeted read­ers will convey a lot about you even before any response phone call/e-mail or in-­person interview takes place. For exam­ple:

* You can organize data and thoughts.

* You can present complex information concisely.

* You pay attention to detail.

* You communicate in a clear and focused way.

* You are enthusiastic.

* You have valuable skills.

In many ways, your cover letter and résumé are the "paper inter-view," and only by winning the paper interview do you have a chance at an in-person one.

Less Is More

Whenever you hear someone say, "to make a long story short," do you ever get the feeling it's too late? That ship has sailed. Again, writ-ers make choices. I am going to encourage you repeatedly to choose your words careful­ly. The ability to "write short" is respected by most readers, including employers. No one is hired simply to read cover letters and résumés. Everyone who reads them has plenty of other work to do, too. If you're lucky, your doc­uments will get eight to ten seconds of the reader's eye­ball time. Direct those eyeballs carefully and use your precious few seconds of attention wisely. Respect the reader's time and you'll be ahead of most candidates.

Your résumé is not intended to list every task you per­formed at every position. Employers know this. I repeat: Employers know this. It is a top-line, highlights kind of document intended to quickly give readers an honest sense of your skills, where you've been, and where you're going. It's not an autobiography. The art of the résumé is to briefly and clearly convey compelling proof of one's expertise and evoke enough enthusiasm from readers to get them to respond. If your résumé gets your phone to ring or generates an e-mail, it has done its job well.

Have you ever noticed that scantily clad models appear more al-luring than nude ones? In this spirit, I encourage candidates to leave a bit of mystery; save some compelling content for the interview. Flooding ­recipients with too much information ("TMI") may undercut a candidate's chances of being invited to an interview. Aim to convey the information necessary and sufficient for a compelling pitch, rather than TMI.

Even though your unique story may be genuinely complex, lay-ered, and textured, your effective résumé instead demands you get to the point. As Polonius in Shakespeare's Hamlet ironically observed in a long and tedious introduction, "Brevity is the soul of wit."

Twelve Things You Can Do Without

1. Don't make stuff up. Embellishing or exaggerating the facts is the same as lying. When you don't do this, you can never get caught and you can feel bet­ter when your head hits the pillow at night.

2. Avoid automated résumé templates (i.e., "wizards" or other do-it-yourself and fill-in-the-blanks soft­ware). Résumés cre-ated using templates look like résumés created using tem-plates. Your résumé is too important. These free or cheap tools are no replacement for time and thought. Remember: Employers read many résumés. Identical formats are obvious. Different candidates will quite natural­ly have different résumé sections: Volunteer Experience, Language Skills, Memberships, Field Placements/Internships, and many others.

3. Avoid multiple résumés. Employers want from your résumé what you would want if you were an employer: some clear sense of where you've been, what you've accomplished (i.e., solid evidence of your skills), and where you're going. One résumé provides this. Writing a different résumé for each pro-spective employer to "keep your options open" is a mis-ery-making enterprise, and many employers can detect the lack of direction it represents. Instead, investigate career paths of interest to you (see Chapter 1 for ideas on how to do this) and focus on one before writing.

4. Don't load your résumé with jargon or buzzwords. Hoping their résumés will get electronically "scanned" for "keywords," some candidates insert a lot of specialized lingo. If any reader--an entry-level human resources person or any other reader who appreciates clarity--cannot understand your words, then your résumé will not evoke the responses you seek. Electronic scanners capture plenty of relevant data from résumés that are clear and accurate rather than packed with jargon. Use no mumbo jumbo.

5. If English is not your area of expertise, don't wing it. If you don't have it already, buy and read the latest edition of The Elements of Style by Strunk and White (only 105 pages and around seven bucks on before you write. Real-ly!

6. Don't count on your spell-check. Spell-check is not an editor: form vs. from escapes spell-check, as does their vs. there vs. they're, among countless other such examples. If one mis-takenly types copletion instead of completion, several ver-sions of Microsoft Word suggest replacing it with copulation instead of completion. Use a dictionary or my favorite free meta-dictionary site,

7. Don't skip the step of proofreading your finished product. In addition to rereading your documents from start to finish for clarity, also read them backwards to catch typos. This proven technique will help slow your reading and allow you to focus on each word.

8. Don't overlook having other qualified people review your fin-ished product. Have your documents reviewed by at least two other people (a) who routinely hire people as part of their work and (b) whose writing skills and candor you respect. Here's the hard part: Listen to what they have to say. As writ-ers, sometimes we have to delete cherished words and phrases to create the clearest, most focused documents. It often takes another qualified set of eyeballs to help us see this.

9. Reject free "critiques" from résumé sellers. A critique from someone whose livelihood depends on converting the critique into a résumé sale is not the kind of critique you want. Stick with reviewers who meet the criteria in item 8.

10. Don't broadcast ("blast") or post your résumé on the Web un-less you are comfortable with (a) your coworkers or employ-ers seeing it, (b) headhunters using it without your permis-sion, and (c) format or content errors being sent hither and yon.

11. Don't send your documents to prospective employ­ers until you have a working answering machine or voice mail on every phone number that appears on your documents. Hoping that employers will call you only when you're home is folly.

12. Don't leave a silly outgoing message on your answering ma-chine or voice mail. If you have such a message, change it to a brief, serious, audible, and clear one (without music) before you send your documents to prospective employers. Being taken seriously is crucial to your successful search.

Mindful of the foregoing, let's now address the com­mon concerns that often--but need not--get in the way of creating an error-free, clear, focused, and targeted résumé.

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