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Did You Create a Resume or a Kangaroo?

Jack Mulcahy -- To craft an effective résumé that generates interviews, it's just as important to know what advice to avoid as it is to know what information is critical.

“Kangaroo: A mouse designed by a committee” -– Unknown

When you decide to write a resume, you will be amazed at how many “experts” you suddenly find within your circle of friends and acquaintances.

Your former boss will advise you (whether you ask her or not) that she thinks you should keep it to one page. Your best friend will contradict that advice, and tell you, “Just don’t go over two pages.”

Someone else will suggest you “borrow” as much of your verbiage as you can from one of the many resume-writing guides found in any bookstore, while another will (rightly) call that plagiarism. You’ll receive advice about fonts, sentence structure, where and when (and if) you should bold text. Some creative soul will even tell you to place your contact information at the bottom of the first page, “because my cousin’s friend did it, and his resume got an interview the very first day.”

If you’re very fortunate, no one will recommend you submit your resume hand written in crayon on a 10 x 13 mailing envelope, “because you don’t want to look like everyone else.” If you do encounter this individual, you should probably put as much distance as possible between yourself and them.

Need I mention the resume submitted to me that was printed on Day-Glo green paper? Again, that job seeker told me he wanted to be “noticed.”

The reality is, if you listen to all the alleged “experts” you know, the resume that started life as a “mouse” will turn into a “kangaroo.” You may wind up with four fonts (never, ever combine more than two), pink paper, three pages, ten bullet points for a job from 20 years ago, and no mention of your education or GPA.

All of these people are kindly and well-meaning. They just don’t know a good resume from first base.

A good resume will be clear and tightly written. There will be plenty of white space on the page, with design cues to show the reader where one section stops and another begins. Your contact information will be at the top of the first page, in the body of the resume, not in the header (ATS software cannot read headers). The contact information should take up no more than an inch to an inch and a half, giving you room for your unique selling proposition (USP) above the first fold in the page.

Your resume, after your mortgage and your marriage license, is the most important document in your life, because it represents your future. And the USP, also known as your personal brand, is the most important part of that document. The USP, as its name implies, is a brief statement that informs the reader what makes you different from all the other applicants for the position. It identifies the specific value you offer to that prospective employer.

“We try harder.” “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight.” “Volvo. The car for people who think.” These are all examples from the commercial world of famous USPs. Like those commercial products, you need to develop a USP for yourself. It’s critical to your success that you show that employer why s/he should select you out of the other 400 or so applicants for that one position.

And that USP had better be located above the first fold in the page, right after your contact information, where the reader cannot miss it.

After the USP comes your Professional Background, followed by your Education, and any publications, awards, or other relevant data. The resume must point to a specific job or career, and the background material you include must support that goal. Your resume needs to make a statement: “I’m the best (job title) there is, and here’s the evidence.”

Write tight. Make every word count. Avoid using more than six bullet points without a break, or your reader’s eyes will glaze over. Give your resume plenty of white space.

And leave all kangaroos at the door.

Jack Mulcahy, founder of WinningResumes.com, has over 40 years professional writing experience. His work has been published in newspapers, magazines, newsletters, books, and online blogs. Accolades include the ACRW and CARW, two of the highest and most exclusive certifications awarded to résumé writers. As a professional résumé writer, Jack's work has generated interviews for thousands of clients. In addition, his career includes employment in the business, non-profit, entrepreneurial, and government sectors. For more information, visit WinningResumes.com.

© 2013 Jack Mulcahy

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