This is part two of a two part series on resume writing. Part one of the series, titled “Writing an Effective Resume” is also available on this site. The focus of this piece is to provide the reader with basic information on resume writing mechanics, spark the reader’s interest in follow-on study, and encourage individuals in search of more advanced information and assistance to contact the writer at his convenience.
Let’s start by examining the structure of a “typical” targeted resume:
* HEADING – At a minimum, the heading must include your name, mailing address, and telephone numbers (home, cell and/or work). All individuals are strongly encouraged to also list a personal e-mail address, as many firms utilize this venue for their initial approach to a candidate. I normally recommend that you “bold” all heading information, to make it stand out and attract the reader’s eye.
* OBJECTIVE – Placed immediately after the heading, the objective’s purpose is to concisely provide the resume reviewer with information on the job opening you are applying for, and supply a brief statement of relevant experience. In the past, objective statements tended to be very general in nature, but that style is now obsolete, as employers have become much more focused on quality “fits” to the needs of the organization.
Unfortunately, the inexperienced resume writer demonstrates this fact by a “benign neglect” of this essential element of the resume. Many private sector resume reviewers state that unless you capture their attention in the first fifteen to thirty seconds of their review, your resume is already headed to the discard pile, where approximately seventy percent of all resumes ultimately end.
*SUMMARY OF QUALIFICATIONS – MAY BE COMBINED WITH OBJECTIVE STATEMENT
If you elect to use a separate summary of qualifications statement, it should immediately follow the objective. Use your analysis of essential job requirements and provide the reader with a synopsis of your skills that most closely match the employer’s essential and important needs. It is imperative that you craft this segment to encourage the employer to read the more detailed information contained in the chronological or functional skill “experience” element of your resume. As you work on this segment and the experience element, keep in mind that the resume’s sole purpose, as discussed in part one of this series, is to enhance the probability of receiving an interview offer. Hence, effective “selling” of your experience and skills to the employer is essential, and the qualifications statement should be designed to act as an effective “teaser” designed to whet the appetite of the reviewer, and encourage a detailed review of the rest of the resume.
*EXPERIENCE – JOB OR FUNCTIONAL SKILL BASED, DEPENDENT ON INDIVIDUAL CIRCUMSTANCES OR DESIRES
This portion of the resume is where the writer gives the reader or potential interviewer with selected details of his skills and experience, augmenting the “teaser” information contained within the objective/summary of qualifications. There are three basic styles used to convey this essential information: the chronological approach, the pure functional approach, and a hybrid of the first two types. The following paragraphs briefly address each type.
A chronological resume’s experience section focuses on job description (What you did) complexity issues (size of organization, supported elements, etc) and individual accomplishments/achievements (What impact did your efforts have on the organizational mission?) As most employers are looking for immediately useable skills, I normally recommend that you discuss positions no more than ten to twelve years in the past. Historically, many of my clients found that development of this resume is easier than the others, as the steps necessary to create a chronological resume are closely related to the job description and accomplishments elements of the officer efficiency report and the OER support form. It should be understood that the chronological resume, while preferred by a majority of employers, may not be the best alternative for an individual seeking to change career fields, such as a military retiree. This tends to result in a final product with a lot of in-house jargon, hard to understand for readers without your specific military expertise.
A functional resume’s experience section orientation is different, as it focuses on those functional skill sets you developed during your working career, how you used those skill sets to impact on your organization’s productivity, while again attempting to answer the three questions listed directly above. As you are discussing skill sets and not jobs, if you are still current in the skill, you can discuss activities and events that took place throughout your career. This resume type is particularly effective in support of a career change, when a focus on past jobs is not in the individual’s best interest, or when an individual’s skills are so varied that focus on four or five skill sets provides a more accurate portrayal of their worth to an organization. While this rationale does not apply to our officer membership, many spouses have significant breaks in work history, which this resume type aids. A significant minority of resumes submitted fall into this category, but human resource departments tend to dislike it, as it is harder to track an individual’s work history, which leads me to recommend the use of the chronological or hybrid resume, as discussed in the next paragraph.
The hybrid or combination resume also focuses on functional skill sets, but includes a short work experience section, which normally is found civilian education and training, thereby removing a key concern of human resource personnel. The combination has the strengths of the functional approach resume, and has eliminated its principal weakness, so this version is often best for someone in the midst of a career change.
Which of these formats provide you with the best opportunity to obtain an interview? There are clearly many personal circumstances which must be weighed in order to determine which works best in your search. If you have significant doubts which resume type works best for you under the circumstances, I often recommend that you prepare both a functional/combination resume and a chronological version, and provide the firm with the one that seems to best match their preference. The bottom line in the resume writing business, like any other, is to “give the customer what they want”.
*CIVILIAN EDUCATION/TRAINING – There are two standard rules of thumb for civilian education and training. First, when listing civilian formal education, list only the highest degree held, as a BA degree “trumps” an associate degree, so an MA overrides a BA. While there are circumstances under which a lower level degree should be listed, they are relatively rare. If the degree is more than ten years old, I normally recommend that you don’t provide the year you received the degree. In the case of military or work related training, I advise you to only list those courses that are reasonably current, and which provided you with a skill (or skill enhancement) required by the position you are applying for. Listing other courses/training is both a waste of space and reviewer time, which is truly “verboten” in the world of professional resumes.
*PERSONAL/MISCELLANEOUS SECTION(OPTIONAL) – This “catch all” element gives you a degree of flexibility – you can list security clearances, which is always a good idea, special memberships, such as MOAA, the International City Managers Association (ICMA) useful if applying for a municipal management opportunity, etc. Listing social and fraternal organizational leadership positions may also be appropriate, as many organization want to hire individuals who return something to their communities.
The preceding paragraphs have briefly discussed some of the basics of resume writing mechanics. I strongly encourage individuals with questions to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional assistance, detailed written critiques and counseling.
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