“Fifty-seven channels, and there’s nothin’ on.”
Surely, there are hiring managers who read the fifty or so lines on an applicant’s resume and have a reaction similar to The Boss’s lyric. So often in our thirty-plus years as professional resume writers, we have seen the precious space on a resume eaten up with non-essential data. This includes but is not limited to high school awards, college activities (more than ten years after the applicant has earned his degree), and “skills” that are not true abilities but more like personal characteristics.
Learn to think like professional resume writers. Whether you are preparing a reverse-chronological resume, a modified functional, or a hybrid that combines the best of both styles, the content must reflect the most salient factors in your work history. These boil down to two major elements: skills and accomplishments. Perhaps a short refresher course is in order.
A skill is an aptitude. Usually, but not always, a skill is a learned experience; something you have studied, either in formal classroom/training environment or via on-the-job, hands-on experience. Once learned, the skill must have been applied in a manner that enabled you to achieve your employer’s immediate or long-term objectives. Examples of skills are proficiencies with various software applications, the ability to track and reconcile complex financial data, or the capacity to create a product, or a portion of a product, in accordance with specifications and within established deadlines.
A skill can also be an innate ability that you have honed through real-world experience. “Good communication skills” does not cut it on a resume. Not only has this term been beaten into the ground, it is far too broad to tell the employer anything concrete. If, on the other hand, you transform “good communication skills” into “relationship building”, “presentation”, or “negotiation” skills, then you will have solidified what exactly you do and what you can bring to the employer’s table.
An accomplishment is something that can be measured against an employer’s formal performance metrics, or that has had significant and perhaps lasting impact upon the company. A bullet such as “Served as a member of a special conversion task force” says absolutely nothing to the employer (and yes, we have seen resumes, again and again, filled with just this type of nebulous information). Rephrase statements such as this in a way that will crystallize your accomplishment. For example, “Provided beta testing expertise enabling an on-time system conversion to upgraded technology.” And name the technology! Better yet, indicate the purpose of the system (i.e., accounting, reporting, etc.).
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