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Patrick O' Brien and Susan Davis-Ali, USA TODAY College
Patrick O'Brien's take: A great resume can be a game changer for you in your job hunt. In the 15 seconds (if you're lucky) a recruiter will peruse it, you can jump to the top of the pile. Unfortunately, you can also be knocked from contention.
Here are five fundamentals to help you shine:
1. Make your career objective "employer-centric."
Tell an employer what you can do for THEM. Telling them that you're looking for a career to "build your editing skills and leverage your interest in journalism" has little to do with what's in it for THEM to hire you. They will be paying you. They want performance, and your career objective should make them feel good about what you'll "offer," not gain.
2. Talk results.
In the body of the document, clearly spell out what you've achieved. Don't get caught up writing multiple sentences about how you increased the membership of the local Habitat for Humanity chapter by 24%. Stick to impressive high level "metrics" that will show them you're an impact player. When possible, use statistics to support your points.
3. Lead with action words.
Tell them about when you "Grew," "Built," "Leveraged," "Increased," "Drove," or "Led" something. Leading bullets with action words will reinforce that you get things done and weren't just a "warm body" in previous roles.
4. Be a quick read.
A recruiter will quickly skim your resume. If the document is wall-to-wall type, they won't know where to look and will probably move on quickly to the next resume.
By leaving white space on the page (by being efficient in your wording and keeping things high-level), you'll allow them to more quickly see the key titles you've held, your accomplishments, and what makes you special. Remember less is more.
5. Get a little creative in terms of format.
Always be professional, but navy ink on cream paper or a different font than Times New Roman might draw a bit more attention to your resume, particularly for a job that requires some creativity. Don't go overboard here. Stay professional.
Pat's Bottom Line: A beautiful resume is not a substitute for a "weak" track record and education. However, a well-built resume will help you best market yourself to a potential employer. Be benefit focused (what's in it for them) and action oriented in your choice of wording.
Susan Davis-Ali's Take: I have reviewed hundreds of resumes during my career, and like Pat, I can't overstate the importance of presenting a great resume. There are a crazy number of candidates for each position and your resume is usually your only ticket into the interview process (unless you know someone who can guarantee you a spot).
Pat offered up great advice for what to do on your resume. My advice is about what not to do. These five don'ts are the kiss of death on any resume.
1. Don't hide important information at the end.
If you are graduating Phi Beta Kappa, or you won your English department's writing award, don't list these things under Honors and Awards even if Honors and Awards fall at the end of the standard resume template you're using. Make it easy for me to figure out that you're a super star.
2. Don't overstate your value.
I appreciate enthusiasm and confidence along with the best of them, but don't let it slip into arrogance. Many a resume has been tossed when I read how a 22-year-old is going to change our entire organization overnight.
3. Don't have typos.
Do I even need to say this? Yes, as I've seen many typos on resumes including in the name of our company (which in fairness was an odd Latin name, but still). Typos are a sign of sloppiness, and no one knowingly hires a sloppy employee.
4. Don't talk in generalities.
Listing Habitat for Humanity as one of your activities does not impress me. Almost everyone does some service at some point. Telling me that you volunteered for them two weeks every year for four years gives me a lot more reason to want to offer you an interview.
5. Don't be bland.
You get one shot to sell yourself with your resume, so make it count. Some people worry so much about fitting into the standard resume format that they become one of 100 other resumes that look just alike.
Don't go crazy and print on perfumed paper, but produce the most professional, eye-appealing resume that you can. How it looks matters.
Susan's Bottom Line: Deciding which candidates to interview from a pile of resumes is not an easy task. Commit one of the five blunders on the "don't" list above and you just made the job a whole lot easier for the selection committee. It's one strike and you're out when it comes to mistakes.
Patrick O'Brien is a business executive, author of Making College Count and a professor at Miami University. He co-founded a company which has delivered success programs at more than 5000 high schools and colleges nationwide.
Susan Davis-Ali, PhD is the author of How to Become Successful Without Becoming a Man. She is the founder and President of Leadhership1®, and an Executive Education Fellow at the Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota.