7 Steps to a Winning Resume

7 Steps to a Winning Resume

You only get one chance to make a first impression.

During a job search, your resume is the most critical tool for gaining initial access to a prospective employer, so it must stand out from the competition. This doesn’t mean, however, that you need to rush out to buy neon-colored paper or hire a graphic designer to add flourishes to your document. What hiring managers are looking for is a resume that effectively presents qualifications and contains no noticeable problems, such as grammatical errors. Here are seven specific strategies that can help you create a professional-looking resume.

Target the content. Take the time to tailor your resume to each company by highlighting your relevant

skills and experience. For instance, a company that is recruiting a network security manager will be more interested in your knowledge of intrusion detection techniques than your technical support skills. Many organizations are electronically scanning resumes and searching for keywords in the documents, so be sure to include phrases used in the job posting and list specific technologies, such as operating environments and hardware. This will increase the number of hits your resume generates during this type of evaluation and improve your chances of being selected for an interview. Just be sure that the customized versions of your resume provide an honest assessment of your background.

Include a summary statement. To capture the reader’s attention immediately, begin your resume with a very brief paragraph highlighting your qualifications. An example might read: “Dedicated, team-oriented IT professional with 10 years of experience in networking and technical support management. Recipient of XYZ Company’s 2003 Employee Star Performer Award for providing exceptional service within the organization. Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) who has led numerous project teams that completed initiatives on time and under budget.”

Show your success. Rather than just giving employers a “laundry list” of IT skills when discussing your work history, highlight quantifiable ways in which you enhanced productivity, increased efficiency or reduced costs. Which person would you invite for an interview? Someone who “implemented new software” or an individual who “recommended a software application that reduced the amount of time required to address technical problems by 40 percent”? The key here is explaining how your work benefited previous employers so hiring managers can get a sense of how you might add value to their organizations.

It’s not a biography. Leave out personal information, such as that about your family and social interests, and focus on what matters most to those reading your resume: your professional background. Provide more details about your latest work experience than jobs held early in your career, and—unless you’re applying for an executive-level position—limit your resume to two pages maximum.

Format for accessibility. When applying for a position electronically, paste an ASCII version of your resume into the body of an e-mail to ensure recipients can read your material on any computer system. Busy hiring managers may not bother to contact you if they can’t open a file you’ve attached. This means avoiding bullets, underlines, bold or italics, and using a Web-friendly font such as Arial.

Proofread. You may be the most qualified candidate for a job, but if your resume is full of typos and grammatical mistakes, it is likely to end up in the circular file. Technology professionals are expected to pay attention to detail, so just one error can take you out of contention. Always re-read your resume and ask friends and family members to do the same. Visit www.resumania.com for examples of common (and funny) proofreading mistakes you should avoid.

Include a cover letter. This can be an important tool for capturing a hiring manager’s interest. While you don’t want to rehash your resume, you should point out specific skills and experiences that relate directly to the job opening and express a sincere interest in the opportunity. Keep e-mail cover letters to two or three paragraphs, but maintain a professional tone, using salutations such as Mr. or Ms. and citing your full name, telephone number and mailing address.

An excellent resume can mean the difference between ending up in a company’s “yes” or “no” stack during the initial screening process. Take the writing process seriously, focus on what matters most to different employers, proofread carefully and attach a cover letter. You’ll be more likely to make the right impression and gain access to the all-important interview.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis, which offers online job search services at www.rht.com. She can be reached at klee@certmag.com.

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