To begin with, as you would for any journey, decide where you want to go. The more specific you can make this decision, the better. If you've been a teacher all your life and you want to stay in teaching profession, the decision is simple; if you want to switch to making computers, you'll need to dig a little deeper and do some in-depth personal assessments.

Once you've decided upon a goal, you have a resume target. This will guide you in selecting details to highlight your skills that match, as closely as possible, the requirements of the type of position you want.

Next, you need to decide what your greatest strengths and accomplishments are — those that are relevant to the position you want to obtain. Many people, surprisingly enough, have difficulty recognizing their strengths and completely overlook some of the best ones. The key to this is looking at what you do and/or have done from the employer's point of view: How have your actions benefited him/her?

Identifying accomplishments is not as difficult as it sounds. Everyone has them, and often we're unaware of them. If you've done something in your work of which you're proud, it's probably an accomplishment. Often, it helps to think in terms of situation / action / result: What situation occurred? How did you resolve it? What was the result?

If you can quantify the results — by using percentages, amounts, or time frames, for instance — you'll give your resume more authority and "punch" when an employer reviews it.


The 15-second rule

When preparing to start writing your resume, remember that an employer is likely to spend only 15-20 seconds on an initial pass. Your job is to capture his/her attention while encouraging a more in-depth reading. This can be a valuable guide when deciding what to include in the summary and what to delete: Will it have enough impact to pass the 15-second rule? If not, leave it out.

The basic parts of an effective resume are:

  • A strong, clean, visually appealing appearance that invites tired eyes to read.
  • A dynamic, powerful initial summary of skills that targets the job goal.
  • A strong, well written work history that highlights the last 1-10 years; earlier positions can be included in condensed fashion unless these skills are needed for your current goals.
  • A section detailing formal education, professional development (workshops, seminars, or other training that relates to your job goal), and any relevant certifications you have.
  • Depending on your level or field, a table or list of specific technical or managerial skills may be useful for a quick scan.

Visual appearance

If you generally submit a resume that's in 8-point type, with one-quarter-inch margins all around (a mistake often made by proponents of the one-page myth), sit back and take an objective look at it. Would you want to read it? Will it stand out in a stack of resumes? Does it invite the reader to dive in, promising well-designed, well-laid-out information in an easy-to-read format? If not, you need to redesign it.

Use margins of roughly 1" all around, or as near to that as your information will allow. If you're at a mid-career level, use a two-page goal as a rule of thumb; at executive or highly experienced levels, you might consider a three-page resume depending upon your history and goals.

Remember the one-page myth: If you have a strong work history, it's self-defeating to condense it into one page to fit an arbitrary, outdated "standard" that doesn't present your strengths effectively.

When you're finished, you should have a clean, attractive, inviting piece that will be a relief and a pleasure to read.

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