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Resume Writing - Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
How to avoid the mistakes which will send your résumé straight to the shredder. Learn how to target your résumé for the job you really want.

Creating a résumé or CV is central to the search for a job, but is something most of us hate doing.  Unfortunately, very few people are adept at presenting themselves in the best possible light and this can mean their application is rejected at the first hurdle.

One of the biggest mistakes most people make is sending out the same résumé for every application. It’s a big temptation – you’ve spent hours getting the details and layout just right, or perhaps you’ve paid a considerable amount of money to have someone write it professionally. The trouble is, each résumé needs to be tailored to the job in question, and it’s vital that you do this if you want to stand out from the crowd.

What does tailoring a résumé mean? It simply means writing it specifically for the post you are targeting. To do this you must recognise the keywords the employer will be looking for and relate them to your own experience. Keywords will be found in the job description and person specification, or in the job advertisement and on the company website. They describe the skills, qualifications and experience needed for the post. Keywords should stand out on your résumé – don’t forget that in the first round of the selection process, résumé s are usually only given a 20 second glance. So if the interviewer doesn’t see what he’s looking for, your résumé is destined for the shredder.

Here’s an example of targeting: let’s say you are a secretary who speaks several languages and can take shorthand in all of them, but are applying for a job in an office where only English and audio are used. Languages and shorthand, impressive as they are, would not be the most prominent skills on your résumé. Instead, you would focus on the skills required, which might be fast typing, advanced Excel or Powerpoint. Languages and shorthand would be mentioned briefly, perhaps under the heading “Additional Skills.”

Another common mistake, usually made by older applicants, is including their entire work and educational history. It’s usual (in the UK) for CVs to go back only 10 years in terms of work and if you have a degree, school qualifications can be omitted, unless specifically requested or relevant. Employers occasionally ask for a full CV, in which case you do have to include everything.

Choosing the wrong format can also condemn your résumé to the bin - different styles work best in specific situations. Many people stick to the chronological résumé, but this is not always the most appropriate. It works well if you have been steadily progressing up the ladder in a particular career, or if your most recent jobs are likely to impress the company you hope to work for.

A skills-based or functional résumé is great if you have gaps in your work history, as you can use it to highlight the fact that you have exactly the skills the employer is looking for. It’s also useful if you are moving to a new career or area of work and your work experience isn’t completely relevant.

A targeted résumé is aimed at a precise job or career, for example if you retrained as a teacher in your 30s or 40s and were applying for a teaching post, your work-related heading might be “Teaching Experience” and your main skills would all be relevant to teaching, for example using IT in the classroom and curriculum development. For soft skills, such as communication skills and team work, you would use examples from your teaching career.

You may need to have different styles of résumé for different applications. If we use the previous example of the secretary, she might have had a series of language related jobs and is now applying for linguist and non linguist posts. She could choose a chronological résumé for the language jobs and a functional résumé for the others.

To sum up, individualise every résumé for the job concerned, choose the most suitable format for the situation and remember: keywords must jump out at the reader in the first 20 seconds.

© Waller Jamison 2005


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