The Six Cardinal Rules of Résumé Writing

Experts say put a little more vitae into your curriculum vitae.

He didn’t recognize that résumé serve as your introduction to employers, and indicate the quality and caliber of work you’ll produce. An imperfect document isn’t acceptable.

Write your document in the active first-person tense, never the third person, and choose language that’s appropriate to the type of position you’re seeking. If you’re a mid-level manager, don’t use “Ph.D.” language. If you’re in line for CEO, COO or other top operating slots, use words appropriate to that level.

Proofread your résumé not just once or twice, but repeatedly for typographical and wording errors. Then ask three to five others to review it, paying attention to your terminology and tone.

4. Content

Résumés aren’t job descriptions. Still, you may have seen some that included such descriptions as, “This position was responsible for purchasing, logistics, materials management and distribution.” Were you impressed with those?

Mr. Runyan made this mistake. For instance, under “Experience,” he included descriptions of positions without mentioning the size of his past employers or his achievements. It could have been anyone’s résumé. He also cited every job he’d held, going back to 1972.

Listing all your past employment isn’t necessary or helpful. And, if you list responsibilities, include their scope and your contributions.

“Generalizations aren’t impressive,” says Shanna Kemp, owner of Kemp Career Services in Carrolltown, Texas. “A résumé must include specifics — numbers, percentages, details — that communicate how well you performed in the workplace.”

To highlight your strengths, develop strong, results-driven position summaries. For instance, a logistics manager might write:

Directed the planning, staffing, budgeting and operations of a four-site logistics and warehousing operation for this $650 million automotive products distributor. Scope of responsibility was diverse and included all purchasing, vendor management, materials handling, inventory control, distribution planning and field delivery operations. Managed a staff of 55 through six supervisors. Controlled a $6.5 million annual operating budget.

  • Introduced continuous improvement and quality management programs throughout the organization. Results included a 25% increase in daily productivity and 64% increase in customer satisfaction.
  • Spearheaded cost-reduction initiatives that reduced labor costs by 18%, overtime by 34% and material waste by 42%.
  • Renegotiated key vendor contracts for a 28% reduction over previous-year costs.

Prospective employers who read this description can sense the scope and results of the manager’s experience. Remember, recruiters won’t read between the lines for relevant information if you don’t spell it out.

And if positions you held 15, 20 or 30 years ago aren’t relevant to your current career path, delete or briefly summarize them at the end. For example, “Previous professional employment includes several increasingly responsible management positions with the ABC Co. and XYZ Corp.” Whether you include your dates of employment depends on your circumstances.

5. Focus

A résumé doesn’t work if readers can’t quickly grasp who a candidate is and what he or she seeks to do. For instance, it’s likely that Mr. Runyan baffled readers with his objective: “Seeking a position where I can contribute to the growth of a corporation.”

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