For most people entering the job search market, writing a resume is like learning to speak in a foreign tongue. To make matters worse, just when you feel like you've perfected the language and written the perfect resume, you realize that nearly every company speaks a slightly different dialect. It's enough to make even the savviest job hunter lose all confidence in his abilities.
That said, all it takes is correcting a few small mistakes to put most resumes on the right track to fluently expressing your qualifications.
1. Saying what you do best
The fact of the matter is, what you do best doesn't matter if it doesn't have anything to do with the job.
"A simple recitation of all your accomplishments and activities results in a hodgepodge of what you think is most important, not what your customers believe is important," says Martin Yate, author of "Knock em' Dead Resumes."
The simple solution: Only post what the company is looking for. This can be easily accomplished by reading the job posting. If no posting is available, call the company and talk to the secretary. Secretaries are a great asset, and are generally more than happy to share a few tips on what their employer likes to see in an employee.
2. Having just one resume
The logical question that comes after learning that you need to write your resume to match your employers wants is, "How do I write a resume that matches every employer's needs?"
The simple solution: you don't. Every resume you submit should be custom tailored to meet that particular company's desires.
Michael Farr, author of "The Quick Resume and Cover Letter Book," put it this way: "One of the worst things you can do with your resume is to try to make it work for 'any' job ... Create more than one resume, each with a different job objective. This approach allows you to write your resume's content to support each job objective in a specific way."
Another approach might be to create a master resume with far more information than you would ever include on a final draft. Then you can easily cut and paste your perfectly-worded accomplishments into a new, custom-tailored document each time you apply. By showing the employer why you are a perfect fit, you'll be on the fast track to an interview.
3. Writing in paragraphs
There are at least two reasons that writing in paragraphs is a serious resume no-no. The first is the relatively small amount of space in a resume, so drawn-out paragraphs can limit how much information you get out about yourself. The second is that bullet points with short sentences are easier and faster to read. And since most recruiters only spend about 60 seconds on your resume, the faster they can read, the further they will get.
The simple solution: Write in bullet points, and keep them as short as possible. "Space is at a premium, and reader impact is your goal, so keep your sentences to about twenty words," says Yates.
4. Not quantifying accomplishments
Saying you're proficient is one thing, but proving it is another. Much of your resume is likely made up of judgment calls you've made about yourself. For an employer, this presents a problem: How do you tell who is being brutally honest, and who is wildly over-exaggerating?
The simple solution: If you really are eligible for the job, prove it — with numbers. For instance, a person could say, "Generated revenue with creative marketing techniques." That, however, could mean $1 or $1,000,000. Adding the amount helps the recruiter know just how qualified you are. Be creative in the way you present each number. If, for instance, the net revenue was less than impressive, you might choose to call it a "10 percent increase" instead of listing a total dollar amount. Don't bother wasting space explaining it in the resume; that's what the interview is for.
5. Evaluating job search in terms of resumes placed
While it's true that the more contacts you make, the quicker your job search will end, the fact is that submitting resume after resume probably doesn't count as a "contact." According to Richard Bolle, author of "The Job-Hunter's Survival Guide," as few as one in every 1,700 resumes that are sent to companies results in a job offer.
The result? Most job searchers become discouraged and even depressed as resume after resume fails to turn into a lead.
The simple solution: Measure your job hunting success by how many people you actually talk to, not how many resumes you send. Face-to-face contacts are harder to make, but they have substantially higher success rates and will keep you from thinking you've done more than you really have to find your next job.