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Why Your Resume Isn't Working: What's Missing Could Be You

By Perri Capell

Question: I am not receiving the phone calls I believe I deserve in response to my resume . Could you please read through the document and tell me why?

Answer: Get ready to roll up your sleeves. It's likely you have much to offer employers, but your resume doesn't show this and needs work, say two resume professionals.

To start, the way to sell yourself in a resume is to cite strengths and abilities that companies need from someone in the job you want and support them with your accomplishments. Your resume lists two achievements, and neither, as written, seems impressive, says Marty Weitzman, principal of Gilbert Resumes in Englishtown, N.J.

"People want to know what you can do for them, and the way they can judge that is by what you have done for others," says Mr. Weitzman. "Basically, your resume must answer the employer's question, 'What can you do for me?'"

For each job you've held, tell readers what improvements you made for your employers. Currently, your resume reads like a list of canned company job descriptions, says Freddie Cheek, owner of Cheek & Associates, an Amherst, N.Y., resume-writing firm. The result is a bland document that could describe anyone, she says.

"What's missing is you," says Ms. Cheek. "I know what you were responsible for, but I don't know if you did these things, how well you did them, the value you contributed to your employer or whether you were an asset to your organization."

In terms of length, you need to boil down your experience to one page from the current two pages. This shouldn't be difficult since now you devote almost a page to your jobs unrelated to your professional goals and to various certifications, says Mr. Weitzman. Use bulleted phrases and sentences instead of paragraphs, because your resume will be easier to read, he suggests.

"Readers typically give a resume about five seconds," he says. "Paragraphs are a no-no because you make it difficult for people who want to love you to read what you are telling them."

Think of your resume as a pyramid, with your professional summary as the point at the top, and everything below supporting it. Right now, your summary is fuzzy, and only two of the jobs listed below it are related to your career goals.

To re-do your resume, start by strengthening the professional summary. Use a phrase such as "Transportation operations manager with 10 years of experience supervising van- line and military-fleet operations." Provide a bulleted list of six to eight key strengths and skills in two columns beneath this summary, says Mr. Weitzman. For instance, you could list operations management; staff development; change management; customer service; vendor evaluation and selection; scheduling; and budget management. This pulls out important skills that now are buried within your individual job descriptions.

Next, under "Professional Experience," list your current job, followed by your military experience. Come up with a title that more clearly describes your function than simply "Operations" for your current job, since it's unclear what you do.

For each position, describe your role in one sentence, and then list your four or five greatest accomplishments, stated in the most impressive way possible. For instance, you say that you reconstructed a contract with a hotel chain that saved your employer $2,700 annually. This amount of money isn't significant enough to merit calling attention to it, says Ms. Cheek. She suggests omitting the dollar amount and describing how you revised a contract between your company and a hotel chain, resulting in an annual cost savings.

If you don't know what you've achieved in past jobs, ask yourself how your company is better off because of you being there. From day one of your employment, what have you improved? Think in terms of revenues, profits, cost savings, safety issues, service delivery, efficiency, problem avoidance or special recognition you received.

One place to find kudos from your employer about your work is in your performance review, says Ms. Cheek. Every review contains something good about an employee. "If you can't think of things you did which are a plus, look at your performance evaluation and pull out the statements made about you," she says.

For your two unrelated jobs -- teaching and installation work -- create a heading, "Additional Experience" and just list your title and employer with two or three achievements under each role.

Eliminate the "Military Experience" heading and then, under "Education," cite only the degrees and coursework that relate to your professional goal. This includes your associate's degree in business and perhaps two important certifications in operations or management. You can group your other training by saying something like, "2005-2006, six additional certifications or courses in operations, transportation and human resources."

Watch out for grammatical, spelling or punctuation errors, as employers are increasingly likely to eliminate candidates with mistakes in their resumes, says Ms. Cheek. Run your resume through your computer's spelling and grammar checking function and then ask for feedback from a colleague in your field.

Cheek notes that your career progression and experience indicates you probably have a lot more to offer employers than what you provided on your resume. "It's selling you short," she says.

Article from October 2006