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Resume Makeover: Emphasizing Leadership and Landing a Job

A skilled and experienced engineering manager needed to find a new position quickly after being laid off from his employer of just two years in upstate New York. Prior to that job, Lawrence Jones, an accomplished high-tech and manufacturing professional in his mid-40s, had spent six years in project management with a Fortune 500 company. He was reluctant to relocate, but jobs for specialists with aerospace, high-tech and fabricated-metals products backgrounds don't grow on trees there. Would his resume be up to the task?

Fortunately, Mr. Jones's employer paid for him to receive outplacement counseling. While networking for job leads, he sought advice on revising his resume from Phyllis Griswold, one of the counselors at the nonprofit career-management organization, Career Development Services of Rochester, N.Y. Here's her account of Mr. Jones's search issues and how his resume was changed to resolve them:

The situation: After leaving a large high-tech employer in 2002, Mr. Jones recognized he had to switch industries if he wanted to live in the Rochester area. He landed a project-manager position at a manufacturing company but was laid off in a downsizing in spring 2004. He hoped to find a project-management role at another local employer and wanted to strengthen his resume to emphasize his leadership ability in a range of industries and at companies of all sizes.

The challenge: When he began his search, Mr. Jones's existing resume needed to be updated to include his most recent position. But the document's main problem was its blandness. It didn't have a clear focus or job target or sell employers on his competencies, or clusters of skills, says Ms. Griswold. "It was blah in terms of its descriptions," she says. "You couldn't tell what he accomplished."

The fix: The first step was to strengthen the professional summary at the top of the resume. This section is sometimes called the "sell window," and it must present a compelling picture of a candidate's worth within 15 seconds, which is the amount of attention most resumes ever receive, says Ms. Griswold.

A strong job target -- senior engineering manager -- was announced at the top, with three of Mr. Jones's strongest skills -- project management, new-product development, and project design and portfolio management -- cited immediately below. Next, the candidate and Ms. Griswold worked to develop a professional description that wove his varied industry experience and accomplishments into a persuasive statement.

As written, the professional summary also highlights his personal attributes and approach to his work as well as his project-management credentials and a significant company award he received. The summary concludes with a list of his primary abilities and tasks. These serve as important "key words" that employers might request during a computer-based search for professionals with those abilities.

"We came up with words, like 'trench-hardened expert' to say he had been in the trenches," says the career adviser. "We built a picture of him and who he is, and we said here's what he accomplished and that he wins awards while doing it, too."

Mr. Jones's experience follows but includes more pertinent details, such as the divisions he worked for, than his earlier resume. The new version also makes better use of the available space and includes his experience with the U.S. Air Force as a systems-analysis engineer, which is an important technical area he wanted to discuss with employers.

The result: Within three months, Mr. Jones had received three job offers by networking and then sending employers his new resume. He turned down one potential job because it would have required relocating. An offer from his most recent employer to oversee some offshore manufacturing was enticing and would have meant a promotion and a larger salary. However, he declined that as well because of intensive travel requirements.

The third employer, a medical insurance company, needed an executive to manage its business information-systems applications. The executive would supervise all the project managers working on various information-technology applications. This would represent a promotion for Mr. Jones.

Concerned that he didn't have a strong enough background in information systems, Mr. Jones specifically added his Air Force experience in systems analysis to his resume. He presented a portfolio of his accomplishments during his first interview and was invited to a second interview with the vice president of IT. From his research, Mr. Jones learned the executive had written a book and secured a copy. The resulting interview helped him to dispel any concerns about his systems background.

Using a one-page proposal explaining what he would do if hired for the job, he also presented a strong case for why his project management and teaching background would be valuable. His convincing case led to a job offer, which he accepted.

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