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How to Write a Resume That Captures Attention

In a competitive employment market, standing out from the crowd is challenging -- especially for executives seeking new positions. But if you're an experienced manager, you have an advantage over candidates with shorter work histories: the practice and wisdom gained from recruiting and hiring your own staff throughout your career. From that, you've probably gleaned the insight to develop a resume and cover letter that will attract the attention of other hiring managers.

Some executives assume that their track records should be enough to prove their qualifications. But put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager: If you were he or she, wouldn't you want to know how closely an applicant's experience and knowledge matched the specific requirements of your opening? To increase your chances of hearing from a potential employer, take time to create a targeted resume that speaks to each opportunity.

Before applying for a position as a top local-area-network (LAN) administrator at BankOne in Dayton, Ohio, Jack D'Agostino conducted research on the organization and learned that it relied on Novell systems and technology. Armed with this information, the 52-year-old made sure to highlight at the top of his resume his experience and accomplishments from working with similar systems and projects. "You can't just have a plain, flat resume -- not in today's job market. You need to find out what a company wants," says Mr. D'Agostino, who landed the job.

Learn About Specific Needs

Talking with professional contacts, visiting company Web sites, researching industry sites such as Hoovers.com, and reading trade publications can help executive job seekers find information they need to tailor their materials to meet the specific requirements of each employer.

Using language from the job description in your resume is another way to increase its impact. In fact, some companies try to match specific terms from the description to words on the resume when searching electronic databases for applicants, so inserting these words may help your resume be extracted.

One caveat: Avoid using excessive industry jargon. While you may want a hiring manager to know that you speak the "language" of the business, you can never be certain who will be doing initial resume screenings and whether they will correctly decipher your terminology. Even executive resumes can be routed through human-resources departments. Your information should be crafted in such a way that anyone -- inside or outside your field of expertise -- can understand and appreciate your achievements.

It's Only a Glimpse

For most candidates, resumes shouldn't exceed one or two pages in length. However, some executives argue that they can't adequately impart the depth of their experience in so few pages. If you feel this way, remember that hiring managers review resumes quickly. Your goal is to give them a snapshot of your qualifications. You can provide more detail to round out this information once you're called for an interview.

As for the format of your resume, most employers prefer experience to be listed in reverse chronological order. Starting with your most recent job first, provide a well-organized account of your career history, showing a clear progression of advancement whenever possible.

Often there's no need to list the first few jobs you held after college. The exception is when positions you held much earlier in your career include accomplishments that directly relate to a particular job opening. When Victor Grabicki wanted to make a transition from corporate to public accounting, he used this approach when writing his resume. He demonstrated that he had worked successfully in public accounting by mentioning his achievements at a small public-accounting firm early in his career. The strategy contributed to his landing a position with Saas Mezzanotte & Associates, a certified public-accounting firm in Wallingford, Conn.

Keep Everything Short

Listing only your most relevant and essential jobs will help shorten your resume. Your achievements for each employer also should be concise. Dense paragraphs of information are not as reader-friendly as brief examples. Dan Roseliep, a former chief executive officer and now entrepreneur, uses brevity to his advantage when presenting his credentials to potential investors and partners.

He includes his resume as part of his business plans, but despite his 23 years of experience with one firm, the document is only two pages long. Mr. Roseliep has kept it short by organizing his achievements under headings, such as "strategy," "team leadership," "operations," "business relations" and "key result." Under each heading, he provides bulleted, results-oriented descriptions that usually take up only a single line. The results are quantified wherever possible, he says. "It shows investors, lenders and government officials what I've done and what I've done well," he says.

The litmus test for length is to reflect once again on when you were reviewing others' resumes as a hiring manager. If your own document came across your desk, would you read it immediately or put it aside to review when you had more time?

Cover-Letter Strategies

A cover letter is an opportunity to pique a hiring manager's interest and provide him or her with a sense of your overall suitability and personality. Ensure the primary decision-maker receives your documents by addressing them directly to him or her.

In the first sentence, explain how you learned of the position -- whether it was through a mutual acquaintance, an industry publication or at a local business mixer. This information tells the hiring manager how well you know the firm and position. This alone can prompt the recipient to keep reading.

Next, draw the hiring manager's attention to your resume by mentioning two or three qualities that distinguish you from other candidates. Don't rehash your resume; instead, summarize the qualifications and expertise that are likely to most interest the employer. Paint a picture of how hiring you will help the company.

The cover letter also is a good place to explain any recent gaps in your employment. Offer examples of any professional development or unpaid work you did during your period of unemployment. Mention, for example, if you chaired an event for a local nonprofit or pursued a certification.

In closing the document, ask for the opportunity to discuss the available opening and indicate when you'll follow up.

Ensuring Readability

If you are sending your resume by e-mail, try to find out if the company wants to receive it as an attachment, a text-only version or both. Many firms request a text-only version pasted into the body of an e-mail message.

To ensure the readability of an electronically transmitted resume, align all text with the left margin and eliminate indentations and other formatting, such as boldface, italic or underlined type. Replace bullets with asterisks or simple dashes. Before submitting your documents to a prospective employer, e-mail it to yourself or a friend to see how well it transmits. You can then make adjustments as necessary.

After you've finalized your cover letter, resume and e-mail message, check and recheck them for errors in spelling or punctuation. A simple typo can eliminate you from consideration. Regardless of your qualifications and experience, if you make mistakes on your employment documents, hiring managers might assume you'll be equally careless on the job. Enlist a spouse, friend or colleague to review your materials for mistakes and to ensure you haven't left out any critical information.


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