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10 Improvements You Can Make to Your Resume Right Now

10 Improvements You Can Make to Your Resume Right Now

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    I spent several years behind a desk at an employment agency. The first thing we would ask any client was how recently they had updated their resume. The question’s objective wasn’t really about making sure that every applicant had their most recent job down on paper — instead, we wanted a chance to assess just how bad each resume was. Some people had well-crafted documents ready to send out immediately, but a surprising number had more of a rough draft. When we ‘updated’ a resume, we could address the other errors that we found. Most errors are actually easy fixes: just running down the checklist below could whip the average resume into shape in a matter of minutes.

    1. Ditch the funky fonts.

    Hard-to-read fonts are a fast way to get your resume on the bottom of any HR manager’s stack. Stick to something simple, like Helvetica or even Times New Roman — and while you don’t need to put it in 72 point, don’t drop down below a 10 point typeface either. I know that the designer in you is crying out, but as emailing a resume becomes common practice, it’s crucial to use fonts everyone has.

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    2. Put your skills up front.

    Most employers care more about your skills than anything else. Sure, they’ll want to know where you learned your skills — past employers or schools — but putting your skills right below your name lets you convince a hiring manager right off the bat. As long as you’ve got the appropriate skills and certifications listed for a job, you’ll at least make it past the initial resume review — the one where all the unqualified applicants are filed in the trash can.

    3. Proofread past spell check.

    Just about everyone runs a spell check on their resume. But I’ve seen so many typos that a computer can’t catch: misused words, misspelled business names — I’ve even seen a resume with the applicant’s name misspelled! You should always read over documents to double check them, and if you can get a friend to read over your resume, go for it.

    4. Make everything match.

    If you’re sending references and a cover letter along with your resume, make them match. Print them all on the same kind of paper, use the same fonts, and make your writing sound like it’s all from the same source. At the very least, a prospective employer will be able to keep them all together if they look the same. You’ll also present a more professional front. If you’ve got the opportunity, try to make your portfolio, website and other materials look like a cohesive whole with your resume — most employers will be looking far beyond your resume to decide on your application.

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    5. Minimize your job descriptions.

    In a perfect world, you wouldn’t need to describe each position you’ve held. Your title should say it all. But many people wind up with responsibilities above their pay grade: if that’s the case, it’s reasonable to include that information in your resume. But try to limit other descriptions. If your job title was ‘accountant,’ a hiring manager can generally figure out what you did.

    6. Put dates at the end.

    Most people load the front of their resumes with dates — “2005-2008, McDonald’s, Cashier” — but, to a certain extent, prospective employers don’t actually care about the dates you worked. Move those dates to the end of the sentence, instead, and put the important stuff up front.

    7. Don’t leave big gaps in your timeline.

    Been out of the workforce for several years? Don’t just leave a big hole in your job history. List your volunteer work, time spent taking care of an elderly relative — anything you did during that time that could be construed as work. Many HR managers assume that there’s always a significant reason for someone to leave the workforce, and they rarely assume anything positive.

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    8. Keep religious information out of it.

    Don’t list anything that could be the basis of discrimination. The issue is not that some HR managers are likely to discriminate against you on the basis of religion or anything else; instead, that sort of information makes a hiring manager cringe because just seeing can open her up to all sorts of accusations. The same goes for including a head shot for any job opportunity that doesn’t actually require it.

    9. Align everything.

    No matter what you lay out your resume in, you can generally make the alignment pretty simple. It is crucial, though: jagged lines of text look unprofessional and make most resume reviewers more than happy to move on to the next one.

    10. Adhere to your industry’s conventions.

    Your industry may have a specific style of resume or CV that has become the norm. Try to stick with those conventions. If a prospective employer is looking for an employee in your industry, they’ll be looking for a resume in the conventional style, containing conventional certifications and terminology to prove that you really are familiar with the industry.

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    Having a polished resume ups your chances of making it through the various levels of the application process. If a hiring manager gets a large number of resumes in response to a job listing — an especially common problem lately — she may use even small problems with a resume as a way to cut the number of prospects down.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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