Always Have a Current Resume

What is the biggest mistake people make with resumes?

People write their resumes as a chronological summary of everything they've done in their professional lives. Employers only care about one thing: what you can do for them. If they can't quickly get that answer out of your resume, it'll get tossed in the garbage can. An effective resume draws their attention, clearly spells out why you are better than the other candidates, and lands you an interview.

Should I use an experienced resume preparer?

Yes. Get it done right the first time because once your resume starts circulating, you won't get a chance to go back and clean it up. Frankly, when I work with people on their resumes, I am shocked at what they're sending out. These days, employers keep resumes in their databases for months or even years. So if it is poorly done and unimpressive, you may have blown it. Don't take any chances on this.

How long does a really good resume take to prepare?

At least several weeks. You can't throw one together and expect it to be your best. That's another reason to engage a preparer. That person will look at the resume with a critical eye, speed up the process, and improve the quality. It's very, very important to start working on your resume early. I can't tell you how many people send me resumes that need a ton of work. Yet they need to send it in "tomorrow".

Does this mean I have to use a resume preparer forever?

No. And be very wary of someone who tries to tell you otherwise. The preparer should explain how to update it yourself, going forward. You need to take ownership of your resume. It's your life. It's your career. When I do resumes, I show the person how to organize each section and how to add new information in a way that attracts the most attention from a prospective employer. Now, if major career events take place or if you are going after a job that has a lot of competition, you may want to engage a preparer to make sure your resume is in top shape.

Should I have a cover letter professionally prepared as well?

Yes. People who haven't yet met you personally will judge you by your communications. If you send a poor quality cover letter or email, the prospective employer will immediately suspect your resume and all the time you spent working on it will go down the tubes. It's worth the small additional investment to have a good cover letter or a professional email done ahead of time. Don't take a chance on this detail. It could make or break you getting in the door.

How often should I update my resume?

Go back and re-examine it at least twice a year. A good time of year to do that is January. You will have finished a full year of work and probably will have things to add or change. The job market typically heats back up in February-March, so you'll be ready by that time.

What if I don't have a lot of experience?

You still need a current resume. You can't get to your next step in life without one. Dig deep into your background and you'll be pleasantly surprised at the experience you do have but didn't think you did. Plus - you'll know right away where your gaps are and you can get to work on them.

What if I am applying for an internal position?

Even for internal postings, there is competition. You may have to summarize your experience and accomplishments in an internal application and go through an interview process. If you've kept your resume current, you'll be able to copy the relevant information into the internal application. It'll be well-written and organized and will immediately put you ahead of the other candidates. People think that can you can be much more "casual" when applying for internal positions. That's not true. Don't you make that mistake.

What if I am self-employed?

All the more reason why you need a resume. When a prospective client asks about your company and your experience, you should have something ready to send out immediately that convinces him or her to do business with you. The format you would use in this case is different than a traditional corporate resume but you still need to have one.

Dee Piziak is a manager for a Fortune 500 company and a university instructor. Her consulting firm, Acadia Communications, specializes in professional coaching, career development, and resume writing. Visit her website at http://www.acadiacommunications.com

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