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Keys to crafting a first-rate resume

Stress achievements, customize content to gain edge, experts say

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Think of a resume as a personal advertisement, where you're trying to sell yourself to a prospective match. A resume should stand out to a hiring manager who's looking for the right person for a company.

This is especially important in a competitive job market. Recruiting experts say hiring managers have at most 45 seconds to scan one of countless resumes they receive.

In fact, 27 percent of human resources managers say they get on average more than 50 resumes for each open position, according to a survey released last week by Careerbuilder.com, an online job search site partly owned by Tribune Co., parent of The Sun. And more than 13 percent of HR managers receive more than 100 resumes per job opening. (The study, which surveyed 360 hiring managers, has a margin of error of 5 percentage points.)

"You want to think about your resume as a marketing or sales tool, almost like advertising for yourself," says Susan D. Strayer, a Washington-based career coach and recruiting consultant.

Strayer spent several years as a corporate recruiter, and was previously an assistant director of career services at Johns Hopkins University, where she worked with business and education graduate students.

Among the biggest mistakes job candidates make, according to Strayer, are sending out mass resumes without regard to qualification and not customizing the document to the job description.

A one-size-fits-all resume isn't going to cut it anymore.

"It's really important to make yourself relevant to that particular company or position," says Jennifer Sullivan, a spokeswoman at Careerbuilder.

The Careerbuilder survey also found that 63 percent of HR managers cited spelling errors as the most annoying resume mistake. Other errors included not tailoring resumes (30 percent), lying (23 percent), including too many insignificant details on job duties (21 percent) and having resumes that are more than two pages long (21 percent). (Respondents were allowed to choose more than one answer.)

Shemel Bowden, a career development trainer at Baltimore County Workforce Development Center in Hunt Valley, works with individuals and leads seminars on writing resumes. She evaluates a client's resume for everything, including grammar, content and structure.

"We see resumes that do not emphasize accomplishments, and they should be measurable and quantitative," Bowden says. "We see customers confuse accomplishments with job duties."

She adds, "We're trying to get our customers to market themselves more effectively."

Here are some other quick tips to write a top-notch resume:

  • Emphasize examples of problem-solving, leadership, team-building and performance improvement. They were cited by Careerbuilder as top keywords searched by recruiters.

  • Include a short profile or objective at the top of the resume that summarizes your experience and skills. Strayer says a profile gives recruiters a way to quickly determine whether "I want to continue reading or not."

  • Keep your resume visually simple. Don't use fancy fonts.

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