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The quality of resumes flowing into executive recruiters and corporate employment offices is mediocre and slipping lower with each passing year.  

To be honest, executive recruiters are historically fussier about resumes than HR departments or the average outplacement consultant who, more often than not these days, works for a franchise operator.

Based on some of the resumes we are receiving at JohnMarch Partners, if the candidates are using the so-called “resume doctors”  they might consider a malpractice action.  The formatting is awful, the typeface too small and hard to read, and candidates apparently do not understand a fundamental truth: that their resume is their brand statement.

I speak frequently on career management to senior careerists, recent graduates and those still in graduate school.  I spend a considerable amount of time discussing the importance of the resume and some of the simply awful mistakes we see repeatedly.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record — an archaic expression to most of you under the age of 40 — I would like to focus on 7 big ideas of  resume development. 

1.  Your resume is your first interview.  Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and formatting goofs or inconsistencies are career limiting issues.  In a competitive search, researchers are looking for reasons to narrow the candidate pool. Do not give them one.

2.  Avoid Microsoft templates.  Lake the plague.  They play havoc with certain types of resume scanning technology — when they use separate fields for components of your contact information, for example.  Microsoft, like TypePad, this blog’s host, seem to write programs that force you to use small type.  The key is to keep your resume simple, well organized with bold face type to highlight each place of employment and avoid using excessive action or tag words in bold face. 

3.  Focus on making the resume easy to read on a computer screen.  More often than not these days, that is exactly where it will seen for the first time in most search firms or employment departments.  Not every recruiter or HR employment manager is elaborate super-sized  inch flat screen monitors connected to their computer.  Stay away from fonts that use a small footprint like Times New Roman unless you use the 12 point.  If you like a tradition font, use Georgia.  Use some white space.  This will make it easier to read. 

4.  There are no rules on length except for use common sense.  I know that is one of life’s great misnomers these days — since it is very uncommon — but try.  If you have a 30-year career, trying  to squeeze it all into two pages is a bad idea unless your career is marked by a lack of accomplishment and few job changes.  For college students with little or no real-world experience, expanding the resume beyond one page is probably a bad idea. 

5.  Remember, value is key.  It is the name of the game in distinguishing yourself in an increasingly crowded marketplace.  Marquee candidates need not worry too much but, for the average candidate competing in an increasingly noisy — competitive — market, you must demonstrate on your resume that you are worth the trouble of employment.  Value equals experience and a record of accomplishment.  List your jobs in chronological order but always list your accomplishments in order of importance.  Quantify your accomplishments with specific examples such as increased sales, improved cash flow, enhanced customer satisfaction scores, etc. Always tie your accomplishments to specific job tenures versus listing them all on the first page of the resume.  Do not make it hard for the recruitment to assess your real value. 

6.  Drop the line “References Available Upon Request” from your resume. We all know that.  

7.  Avoid the temptation to incorporate a career objective at the top of your resume.  It will either be too vague to be of value or too specific and may well get you eliminate.