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The Do's of Resume Writing

Place your strongest material in the two-inch visual space that begins about 2 5/8 inches from the top of your resume. Make sure you include your most impressive, impactful achievements and qualifications in this "primetime" space. It’s where the reader’s eyes will focus first.

Use a professional profile or qualifications section in your résumé's primetime space to give the employer a quick but concrete summary of your achievements and skills. Write it when the rest of your resume is complete and you’ve already decided what your strongest qualifications are.

Give the most weight to your most recent (past ten to fifteen years) professional position. The section of the resume for your most recent position should contain more bulleted accomplishments than your previous positions. For each position, rank the accomplishments in order of decreasing relevance to the employer you are targeting.

Quantify your impact on the organizations you have worked for. If you reduced expenses, say by how much or by what percentage. If you supervised a project, say how many were on your team. Always ask yourself how you helped the organization, and insert the numbers that demonstrate that impact.

Pay as much attention to your résumé's design as you do to its content. Use bullets or other appropriate symbols, insert rules (horizontal lines) to separate major sections, and use a 10-to-12-point conservative typeface for the body text of the resume. Aim for 1-inch side margins and slightly smaller top and bottom margins.

Include publications, patents, presentations, honors, relevant volunteer experiences, and professional licenses or certifications in your resume, particularly if they are relevant to the position you seek. These "extras" can sometimes be the factor that wins you the interview.

Edit and proofread mercilessly. Edit your resume to reduce fluff and make every word count. Set your resume aside for a few days and then come back to it again with "fresh eyes." Misspelled words and grammatical mistakes are the proverbial kiss of death in a resume. Eliminate them.

Place your education after your experience if you’ve been in the workforce for more than five years. If the degree you earned is the most relevant or impressive detail of your education section, highlight it. If the school you attended is the selling point, emphasize it.

Use a two-page resume if appropriate. Two-page resumes are fine (and in some cases, preferable) if you’ve been in the workforce for about ten years or more or have particularly impressive work experience.

The Don'ts of Resume Writing

Don’t make things up or inflate your accomplishments, level of responsibility, or skills.

Don’t confuse your resume with your autobiography. While there are many pieces of information that your resume must have, its primary purpose is to focus on the aspects of your life and career that address the employer’s needs.

Don’t automatically include a separate "objective" line at the beginning of the resume. If you believe that stating your career objective will improve your chances, then mention the job title you seek in the "Professional Profile" or "Qualifications" section at the beginning of the resume. More often than not, separate objective lines are too general and take up valuable space at the top of the resume that could be better used to focus on the skills prospective employers need. Use your cover letter to explain your career objectives.

Don’t use pronouns ("I") or articles ("a," "the"). They detract from the force of your accomplishments, slow down the reader, and take up precious space.

Don’t provide personal data. Marital status, date of birth, height/weight, and similar non-work-related information can be used to illegally discriminate against applicants, and they rarely add anything of value to your qualifications.

Don’t repeat the same action words throughout the resume. Instead of using the verb developed or led over and over, pull out your thesaurus and mix in terms like accelerated, delivered, directed, established, initiated, or reengineered.

Don’t leave out dates. Even if you choose the functional resume format to minimize frequent job changes or lack of experience, include your dates of employment somewhere on your resume (usually at the end).

Don’t use more detail than you need to convey your accomplishments. Dense, paragraph-sized bullet points make for tough reading. A good rule of thumb is to limit each bullet to one to two lines of text with three to five accomplishments for each position.

Don’t use clichéd adjectives like self-starting. Let the details of your resume and cover letter convince the employer that you have these qualities.

Don’t make your resume a list of your job duties — make it a list of your accomplishments! Weave your job responsibilities into your descriptions of your achievements.

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