In school we're taught how to dissect amphibians, analyze current events and compose sonnets. We learn how to locate Kazakhstan on a map, catch a football and avoid catching STDs. We even learn how to calculate how many hours it takes two cars leaving the same destination but traveling in opposite directions to be 500 miles apart if Car A travels 60 miles per hour and car B travels 70 miles per hour.
Sure, we know the basics: run spell check, avoid text-message-speak, leave off the details of our annual pilgrimage to Burning Man. But judging from the letters I receive each week from readers -- and the gripes I regularly hear from hiring managers -- many of us could use a little help looking good on paper.
For suggestions, I consulted a handful of savvy resume writers, career coaches and recruiters. Here's what they had to say.
Q. What's the biggest resume mistake that job hunters make?
Relying too heavily on the same generic buzzwords every other candidate is using is one of the quickest routes to the round file, said Kristen Fife, a Seattle-based recruiter who works in the high-tech sector.
"Instead of 'excellent verbal and written communication skills' I would prefer 'trilingual (English, German, Dutch) marketing manager with experience creating localized international Web-based ad campaign resulting in a $3 million increase in revenue over six months across the entire business unit," Fife explained via e-mail.
In addition, "Don't write '10, 25 or 30 years of experience' on your resume," said Russ Riendeau, senior partner at The East Wing Search Group, an executive recruiting firm based in Barrington, Ill. "Years of experience doesn't prove you're good. Give impact, results, data."
In other words, tell them how many people you managed, how much money the department earned or saved thanks to you and the percentage you were able to increase customer retention or staff productivity.
"Not providing a context for the information," is another variation of this no-no, said Miriam Salpeter of Keppie Careers, a resume and job hunting consultancy in Atlanta.
"Increased sales by 12 percent in a depressed market when most sales were down year over year" tells a far more compelling story than "increased sales by 12 percent year over year," Salpeter said.
Q. A lot of coaches recommend candidates tailor their resume to each job they apply for. How important is this?
According to our experts, very.
"Job seekers tend to simply list their jobs and job descriptions, without connecting them to the job they are applying for," said Steven Greenberg, founder of Jobs4.0, a job site for candidates age 40 and up, and a frequent speaker to job seekers and HR groups.
"You can't expect the hiring manager to connect the dots," Greenberg explained. "You have to do it for them. Try applying for fewer jobs, and customize your resume each time."
"The top quarter of the resume needs to tell the employer why you are qualified for that job," Rebecca Warriner of Woodland Recruiting in Mercer Island, Wa., said via e-mail. "Candidates can save time by not working on a highly customized cover letter."