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Your Guides to Excellent Writing

Dust off the old résumé in case of an emergency

by Stephen Wilbers

Author of 1,000 columns
published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune & elsewhere

Also see job applications & letters.
 

 

When was the last time you took a good look at your résumé?

 

It can be an unsettling experience – especially if it has been more than a year and you need an updated version in a hurry.

 

In the old days, before personal computers and MTV, the standard advice was to use a new, dark ribbon in your typewriter and to retype the entire document rather than mark changes by hand when updating it.

 

Today, with the ease of electronically produced text, the standard advice is to keep a current, comprehensive version on your computer and to tailor each printout to its particular audience.

 

Here are a few more points to keep in mind:

 

The word “résumé” has two accent marks, one over each “e.” (“Résumé” is the past participle of the French word, “résumer,” which means to resume or summarize.) Many writers, as well as one manufacturer of paper tablets, misspell the word with a single accent over the final “e.” In typewritten text, the accent marks may be omitted, but most word processing programs now offer multinational characters, including the French “é.”

 

However you spell it, the word “résumé” need not appear in the heading of your document. Simply center your name at the top of the page. Use all capital letters and boldface type. Below that, give your address and phone number. You may also include your fax number and email address if you have them.

 

•To emphasize work history, list past activities chronologically, beginning with the most recent. To emphasize particular skills such as “fiscal management” or “sales,” arrange material by function or job category.

 

•Since your résumé is your story, omit the pronoun “I” and simply begin phrases or dependent clauses with action verbs, such as “initiated,” “coordinated,” “directed,” and “managed.”

 

•Be sure your main points are clearly presented. The following are commonly used headings: employment objective; education; work experience; special skills, activities, honors, and offices; references.

 

According to Charles Brusaw in The Business Writer’s Handbook: “Whether you list education or experience first depends on which is stronger in your background. If you are a recent graduate, list education first; if you have substantial job experience, list your most recent experience first.”

 

•List your references by name and title, or state that “references are available on request.” Be sure to ask all references for permission to list them.

 

•Omit personal information such as age, sex, national origin, marital status, number of children, height, and weight. If you’re undergoing treatment for work addiction or over-achievement, however, be sure to work that in somewhere.

 

•Maintain parallel construction. If you begin a list of items with verbs, begin all items in that category with verbs. Don’t alter your sentence structure, format, or style midway through your document.

 

•Limit a business résumé to one or two pages. An academic résumé, or curriculum vitae (Latin, meaning the course of one’s life), may be longer, particularly if publications and presentations at conferences are included.

 

•Consider using a creative format for certain professions such as advertising or design. My own approach to selling this column, for example, is to tie sample columns to the collar of my Old English sheepdog and have her drop in on business editors of various publications. Works every time.

 

Whatever your approach, think of your résumé as a continuously evolving, multiform document. There are only two permanent statements of what you’ve done with your life – your obituary and your epitaph. Until then, everything else is a working draft.

 

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