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Resumes: Art of Self-Presentation

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It’s not easy composing a resume and casting it out into the sea of documents that are inundating personnel directors’ desks. Often--and more so now than in the past, employment officials say--your competition is relying on professional writing services that know--or claim to know--facts and phrases that will lead to more favorable treatment of their resumes.

Corporate personnel officials agree on many resume do’s and don’ts: A resume should be short, no more than a page in most cases, and completely factual. It should be written to a specific individual at a company and, more than anything else, should state a well-defined career goal.

A resume “should clearly articulate an objective,” said Karen Vari, a principal employee relations representative at Fluor Corp., a large engineering and construction concern in Irvine with a payroll heavily weighted with professional jobs. “The rest of the information should be related to and supportive of that objective,” including a listing of accomplishments, expertise, background and education.

Margaret Henning, a human resources specialist at Maxicare in Los Angeles, the nation’s largest health maintenance organization, concurs that a clear objective is critical: “If (a resume) seems disorganized and has no central focus--they don’t know where they’re going--that’s an immediate reject.”

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She added that the resume “must be pointed to what a potential recruiter or employer is looking for, not how you want to present yourself.” There may be certain accomplishments you feel like telling the world about, but if they won’t help to get a job done, an employer doesn’t want to hear about them.

For instance, Henning said she has received two resumes in which applicants have listed beauty pageants they’ve won. One writer, who was applying for a supervisory position in membership processing, said she had been voted Miss Firefighter in Hemet. (She happened to have been qualified for the job, Henning said, and would have been called in for an interview, but she had already taken another job when Maxicare called.)

Accomplishments that should be included, Henning said, are those that demonstrate job stability and “promotability.” Rising through the ranks of a company shows “not only that you’re an asset but that your contribution was recognized.” Pertinent information on membership in professional organizations, and licenses and certificates, should be included as well, she said.

Professional resume writer Sara Rosenberg said that achievements that can be stated quantitatively are of particular value. “Talk in language that’s meaningful to a particular industry,” said Rosenberg, who with her husband, Nate, owns Resumes With Impact in Westwood. Items such as the number of employees supervised, sales growth in a given territory, or how an applicant contributed to a company’s overall performance would be looked on especially favorably by an employer.

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Accompanying the resume should be a cover letter addressed to an individual, personnel directors say. “If they don’t take time to write a personalized cover letter, they may not really want the job,” Henning said. In most cases, she said, letters and resumes should be sent to personnel directors and not to managers. “Sometimes candidates go directly to managers and it works. Sometimes managers might not like it” and might send the applications to a personnel officer, she said.

But at Fluor, with its largely professional work force, an application “should be addressed to a department head,” Vari said, “but if an ad says personnel, send it there.”

What should be left out of a resume are personal data, such as age and health, Rosenberg said, as well as past salaries and current salary expectations. References should be covered with the phrase “furnished on request.”

Another must omission, Rosenberg said, is expectations an applicant may have of his future boss. The purpose of the resume, Nat Rosenberg said, is to “tell people what an employee is going to do for an employer” and not the other way around. The latter should be left to a personal interview, he said, after the applicant has his foot in the door.

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An instant turnoff for personnel officers are the use of poor-quality stationery and typing and mistakes in spelling, punctuation and grammar. Henning said she was sent a resume in which the applicant said he had received a plague instead of a plaque. This might make him a good candidate for a Maxicare health plan, but not for a job.

Job hopefuls should also go easy on their old bosses. Fluor’s Vari said she has received three resumes in the past year that used profanity to describe former employers. Not surprisingly, none of the three were hired.

While those job seekers left something to be desired in discretion, they certainly couldn’t be faulted for their honesty--a must in writing a resume.

“For every lie that’s told, you need three lies to back it up,” Sara Rosenberg said. “Once you get into that lying mode, you’re going to be seen through.”

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Henning said she can often spot a lie or an exaggeration through knowledge of a particular industry and a feeling while reading a resume that “things don’t make sense.”

“I take it for granted that (job seekers) are going to put themselves in the best light. But I would prefer them to be accurate rather than stretch the truth.”

Now that you know what to say and what not to, suppose you’re not sure you’ll be able to say it well. There are services that offer a variety of help from typesetting to full-fledged resume writing.

Rosenberg said a professional resume writer can be of value “from the standpoint of objectivity and the overview he can take. . . . Most people can’t stand back and look at themselves. . . . Sometimes (they) leave out the most important things,” such as quantitative information and evidence of more esoteric skills that show an ability to handle responsibility. For instance, a job seeker may have served as a liaison for different departments in a company or in some other way “handled multiple functions. A guy who managed 50 projects is more attractive to a big corporation than someone who handled one,” Rosenberg said.

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Fluor’s Vari said she prefers that applicants not use a professional service but suggests a thorough critique by a colleague before the resume goes out. The document is “a self-presentation, a picture of that person in words. How can someone else do that?”


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