Despite hundreds of books available on the subject, and the thousands of templates now available via software and the Internet, one of the most confusing aspects of job searching continues to be the “packaging” aspect — how does one capture one’s background most effectively in the unique written construct that’s known as a resume?  With so many divergent opinions out there on the topic, and many experts claiming job hunters shouldn’t have a resume at all, how does the average professional possibly come up with a presentation that will be universally loved, respected, and admired?

Two words: they can’t!  In fact, one of the most important interventions we have to stage with our clients at Career Horizons is to wean them off the idea that such a thing as a “perfect resume format” actually exists.  Like any creative endeavor, the idea of a “great” resume is highly subjective, and we therefore tell our clients that once they’ve come up with their initial resume draft and had it carefully reviewed by one or two trusted advisors, working on the resume further often tends to be an avoidance strategy that will greatly diminish their eventual success by taking time away from more productive activities.

Again, however, we empathize with most candidates on this issue because we realize there are so many conflicting opinions on resume writing and development — and it’s human nature to want to work on these materials as long as it takes to try and avoid criticism from any possible angle.  And yet, at the end of the day, we maintain there are only three cardinal rules that a candidate needs to concentrate on in order to ensure their presentation is of the “very good” variety and ready for action:

#1. Zero Mistakes: Without question, the most common (yet most avoidable) turnoffs on resumes continue to be typographical errors and poor grammar.  It’s assumed by the employer that the resume is the highest quality of work you’re capable of producing, so if your resume is sloppy or has significant errors in it, what does that imply about the attention to detail you would likely demonstrate as an actual employee, if hired?  Make sure your presentation is perfect by having at least two or three people you trust go through it with a fine-toothed comb — and avoid reliance on spell-checkers at all costs!

#2. All the Right Buzzwords:
In order to catch the attention of busy hiring managers and recruiters, as well as computer scanners, it’s critical that your resume clearly calls out the buzzwords, terminology, and competencies most relevant to your employment goals.  Make sure to study relevant job advertisements carefully for clues as to the appropriate “power language” you need to include in your presentation, and then find a way to work this material into the top third of the first page of your document.

#3. Quantifiable Accomplishments: It’s not usually enough to show that you simply did a job; to get credit and be called in for an interview, you have to provide proof that you actually did it well.  That’s where the issue of “quantifiability” comes in.  After each job listing or responsibility, think about whether you could add some specific metrics (e.g. dollar figures, percentages, awards, etc.) that would indicate you did a great job on the task at hand and provided “ROI” to the employer who paid your paycheck.

While there are certainly other strategic factors that need to be considered on a resume, and judgment calls that must be made, the above three rules comprise the backbone of what goes into a high-quality resume these days — and following these guidelines will get you 97% or more of the way there.  As for whether you invest dozens of hours trying to get your resume up to the 98% or 99th percentile, that’s up to you, obviously, but we’d recommend against it in most cases.  So while the “perfect resume” may yet exist, and have the power to win the hearts and minds of every single hiring manager out there, we have a hunch you’ll have to leap the fountain of youth and fight through some unicorns to find it… :)