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Frequently asked questions while preparing a Resume

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Scan-able Resumes One of the recent changes to the art of resume writing has been the advent of the computer scanner. Like a copier, a scanner duplicates the image found on a piece of paper. Rather than reproducing the image on paper, however, the scanner makes a digital reproduction, which is then examined by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) program that translates the image into the words that it recognizes from the page. This technology has been of great value to major employers like IBM, which receives up to two million unsolicited resumes a year. By using this scanning and conversion technology, an employer can convert the paper resume to a text file, which it can then search electronically to identify every resume on file that contains the word "forklift" or "C++" or "landscaping."

To that end, entire books have been written to explain how to best take advantage of this new technology and avoid the pitfalls it introduces. For example, you should avoid special formatting such as underlined words, italics, script fonts, etc., because the formatting may confuse the computer and your word may be lost. As the OCR technology continues to improve, however, these problems will likely disappear.

Another strategy for writing a scan able resume is to focus more on the nouns in your resume than on the verbs. Words like "Power-Point" or "forklift" or "cyclotron", are more useful to someone who is doing a text search than are words like 1operated, designed, or organized.

Almost every job search method has a place in your job search master plan. To ignore the recommendations for writing a scan able resume, and then to submit it to an HR department where it is likely to be scanned, is to risk making that resume less likely to help you. On the other hand, you should not rely too heavily on any job search method in which you or your resume will be treated as impersonally as being digitized and relegated to some huge database somewhere.

The key to most successful job searches is to have the opportunity to discuss your candidacy with an individual who has the responsibility of deciding who will be hired. The best way to make that happen is to get that individual to actually read your resume at some point, preferably after speaking to a mutual acquaintance.

Resume Aesthetics

This section comes last on purpose. Many clients approach career counselors with one of several burning questions: What color paper should I use on my resume? Should my resume be one page or two? What font should I use?

While there is value in how you answer these questions, they are less vital to your success than what your resume says. So here is my response to those questions.

What Color Paper Should I Use?

This question cannot be answered easily without first asking "For whom is the resume written?" If you are submitting a resume for 95 percent of the jobs out there, the answer is that white, cream, ivory, and gray are all acceptable. Whichever color you choose, buy enough of it to print both your resume and your cover letter. You may want to purchase matching envelopes as well.

If you are applying for jobs in the more creative fields advertising, the arts, etc. people are more likely to be receptive to resumes that are more out of the ordinary. One client decided on a resume that was printed on manila file folders with the candidate's name on the tab. The idea was that the collateral materials that the candidate sent (such as samples of other creative work) could be stored in the folder. Another client pursuing a career in the music industry decided to print a resume that looked like an album's liner notes (if you don't remember what an album is, ask your grandparents!). In each case the candidate was successful in finding a job. I highly doubt that the resume got them the job; however, the resume obviously did not rule them out of the job, either.

How Many Pages Should My Resume Be?

Again, the answer here depends on a combination of the job for which you are applying and your own background. Only the most extraordinary recent high school or college graduate will need more than one page to convey a good summary of their background. The best way to prepare your resume is to start with the career autobiography that you wrote, and translate it into resume style. Then go through the resume and delete all the information that would be irrelevant to the employer to whom you are submitting this resume. Then go back through and delete all those things that are probably not going to be too valuable to that employer. As you go through this process over and over, you will likely come to a point where you will need to decide to either a) cut out one of two valuable pieces of information so that you can reduce the resume to one page, or b) include one of several marginally important pieces of information so that you can make the resume an even two pages. That is a judgment call that you can make with input from a career counselor, friends, and family.

What Font Should I Use?

Another decision that you make can affect the length of the resume too. The question of what font to use can be answered by the eye. Try printing your resume using different fonts, and ask the people you trust which one they prefer. I would suggest that you use a 12 point font or, at the smallest, a 10 point font. A smaller font enables you to put more text on the page; however, it makes it more difficult for the employer to read. You may also want to experiment with the margins that you use. Reducing the margins from the default of 1.25" to 1" all around can increase the amount of text you can include on the resume. But you'll need to check how your margins look by viewing a draft printout. You might not like the result.

What Text Formatting Should I Use?

Formatting is also a personal style choice. Scan able resume guidelines not withstanding, some people choose to underline their entire past job titles, while boldfacing all the employer names. Others may choose to italicize their e mail address. These choices are really a matter of personal preference; however, I would strongly urge you to not overdo the formatting, and to be consistent throughout. Do not italicize one employer and then boldface the next. Although some formatting can make the resume more eye appealing and can help the reader subconsciously organize and process the information, too many styles can muddle the information and confuse the reader. By the way, even if you do prepare a scan able resume without any formatting, that does not preclude you from using those styles in the version of your resume that you send to companies that do not scan resumes.

Should I Post My Resume on My Web Site?

Millions of Americans have their own Web spaces and URLs. Posting a resume on your Web site seems like a logical choice. I would caution you, however, to consider the information listed in your resume and ask yourself whether you want to make it available to the world. I am surprised by the number of people who have unpublished telephone numbers but who have their resumes on the Web for the world to see. You will want to also ask yourself who it is that you expect to see your resume on your Web site. Companies spend millions of dollars in advertising and marketing efforts to drive the right people to the companies' Web sites. What is your strategy going to be?

Finally, consider what other information you have on your Web site. When potential employers look at your resume on your Web site, they may be tempted to learn more about you. Do you want them reading your blog where you complain about your current job and salary? Do you really want them to see your shrine to your favorite reality show contestant?

If your site is fairly professional, a different option would be to include a brief synopsis of your accomplishments and skill sets. Also include a contact form so that they can reach you for a more complete resume.

Resumes and the Internet

As technology evolves, you may find the Internet playing a bigger role in your job search. You can use the Internet to find more information about preparing resumes. Or, you may end up e mailing your resume to a potential employer. The following two sections give more details on each of these possibilities.
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