Boston Broadside
July/August 2003
Vol. 60,  No. 6
 Newsletter of the Boston Chapter of the Society for Technical Communication


Copyright © STC Boston 2003

Director/Sponsor's Message

Showcase Your Talents

By Rahel Bailie

Resumes. We know we need one. Most of us have one. But are we using our resumes to showcase what we can do, and to put our skills and talents in the best light? We can agree that a resume contains information about our work histories. Potential employers often use it to pick a short list of candidates to interview for a job. In other words, potential employers often use it to screen out most of the candidates that they decide aren't qualified enough to make the short list. So how do you use a resume to your advantage?

A resume can be used in a number of ways, as described in the following list:

  • A document that you leave with your interviewersWhen you meet with a company executive who likes the way you think and wants to explore ways that the two of you could work together, you can leave a resume behind to remind that exec about your capabilities. This is the optimum way to use a resume.
  • A tool that you use to market yourselfOne of the most common uses of a resume and one of the least effective ways to use the document. Sending out a resume to a company is similar to how a company markets itselfby sending flyers to your home. You bring yourself to the attention of the human resources departments of companies, along with hundreds of other hopeful candidates.
  • A focal point during an interviewWhen an inexperienced interviewer begins to meander, you can bring the focus back to your qualifications by making reference to specific points in your resume. This will not only help you point out what you need the interviewer to remember about you, it also helps the interviewer remember you.
  • Your life storyA particular type of resume, the curriculum vitae, contains a history of your life's accomplishments. This type of document is more common in certain countries and in certain job markets.

What Goes In, What Doesn't

Information such as a career objective, work and educational history, credentials, and accomplishments are universally accepted, and expected, in a resume. As well, certain industries and professions have specific expectations. For example, academics list publications in their resumes; software developers list the coding languages that they know.

Oh, and don't forget the basics. Include your name, address, phone number, fax number, and personal email address in the body of your resume. You'd be surprised how many resumes don't have enough contact information to get in touch with candidates.

What should be omitted from a resume is extraneous information that companies can use as part of the screening process. When a company is trying to reduce a stack of several hundred submissions to a short list of under ten, you don't want to give them any information that may help them sort you out. Let the judging be done on your skills and abilities.

  • Personal informationYour height, weight, age, and marital status are nobody's business. In fact, many countries forbid employers to ask for this information. Your social security (US) or social insurance number (Canada) also should be off-limits, at least until you need to complete forms, after you've been hired.
  • Hobbies and interestsFor every person who claims that he was hired because they bonded over a love of gardening or music, there are an equal or larger number of people who have been sorted out, unbeknownst to them, because the resume sorters decided ahead of time that the person wouldn't fit into the team. The only exception to this rule is if your hobby or interest relates directly to the type of job that you're seeking. For example, if the position needs budgeting experience, you should mention any volunteer work that includes important budgeting experience that can demonstrate your abilities.
  • ReferencesYou may indicate that you can supply references upon request, but checking references should be the last step in an employer's hiring process before signing an offer. You don't want your references to be taken by surprise and have to provide off-the-cuff answers to questions that may determine your future. You'll want to call your references and prepare them to receive a phone call from the employer. At the point where you are offered a position pending good reference checks, you can explain what you need to do and offer to give the potential employer a list once you have had a chance to prepare your references to be called.

Resume Structures

A resume begins with a career objective. Everyone wants "an exciting job in a progressive company," so be specific enough to make your objective meaningful. State briefly what type of position you're seeking, what you can contribute to the company that you're approaching, and what type of company you'd like to work for. For example, an objective for a technical editing job could be: "To contribute to a technical writing team that uses my exceptional editing skills for a mid-size to large organization in the software development industry." A well-written objective also helps the "sorters" of the resumes determine which job in the company you are applying for.

Many resumes contain a section that lists skills and abilities and areas of expertise, or lists industry-specific information such as tools mastered. Such a list should not be so prominent as to detract from your skills. After all, listing the fact that you play the violin does not guarantee that you can play skillfully; neither does a list of software programs guarantee the quality of your writing, editing, or management skills.

Educational background, professional development, professional memberships, and any publications and awards should be listed. However, unless you have a newly minted advanced degree in a sexy new discipline, don't make this information particularly prominent.

You can structure your resume in four basic ways. How you structure your resume depends on how much experience you have, and what you want to emphasize.

  • ChronologicalA chronological resume lists the positions that you've held, in reverse chronological order. This type of resume works to show a steady career progression in a single stream, such as junior writer, writer, senior writer, team lead. The information includes the position you held, the name of the company and location, and the years in which you started and left. The description is divided into the mandate (what you were hired to do) and your accomplishments (what you did above and beyond the call of duty or what you did particularly well). Be sure to mention the industry, as it may not be obvious from the company name.
  • FunctionalA functional resume groups information by function rather than by date. This works for career-changers who want to demonstrate a particular skill when a chronological resume doesn't do so. For example, a technician who wants to make a transition to a writing position would list positions with a writing component, highlighting the types of writing done and downplaying the actual position title.
  • HybridA hybrid resume groups information according to function, but also contains a chronological section. Structuring a resume this way helps to show work continuity, in cases where a gap occurs that could distract the reviewer from your skills and abilities.
  • Skills and achievement-basedThis type of resume uses the first page to demonstrate to a potential employer what you've done in the past that you could also do for the new company. This takes the focus off of the "circumstantial evidence" of your past, and turns attention to what you have actually accomplished. Generally, the resume is two pages long, front and back, and the second page is used to provide a brief chronological work history of relevant positions.

Developing the right kind of resume is an important part of a job search. It is your public face, your marketing brochure, the "leave-behind" that can be read and passed around and used to decide your suitability once you have left the premises. The most important aspect of your resume is not to show your history, but your potential to an employer. Show off your talents and let employers give you a chance to use them.

Rahel Bailie is Director/Sponsor of Region 7. You can reach her at .

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