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New year, new approach

BY SAMANTHA NOLEN Modified: January 4, 2013 at 1:49 pm •  Published: January 4, 2013

Dear Sam: What are some of the common mistakes you see on résumés that can be easily avoided? – Steve

Dear Steve: There are several areas on a résumé to which candidates do not pay enough attention. I have found this is not as a result of a lack of effort, but due to limited understanding regarding what can distract a hiring manager and disqualify a candidate. Some of these areas include:

1. Unprofessional or incomplete headings – As simple as it seems, review your résumé heading! Never include a work phone number or your company’s 800 number, as this could tell a potential employer that you do not value your company’s resources; the hiring manager does not know if your employer is aware of your search or not, so do not assume he/she will think this practice is acceptable. Include your cell phone number only if you can answer it professionally every time! Review voicemail messages for all of the numbers listed on your résumé and ensure they are reinforcing your professional not personal image. Lastly, be sure you have a professional email address. Do not use an email address with your graduation year, birth year, etc.; these are very easy to spot and can destroy strategic efforts to minimize a candidate’s lack or abundance of experience.

2. Spelling mistakes, typos, and poor grammar structure – Proofread, proofread, and then proofread again! Overlooked mistakes send a message to the reader of your attention to detail or lack thereof. Have someone else proofread your résumé to be sure you are submitting an error-free document. Turn off the grammar check in Word once you are sure your résumé is written effectively. This will avoid your résumé appearing with green wavy lines under certain sentences. Fragmented sentences will likely appear throughout your document, and there is no need to try to avoid this as it is a very effective way to write a résumé. Turning off the grammar check will ensure that the reader is not distracted by the green lines!

3. Emphasizing job duties instead of achievements – Hiring managers are not as interested in what you were paid to do; they are more interested in where you went above and beyond and contributed to the success of your employer. While you need to include some information on what you were responsible for on a daily basis, emphasis should be placed on the value you contributed to your employer, being sure to distinguish achievements from responsibilities through a separate subheading or formatting choices.

4. Selecting the wrong format for your résumé – When considering a reverse chronological, combination, or functional format, choose wisely based not only on your desire to present your experience a certain way, but also the knowledge that hiring authorities prefer reverse chronological or combination résumés, and traditionally dislike functional formats. I see a lot of functional résumés that really do not need to have a purely functional format; instead, the writer could have used a more savvy combination format which would have pleased the hiring manager while still achieving the focus the candidate was seeking. While combination résumés can be more difficult to write, the fact that they are a hybrid of the two other formats makes them a wiser choice if you seek to focus the hiring manager’s attention on certain aspects of your career (possibly by pulling out related achievements and responsibilities in a Career Highlights section appearing before the Professional Experience section) while minimizing potentially disqualifying factors (such as limited related or recent experience, large employment gaps, frequent job hops, etc.).

5. Using a cookie-cutter design – Try to create a unique look for your résumé, avoiding templates that hundreds of other candidates have used. Think about a hiring manager reviewing his/her 50th résumé of the day; if your résumé looks like 20 others, it will not stand out from the crowd, regardless of the content. Try to develop a unique and professional design; doing so will go a long way in compelling the reader to spend more than 7-10 seconds on your résumé during the screening process.

 Dear Sam: After 12 years, in just a few weeks, I finally will be a college graduate. Aside from finishing what I started, my goal in completing my accounting degree is to advance my career. I am concerned, however, with my personal financial situation and the impact it may have on my job search.

Years ago, I became caught up in the real estate boom and invested time, energy, and lots of money in the purchase, rehab, and rental of a number of properties. Unfortunately, the good times did not last long, and I fell flat on my face. Everything that had been invested went down the tubes, including my credit, which now includes a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and six mortgage foreclosures.

I should note that prior to investing, my credit score had been in the high 780s. My fear is that all of the work I have invested in completing my degree will be for naught when an employer pulls my credit report. Is there any way to delicately handle this situation?

 Should I "prepare" potential employers for what they will find, once they inform me my credit report must be pulled? If it helps, none of the debt included in the bankruptcy was consumer debt; it was all debt accumulated while investing. -- Steve

Dear Steve: As you are applying for accounting positions, I imagine your credit report will be pulled more often than not. You will definitely want to prepare employers for what they will find by explaining your situation much as you did for me.

You may even want to prepare a written account of the situation in the event the interviewer you explain it to isn’t the one making the decision. Would it be possible to get a credit reference from your bank or other institution where you have held a satisfactory record?

It may be useful to have “validation” that your personal finances have been handled appropriately since your filing. I think with a professional and honest statement, coupled with third-party validation of your pre- and post-bankruptcy/housing boom financial management skills, you will put yourself in a better position to overcome the impact a negative report may have on your search.

I wish you much success, and congratulations on your upcoming graduation!

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