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Looking For a Job? Give Yourself a Chance.

By Jeff Fowler

I own a small computer software company that Iíve run for twelve years, and recently we ran an ad in The Washington Post for a part time secretary/receptionist. All of us who follow the news are aware that business has been difficult at best since the ďdot-comsĒ crashed, and many of us know people whoíve been laid off. I was therefore entirely unsurprised at the large volume of responses we received to the ad. However, even though Iíve been looking at resumes for over ten years, Iíve always been amazed at the poor quality of most of them. Even in these trying economic conditions, this time was no exception. Having been let go from a job years ago, Iíve experienced first-hand the anxiety and frustration of being out of work, and Iíd like to share my thoughts, suggestions, and perspective in the hopes that itíll help some of you in your quest for employment. As such, hereís my ďTop TenĒ list of common transgressions that can cause your resume to be dropped in an employerís circular file.

1. Misspelled words. This is far and away the most common and surest way to destroy any chance you have of being considered for an interview. Think about it: a resume is your first (and usually only) chance to make a good impression on a potential employer. From my perspective, how important can this job be to you if you donít even bother to run a spell check? Further, if you wonít even take the time to proofread your own resume, you clearly donít pay attention to details, and I certainly canít count on you to draft letters or fill out forms correctly for me.

2. Language, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. These comprise the second most common sin of resume writing. Though Iím a proud graduate of Bladensburg High Schoolís class of í76, Iím certainly not an English expert. However, even I had to raise my eyebrows when one hopeful candidate wrote his address and decided to put periods after both letters in the state abbreviation (ďAdelphi, M.D.Ē). Another young lady (who proudly trumpeted her Bachelor of Arts in English with a writing concentration) submitted a cover letter with the following sentence. ďBecause, however, I gave birth to my first child in July, and will begin graduate school, full-time, this month, a part-time opportunity will allow me to devote more time to my studies, and to my little one, without all of the rigorous demands that a full-time teaching position requires.Ē Even to my inexpert eye, that seems like lots of commas. Hmmm, mustíve been one heck of a college, eh? Bang, youíre out.

3. Job hoppers. A close third. OK, so you send a resume showing a different job every few months for the last six years, and Iím supposed to believe that youíll suddenly find the permanent and lasting utopia youíve been seeking with me? I donít think so. If youíre a job hopper, my advice to you is to clear your reputation by finding some place where you can stay for at least three years. Unfortunately, youíve lost that chance with me.

4. Unexplained employment gaps. Remember that Iím seeing your resume for the first time, and I donít know you from Adam. Employment gaps of two months or more make me think that your departure from the first job was unexpected, and it took you a while to find another, which suggests that you may have been fired. If I see more than one such occurrence on your resume itís adios, amigo. If you do have a plausible explanation, Iíd suggest providing it in your cover letter. Another related sin is being purposely vague with your employment history; i.e., ďAcme Insurance Agency, 1998-1999.Ē This makes it look like youíre hiding something, and Iíd rather not take the chance of finding out what it is.

5. No cover letter. Many people (including myself) have been told that a resume should always start with an Objective paragraph. My personal opinion is that theyíre dumb, because they all say the same thing, which is basically nothing at all. Hereís an objective from the first resume in my pile: ďTo obtain a position where my experience and education will be fully utilized, while affording me the opportunity for professional and personal growth.Ē (Incidentally, Iíd be willing to bet that nine out of ten Objective paragraphs I read contain the word ďutilize.Ē) Letís be frank Ė we both know your objective: you want a job. Even better, a job that you like doing, pays well, and has good benefits. So rather than recite the same tired words as everybody else, write a cover letter that gives me the opportunity to know you as a person. Hereís a very nice excerpt from a cover letter I received:

Dear Prospective Employer,

My name is Jane Doe and I am applying for the Secretarial position you advertised in The Washington Post. As my resume indicates, I have a wide variety of experience in a number of areas. In addition to my experience, I am a responsible and hard working person with strong computer skills Ė most of which were self-taught. I am organized and efficient and I enjoy working as a team player.

6. All italics. Ok, so the same person who advised you to ďutilizeĒ an Objective paragraph told you to do something that makes your resume stand out. And your interpretation of that is to send me what looks like a wedding invitation by writing the whole thing in italics. Sorry, but Iím not comfortable feeling like youíre playing mind-games with me. Incidentally, I received a couple of cover letters in all caps. Sorry again, but I donít like being yelled at either, so please use mixed case on your next opportunity (since youíve lost this one)

7. Too lengthy. Almost everyone, including the advisor whoís been so helpful thus far, tells you that a resume should not exceed two pages plus a cover letter. This is good advice; please take it. One of the resumes I got spanned twelve pages. All I can say to you is: good luck with your career search.

8. Too short. On occasion Iíll get a resume that simply lists places and dates of employment with no details at all. Címon, you must have done something while you were there. No? Well, bye-bye.

9. Racy email addresses or voicemail recordings. Although I may experience a brief vicarious flash at the thought of hiring someone whoís email address is, I really donít think it looks all that appropriate on your resume, and Iím quite certain that my wife wouldnít go for it. You might also consider what happens if I call the phone number youíve given me and I get your answering machine. One recording was quite interesting indeed (Iíll leave it to your imagination), so impressive in fact that I played it for several other people in the office. Unfortunately for you, I didnít leave a message.

10. Skill mismatch. Letís be honest: the job calls for written and verbal communication skills and you donít have them. Hey, I canít get Danny Snyder to let me play football for the ĎSkins either. Your best bet to find employment is to make an honest assessment of what youíre good at and apply for jobs that require those skills. Although if youíre the lady who made the voicemail recording, you might have to move to Las Vegas.

In the course of writing this article I made three spelling mistakes and several punctuation errors. (Truth be told, I have no clue what the formal rules are regarding when and where to use commas.) But I do two things that apparently many of you donít: I run spell and grammar check, and I ask someone else to read my work.

I want to hire you, and I know that youíre basically a good person. So please, give yourself a chance next time. Happy hunting.

Jeff Fowler is president of Lanham-based Decision Software, Inc.

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