This is a guest post from Kerry K. Taylor, author of Squawkfox, a blog where frugal living is fun. On today’s episode of The Personal Finance Hour, Jim and I will be discussing job-hunting skills. First, though, here’s Kerry’s advice about résumés.

If you’re anything like my friends, your résumé is probably a little stale and perhaps a lot rotten. I’m sure your skills are not rotten and don’t deserve to be trashed as rubbish. But honestly, very few job hunters know how to write a résumé that lands them a job interview. Since having income is an important step towards getting rid of debt, putting money into your online savings account, building an emergency fund and getting rich slowly, it pays to review your résumé for rottenness before sending it out.

I’ve been on both ends of the résumé game. I’ve reviewed hundreds of résumés as part of a hiring team. I’ve also applied to numerous jobs in various fields using countless résumé types. Over the years I’ve discovered why few résumés stand out and why most could use a rescue. If you’re looking to land a job interview and haven’t had much success, then grab a life preserver and try these five ways to rescue your rotten résumé.

Tip One: Match Your Skills to Employer Requirements
News Flash: Your résumé isn’t about you. It’s about how well your skills and experiences match the employer’s job requirements. If your résumé reads more like a personal history book then you’re heading to the rotten résumé pile. Sorry. The most effective résumés are clearly focused on a specific job title and address the employer’s stated needs.

How to make a match:

  1. Find a job posting that interests you. Highlight the essential points and skills for the position.
  2. Make a skills list. List your skills and qualifications that correspond to those in the job posting.
  3. Make a Match. Write a series of customized one-sentence statements, starting with a verb, outlining how your skills meet the points in the position.(For example: Wrote training guides for accounting software customers.)

Linking customized examples that demonstrate your experience, skills, and knowledge to a specific job posting helps you:

  • Decide if a job is actually a good fit for you.
  • Tailor your cover letter and résumé to the position.
  • Communicate your fit with an employer in a job interview.

Need some examples and help? Download my Make Your Match worksheet to rescue your résumé from the rotten pile.

Tip Two: Add Action Words!
If your résumé seems dull and lifeless, chances are you need to activate it with some action words. Action words, or verbs, bring life to an otherwise rotten résumé by setting your skills on fire, giving your credentials authority and power. Verbs are important to include since they show hiring managers what actions you’ve taken in previous jobs. You’re being hired to do something, so show what you’ve done by preceding your skills and experiences with action verbs!

Example verbs in action:

  • Job: Administrative AssistantPlanned and scheduled company-wide meetings for teams of senior managers.
  • Job: Software DeveloperProgrammed web-based financial applications in Java and C++.
  • Job: Technical WriterWrote and edited instruction manuals for award-winning accounting software.

Can’t find the right verbs to match your skills? Learn how to word your résumé right by adding the 6 action words that make your résumé rock.

Tip Three: Use Your Keywords
Where action verbs activate your résumé, keywords are the nouns that explain to hiring managers what things you performed the actions on. Employers want to know the skills and qualifications you offer, so explain what skills you possess with the right keywords and get yourself onto the interview list!

To find qualified candidates, some employers use software programs, internet job boards, and résumé databases to search for those applications matching the keywords they target. In today’s world of keywords and search engine technology, if your résumé doesn’t contain the right mix of job-specific keywords, then your résumé may stay buried in the digital dungeon that is a candidate database even if you’re fully qualified for the job. Now that’s rotten!

Keyword nouns tend to be the hard skills and industry-specific qualifications that employers look for in a job candidate. Here’s where to find your keywords:

  • Degrees or certifications
  • University or college names
  • Job titles
  • Product names
  • Technical terms
  • Industry jargon
  • Job-specific buzzwords
  • Company names
  • Service types
  • Professional organizations
  • Software or hardware packages
  • Computer lingo

A great place to get keyed into your keywords is to review five to ten employment ads with similar job titles and see which words are repeatedly mentioned. Once you see a pattern, highlight and list these keywords and be sure to include them in your résumé and cover letter.

Tip Four: Choose the Right Résumé Format
Struggling to format your résumé isn’t much fun — I think we’ve all been there — but choosing the right format for your résumé is actually easy. Aside from academic résumés, there are two common résumé formats, they are: chronological and functional.

Chronological Résumé Format
The most popular résumé format is the chronological résumé. The chronological format lists your most recent employment history (or education) first, ordering your jobs by date in a time line. This is the traditional method of formatting a résumé, and places more emphasis on your job titles and your employment history over your skills. Chronological résumés can work best for job seekers with a stable career progression in one or two fields.

Use the chronological résumé if:

  • You have a steady work history with few breaks in your employment.
  • You’re staying in the same field.
  • Your job titles show increased responsibility and higher position levels.
  • Your past job titles match employer job requirements.

The chronological résumé is the type most hiring managers expect to see. It’s quick to read, easy to follow, and provides a ready-made template for interview questions.

Functional Résumé Format
The functional résumé focuses attention on skills and achievements, rather than job titles and places of employment, making it a winner for career changers or new college graduates. Functional résumés give you the platform to showcase only skills and experiences of which you are most confident – which means your work experience is described by showing the transferable skills you mastered in a Relevant Skills section.

For example, if you developed skills through a hobby or volunteer work and you now want to use those skills in a paid job, those skills might not show up in a chronological résumé but they could stand out in a functional format where you’re not limited to describing your skills under job titles.

Use the functional résumé format if:

  • You want to highlight your skills, knowledge, or abilities.
  • You’re re-entering the job market after an absence.
  • You’re looking for your first job or are a new college graduate.
  • You’re making a major career change.
  • You have a wide variety of different or unrelated work experiences.
  • You have large gaps in your work history and lack a continuous record of employment.

A small word of warning: Many hiring managers are highly suspicious of candidates boasting their skills in functional résumés since this format can often hide questionable employment records. But despite this negative, the functional résumé can land you the job interview if you do it right by grouping your relevant skills into sub-sections and have the right qualifications to match the job requirements.

Tip Five: Remove These Rotten Résumé Words
Using the wrong words on your résumé can really make it rotten. You may be surprised with these rotten words though, especially since these words are common, they are accepted, and they litter the average résumé with buzzword badness. Here’s how to rescue two rotten résumé words and turn your application into one solid winner!

Responsible For
Of course you’re responsible for something. But how many? How long? Who? What? When? Rather than waste the hiring manager’s time reading a vague list of responsibilities, be specific and use quantitative figures to back up your cited skills and accomplishments.

Employers want the numerical facts. Write percentages, dollar amounts, and numbers to best explain your accomplishments. Be specific to get the point across quickly. Prove you have the goods to get hired.

BAD: “Responsible for writing user guides on deadline.”
GOOD: “Wrote six user guides for 15,000 users two weeks before deadline.”

The résumé that avoids vague responsibilities and sticks to facts detailing figures, growth, reduced costs, number of people managed, budget size, sales, and revenue earned gets the job interview.

Detail Oriented
What does detail oriented mean? Give the specifics to the details with which you are oriented. Please, orient your reader to the details!

BAD: “Detail oriented public relations professional.”
GOOD: “Wrote custom press releases targeting 25 news agencies across Europe.”

If you have the details, do share them with the hiring manager. Give the facts, the numbers, the time lines, the dollar figure, the quantitative data that sells your skills and disorients the competition.

Looking for more rotten résumé words in need of a rescue? Avoid these 6 words that make your résumé suck.

Rotten Résumé Conclusions
Résumé writing is not rocket science. But your résumé must impress the reader in seconds to be effective. Otherwise, your skills and experiences will be recycled faster than you can say “paper shredder”. But if you follow these five simple rules you too can stay out of the hiring manager’s trash and land that job interview.

Also, be sure to update and edit your résumé frequently so you’re ready for every job opportunity. If you’re still feeling stuck then check out these free résumé examples to get going. It’s a lot easier to see what makes a résumé awesome and then do the work to rescue your own.

You can read more from Kerry at her blog Squawkfox. She has also written a free 92-page eBook: The Insider’s Guide To Frugal Food & Fitness! Also note that we’ll be exploring other career advice on today’s episode of The Personal Finance Hour.

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