U.S. Markets closed

A Strong Yet Ethical Résumé, Fast, Part I

Marty Nemko

You're dreading writing your résumé. That's tempting you to buy résumé-writing software, even though it risks your résumé seeming manufactured, a string of cliches: "Uniquely qualified hard-working, self-starter who spearheads profit-maximizing initiatives and delights in exceeding customer expectations." That would make even a desperate employer press "delete."

You're even thinking of hiring a résumé writer, even though that's no more ethical than paying someone to write your college application essay. Remember that for all but low-level jobs, employers use a résumé not only to assess your work history but your ability to create a well-reasoned, well-written, error-free product. If someone else writes your résumé, it cheats the employer and is unfair to the other applicants who did their own work.

The good news is that writing your own résumé needn't be a painful slog resulting in a piece of junk. Here's how to ethically write a strong résumé, and without Sturm und Drang.

Format. Yes, if you're applying for a graphics or marketing gig, you might use one of the good infographic templates. Otherwise, keep it simple. No striped, scented paper, please. You'll look like you're trying to substitute sizzle for steak. Just pick one of Microsoft Word's dozens of free, credible, readable templates.

To create a version for online submission, use a standard highly readable font such as Times. No tabs or centering, and use the + sign instead of bullets. Use caps instead of italics, boldface or underlining. Save it as a .txt file.

Length. It shouldn't be an exhaustive presentation of your life. Just the highlights, the things that would impress your target employer. And better a white-space-rich two or even three pages than a foreboding one-pager.

At the top. Easy peasy: Just list your name, home and/or cell phone number, email address and snail mail address. Exception: Omit the latter if you're open to moving for a job. If you think they'd impress your target employers, add your LinkedIn, website, blog and/or Twitter stream.

Summary. Example: "Forensic accountant with strong reviews seeks new position because job was offshored." Want to change careers? Use something like, "Successful benefits specialist seeks transition into ombuds work."

Highlights. What three things about you would most impress your target employer? Be specific, for example, "Two promotions in three years as medical device marketer." Avoid puffy adjectives such as "team player" and "dynamic," let alone "awesome." Employers tend to view those as horse puckey.

Work experience (volunteering and internships go here too). A skills or functional résumé won't fool 'em. Most employers have long wised-up to the moldy oldie trick of using a non-chronological format to hide employment gaps. Employers often toss such résumés unread.

So list your jobs in reverse chronological order, and for each one, list two to four accomplishments or highlights that would most impress your target employer. You may need to adapt those to best fit a particular employer. Each bullet should be stated in 20 words or less, ideally much less.

But what to do about an eons-long employment gap? Part II, which will appear next Monday, offers some innovative answers to that plus tips on how to optimize the résumé's other sections.

The San Francisco Bay Guardian called Dr. Nemko "The Bay Area's Best Career Coach" and he was Contributing Editor for Careers at U.S. News. His sixth and seventh books were published in 2012: How to Do Life: What They Didn't Teach You in School and What's the Big Idea? 39 Disruptive Proposals for a Better America. More than 1,000 of his published writings are free on www.martynemko.com. He posts here every Monday.

More From US News & World Report