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Resume Tips

How important is a well-written perfect resume to a "free agent" or independent contractor? When Dennis Berk, a database developer and technical project consultant in Red Wing, Minn., revamped his resume, he was recommended for three projects that he wouldn't have been considered for if he had used his old resume.

For Mr. Berk, what made the difference was detailing the technical platforms used in each of his projects. Previous versions of his resume assumed that a reader would know that, for instance, he'd created specialized databases using both MS Access and SQL Server.

When Mr. Berk sent his new resume to a technical contracting agency he'd worked with, the agency's recruiters immediately identified skills that its clients sought -- skills they didn't know he had. The new projects for which he was recommended included a five-month assignment with a major airline.

Independent contractors often face unusual challenges when writing their resumes. Among the most demanding is updating their documents as assignments are completed and new skills are learned.

If you keep in mind that hiring managers want to see specific skills, demonstrated results and professional commitment, your resume will open doors. Following these tips will help you produce a document that will give you the opportunity to demonstrate capabilities beyond those listed on your resume in an interview and ultimately in a project assignment.

Tip 1: Let Them Know What You Can Do

As Mr. Berk's case shows, you shouldn't assume that busy hiring managers will be able to extrapolate information from your resume. Spell out the details of your experience, technical competencies and projects.

Even though Mr. Berk had worked with the agency off and on for more than two years, his previous stints there had been for Y2K projects, and his prior resume hadn't detailed the breadth of his expertise.

Tip 2: Show Results

When you describe your projects, programs or other consulting activities, include the results of your work when possible. This will make your resume more powerful and compelling. Descriptions should answer the following questions:

  • How did you benefit the company?
  • Did you meet or exceed expectations?
  • Did you bring a project in on schedule and on budget -- or better, ahead of schedule and at a cost savings?

Dawn Gallagher, president of The Innovation Café, a New Jersey-based food-service marketing consulting firm, customizes her self-marketing materials for each potential client and often includes a portfolio of projects she's done for others.

"It's not always possible to show results, but whenever possible, we say exactly what we've done for that client," says Ms. Gallagher. "We also might use client endorsements or referrals to demonstrate results. We offer to let our prospective clients talk with our existing clients, who will 'sell them' on what we can do, based on the results we've already delivered."

For technical professionals, it's particularly important to address more than just the technical aspects of the job. Demonstrate your understanding of business priorities and the importance of the bottom line by identifying your contributions to a company's profitability.

Mr. Berk includes with his resume a list of "Benefits" he delivered on each of his contract assignments and employment projects. These benefits included time savings, cost reductions, rapid productivity, improved access to information and efficient management of projects under tight time and budget constraints.

Tip 3: Show Your Professional Commitment

While it's true that companies often need independent contractors with specific expertise for short-term assignments or one-time projects, at other times they may be seeking longer-term commitments or contractors who may transition to permanent employees. Many employers want to know that the contractor is more than just a "warm body" with specific skills.

"When I look for contract employees, I like to see more than that they've 'done their thing' and left," said Lynne Rentschler, vice president of human resources and administration for a logistics company in Cincinnati. "I get concerned when there are too many small assignments on the resume...I prefer to see more tenure. I like to see that they've been able to form relationships and help achieve business goals."

To show prospects the professional relationships that she's built, Ms. Gallagher writes short summaries of her work with clients in a short-story format. "I like to present information that shows I can fit into a company's culture," she says.

A number of short-term assignments can be a red flag to hiring managers. They wonder why you left each position ... were you fired? Was your performance sub-par? Couldn't you get along with others? This can be a problem for free agents, whose strongest and most recent experience may consist of a string of short-term projects.

To overcome the job-hopper image and allay these concerns, state clearly that specific positions were project- or contract-based. You even can specify the length of the contract by using a phrase such as, "Selected for six-month, high-priority project to bring customer-relationship-management software up to speed in advance of massive Web-site marketing campaign." Readers will know that you were brought on for a specific assignment and completed that assignment before moving on. If your work was so valued that the company extended your contract or chose you for other jobs, be sure to spell that out, too.

Another strategy to show that you're a free agent by choice, and not because you can't keep a job, is to start with a summarizing paragraph or heading that identifies you as a contract employee for a specific period of time. Then group your contract and project experience under the heading, and downplay the specific dates of each assignment.

Tip 4: Consider an Addendum

If you're a busy free-lancer with many projects under your belt, you might find that a traditional resume isn't flexible enough to showcase all of your experience and skills. One way to expand on your resume without deviating from a standard format is to supplement it with detailed project summaries or examples of your work. You can use these selectively -- sometimes sending them to accompany a resume, at other times to bring to an interview.

Mr. Berk supplements his resume with a detailed project list that he takes to interviews and client meetings. His resume summarizes his projects, but often he'll refer to his addendum to make an analogy to a specific client situation.

Tip 5: Don't Rely on Your Resume Alone

While it's an essential tool, a resume alone can't possibly convey all the experience, skills and knowledge you'd bring to any assignment. Additionally, despite the many Internet job sites and contract-placement agencies they can register with, most professionals can't expect to post a resume online and see job offers pouring in. Even in the New Economy, old-fashioned relationship-building and networking are key to most successful job searches.

Mr. Berk plans to post his new resume on various job boards and free-agent sites, particularly those geared toward technical professionals, and he's excited about the possibilities. Still, he's maintaining relationships with the companies and agencies that have chosen him for diverse assignments over the years. After all, they know him and can recommend him based on more than just his credentials on paper.

How to Write A Winning Resume?

In a perfect world, you wouldn't need a resume -- you'd be out sailing the Mediterranean, exploring the outer galaxy or basking in the Cozumel sun, cold drink in hand.

But since the world isn't perfect and almost everyone needs a job, you have to create a winning resume that stands out from the crowd. Gone are the days when an acceptable resume featured flush-left, block-style type that began with your high school education and included your hobbies, health, age and marital status. Just as the employment market has changed, so have resumes, evolving from a one-size-fits-all standard.

Whether you're a candidate for the position of CEO, district sales manager or staff accountant, your resume must highlight your skills, accomplishments, and work experience in a way that distinguishes you from the thousands of other candidates flooding company mail boxes, fax machines and email addresses. A good resume presents a thumbnail sketch of your past experience. A winning resume grabs the reader's attention and increases your chances of being called in for an interview. Of course, after that, the rest is up to you.

Add Value to Stand Out from the Crowd

Great resumes entice hiring managers, gripping them with the following components:

  • a brief summary of your qualifications, strengths, and skills
  • selected accomplishments and your most relevant industry expertise
  • work experience chronologically (with titles and dates)
  • computer and related technical skills
  • professional affiliations
  • college and post-graduate education

Mention previous military information, but don't include as detailed a description as you would for more recent civilian positions.

Be Concise, but Powerful

Employers want to know, plain and simple, where you've been and what you can do for them. But at this early stage of the game, your work experience is just a piece of paper without any personality or pizzazz. If you don't blow your own horn, who will? Of course, every bit of information on your resume must be truthful, or you can kiss the job good-bye if any discrepancies arise during the interview or reference-checking stage.

"The facts need to jump off the page; companies and job titles in bold followed by a brief list of notable accomplishments," says Jim Scott, vice president of human resources for Staples Inc.

Personnel directors, recruiters, and small business owners are besieged with resumes whenever they place an ad for a particular position. don't bore them to death or present a laundry list of every job you've held since being a camp counselor-in-training 30 years ago. To make a great impression, your resume should highlight your past 10 to 12 years of relevant work experience, then summarize any previous positions.

Your written profile should look attractive, as well. Make it easy to read, pleasant on the eyes, and not more than two typed pages. No neon green or bound booklets, please. Put yourself in the place of the beleaguered person sifting through hundreds of resumes each morning. If he or she can't read it, it'll be tossed.

You may be an interesting person, but no one wants to review your life story unless it's been featured in Newsweek or on "Hard Copy." So adhere to the two-page rule. Also, don't include photographs, letters of reference from family members and old high school teachers, or cute notations like "loves kayaking" or "Married with three children and one puppy." Isn't finding a new job serious business? Then be serious.

Once you have a winning resume in hand, start a personal marketing campaign. The traditional method of answering ads in daily and weekly newspapers and special interest publications is a good start, but consider broadening your search from there. Contact company recruiters directly be researching those in the geographic regions you're targeting, then write a personalized cover letter to the person in charge of human resources at each firm.

When resumes arrive on Jim Scotts? desk, he says he looks for "progressively increasing responsibility with ample time to season in each job. Too many companies can spell trouble."

Internet Postings

For more exposure, you can jump onto the electronic bandwagon and have your resume posted with one of the many Internet-based services.

When searching electronically, companies look for key words on resumes to locate candidates who match a position's qualifications. So be sure to state your most relevant skills and accomplishments using concise language. If a company's computer is programmed to search for the word "finance" in a resume database, for example, and your resume states that you "managed financial accounts and services," you won't match up.

Consider a Pro

Given such obstacles, not everyone is capable of writing a great resume. It can be hard to be objective about yourself. Even harder, still, to use the right buzzwords to add value and marketability to your work history. If you realize that you've been procrastinating or sweat profusely whenever you sit in front of a computer screen to compile your career into two life-changing pages, it's probably time to seek professional resume writing assistance. Many services are available to help you write, edit or fine-tune your resume. Simply check the classified ads of national publications, regional journals, telephone directories and electronic directories for a service that meets your needs. Look for those that have been certified by the Professional Association of Resume Writers or the National Resume Writers Association.

Whether you write your resume yourself or seek help from the pros, make sure this key document accurately reflects all you have to offer. Your interview schedule will fill up as a result.

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