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What's wrong with your resume?  Perhaps nothing, technically.  But it's a good possibility there isn't enough right about your resume either. 

If it doesn't stand out, get attention or generate enough call backs, then this guide to create effective resumes can help.  It includes quick tips on layout, length, keywords and cover letters.  We also included a few great sites that can help you prepare your resume with easy-to-use templates and layouts.

What is a resume?

A document or media developed to detail a person's skills, experience and qualifications.  Some common elements of a resume include objective, education, job experience and contact information.  It's typically created for the purpose of applying for a job or volunteer opportunity.  Most resumes are short (1 page minimum to 2 pages maximum) and are very customizable in multiple layouts.

What is a CV? 

Also referred to as a Curriculum Vitae, it includes the applicant's skills, experience, education and qualifications.  It's in reverse chronological order to demonstrate the most recent accomplishments, publications and experience.  It's different from a resume in that a resume is meant to imply one's qualifications for the position by which he/she is applying.  A CV is meant to represent the applicant's professional or scholastic career in its entirety. 

It's an in-depth exploration of one's career path and is a standard method of application in high-level positions such as those suited for professors, physicians or senior-level executives.  It's also suitable for those in science- or research-oriented industries.  It is lengthier than a resume and elaborates on the introduction of oneself, an industry or academic specific career direction.  It includes a detailed list of accomplishments with explanation of one's career exploits and experience.  It's standard in all job applications in many European countries.

What is a cover letter?

The cover letter is what initiates an introduction to the hiring manager.  It should include the applicant's complete contact information, the date, a professional letter format and a polite salutation.  The body of the letter should include the company and position for which the applicant is applying, his/her skills and qualifications with particular keywords and/or criteria specific to the job posting that make the applicant an ideal candidate.  It should be specific and short, but it should win the recruiter's attention.  The candidate should thank the recruiter for reviewing his/her credentials and complete the cover letter with a professional closing and signature.


Application tracking systems used to reduce unqualified applicants in an effort to expedite the hiring process includes reviewing resumes for the use of keywords. This is usually first conducted with an ATS (Application Tracking Software).  The selected resumes are then reviewed by the HR personnel. Generally, 25-30 keywords are expected.

First utilize descriptive words in the employer's job posting. They will be specific to their business or computer software systems, specific desired credentials and education or hardware skills.

Some common words or phrases include the following: (Note, that some of these words are subjective to the opinion of the employer or tracking system. One shouldn't be overly concerned if some words are used that should be omitted.)


Problem solving, leadership skills, written communication, performance, productivity, team building, achieved, improved, trained, managed, influenced, resolved, volunteered, increased, negotiated, launched, revenue, award, won

Don't use

Go-getter, synergy, value-added, results driven, team player, bottom-line, hard worker, dynamic, self-motivated, strategic thinker, detail-oriented, proactively, track record, self-starter, multi-tasker, flexible, quick learner, perfectionist, cutting edge, references upon request (this is assumed), results-focused, savvy, strong presentation skills

What are the best resumes available?

There are so many examples of effective resumes online, it would be futile to select from the thousands of designs and layouts as examples of "the best resumes".  Many resources are available that include free or low-cost resume building services. 

There are some basic formats that one can use to generate his/her own resume, but ultimately it should be based on personality, background and industry.  In order of priority, choose a layout that would appeal to hiring managers for the type of position for which you are applying, the industry and then representative of your own professional style.

It's best to keep the resume simple and functional, but that doesn't mean one can't employ some creative layouts and cover letters to make the resume stand out. 

Check out these great sites to get some ideas or utilize their services to assist in your job seeking process.

Top 4 resume formats

HR executives speak out

Here's some advice from top hiring managers in the industry:


  1. Use 12-point font.
  2. Use standard font such as Calibri (Times New Roman), Arial, Cambria, Georgia.
  3. Use 1-inch margins.
  4. Use efficient writing to detail a professional/executive summary inclusive of skills and objectives.
  5. Keep it to 1 page minimum and 2 pages maximum.


  1. Overuse color or italics.
  2. Use a general resume without tailoring it to each specific position. 
  3. Forget the cover letter; it's often what sets you apart from other applicants and is the first introduction to the hiring manager.
  4. Lie, exaggerate, distort, stretch the truth or over state your qualifications.  We usually figure it out in the interview process.  Even if you're hired, the truth will likely come out eventually.

Submit and follow up

Follow the submission instructions according to the job posting.  Failing to do so could negate your submission.

Following the submission (unless otherwise noted), wait approximately 1-2 weeks depending on the position, organization and potential number of applicants (refer to job positing stats on job board).  Then follow-up with an e-mail or phone call to the hiring manager.  E-mail is preferred, but don't hesitate to call if you don't get a response.


Include the position for which applied and your name in the subject line.  Include a salutation to the hiring manager (use his/her name if possible). 

The body of the email will include your inquiry regarding the specific position, date of your submission and to confirm the department's receipt of your submission.  Indicate you still have an interest in the position and working for the company.  Include some brief qualifications such as your most recent academic achievements or work experience (inclusive of your employer's name and years employed) that make you an ideal candidate for the opening.  Request they contact you should they need any further information or materials submitted for further consideration.  Indicate you are looking forward to beginning the next phase of the hiring process.

Follow-up with a professional salutation and signature to include your complete contact information.


Call later in the day to avoid reaching voicemail.  Be specific in your inquiry, but don't rush the call.  Speak slowly and professionally.

Identify yourself and the reason for your call.  Ask if you are speaking to the correct person.  Upon confirmation, follow-up regarding the position and inquire if it is still available.  Ask when you might expect to be contacted if you are selected to proceed to the next phase of the hiring process.  Indicate your qualifications for the position make you an ideal candidate and you would be happy to resubmit your resume along with any other information, if that would be helpful in initiating an interview.  You could also let the hiring manager or coordinator know your upcoming availability for a future interview.

Make sure to get the contact's name and ask when you might expect to hear from him/her.  Thank the HR professional for his/her time before hanging up.


If leaving a voicemail, speak slowly and clearly.  Leave your name, number and reason for your call.  " My name is Jane Doe.  I am following up regarding my submission of my resume on [the date] for [the position] advertised on [job board].  Please contact me at [your phone number].  Thank you." 

While it may seem like a good idea to just leave your name and number in order to increase your chances of a call back from an overworked HR Director who gets many calls; know that if you are calling an HR Director and they don't recognize your name, they know you are likely a prospective employee anyway.  Despite not receiving a call back immediately, having the details of your submission allows them to refer to that specific posting, date of your submission and your resume.


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