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How To Make Your Resume Stand Out to Recruiters

Hiring managers generally look at resumes for a reason to move on to the next one. How can you make sure they linger over yours? WetFeet.com talked to consulting recruiters for expert advice on making your resume a winner.

Apply White Space With a Trowel, Not a Brush

Dana Ellis, a recruiter at Arthur Andersen, compares his experience of looking at a resume to the experience of shopping at a website. "If it's hard to read and the experience is frustrating," he says, "we go somewhere else."

Use bullet points, short lists, and short paragraphs. Avoid describing the companies you've worked at in a lot of detail -- save details for the work you've done. In terms of accomplishments, awards, and extracurricular activities (which are important), list only the ones you think the firm wants to see, and leave out the rest.

Tailor Your Resume to the Position

Rather than list everything you've ever done and every technological skill you've gained, tailor your resume to the job. "Often, [we] see resumes that list, under 'technical experience,' 30 or 40 different technologies the person has used in the past," says Sean Huurman, the national director of recruiting at KPMG Consulting. "To have a really effective resume, it's important for the individual to understand what the company is looking for, then tailor their resume to the technologies they believe will fit the particular position."

Show, Don't Tell, Your Experience

You may wish recruiters would look at the list of challenging projects you've done, and say "Ahhhh . . . how impressive." Unfortunately, they won't. Recruiters look at resumes to determine what your prior work experience shows about you.

We're looking for evidence of creativity and thinking out of the box," says Geri Parsons Golemme, a recruiter at A.D. Little.

Many firms look for evidence that a person can operate both independently and as part of a team. "In addition to being able to work in a team, we really want to know that people have the independence to work on their own when necessary," says Michelle Hutton, the human resources manager at American Management Systems. "It's important to show both sides of yourself."

You can't say "demonstrated the persona of a team player" in your resume, but you can leave clues to that effect. If you worked as part of a team, say so. For example: "Worked as part of a four-person team to analyze order-fulfillment processes, recommend technological solution, and successfully implement within an aggressive three-week period."

Make Your Resume Tell a Story

I want the resume to tell me a story and have some indication of an overall objective and follow-through -- some continuity between that objective and the work history," says Golemme.

Huurman agrees. "With recruiters being inundated with resumes, they are really going to take the time to look at ones that have a nice flow to them so the recruiter understands where this person has been, what they've done, and how their experience at one company has carried over into the next."

Be sure your resume -- while not dating back to childhood -- shows career and personal progression. But show this progression with bullets, not paragraphs.

Don't Leave Gaps

All four of the recruiters whom WetFeet.com interviewed said they look for gaps in education or work experience. "It's a big red flag for us," says Hutton, "Even if the work you did [in the gap] is not exactly relevant to the job you want to apply for, it's essential that you list that so it shows that you've been gainfully employed and doing something rather than sitting at home watching TV all day."

If you do have a gap of several months or so, tell them what you were doing, or recruiters may draw their own conclusions. "In gaps, you can find some interesting stories," says Arthur Andersen's Ellis. "Sometimes you find the person has been in jail." Now that would stand out on a resume -- but not the way you'd want.

Bonus Tip: Include Contact Information

Make sure your resume is complete with an e-mail address as well as a phone number. Increasingly, consulting recruiters are using e-mail to follow up -- make sure they can find yours easily.

Michael K. Norris frequently writes about and analyzes issues related to consulting and e-services. He can be reached at michael@norrisresearch.com

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