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Buff up that resume till it shines

When Michele walked into my career services office to get help looking for a job, she had three things going for her: a brand new college degree, a sparkling GPA and a great attitude. Unfortunately, she also had something else: a resume that, well -- stunk.

With no real-world work experience in her field of choice, Michele had made a standard new-grad error: writing a resume that listed unrelated nickel-and-dime past jobs, and her newly minted B.S. in psychology tacked at the end like a forgotten stepchild.

Among fledgling college alumni, this career-marketing trap is common. Fortunately, there's an easy fix that will work for almost anyone.

Go functional
Resume guru Yana Parker, author of The Damn Good Resume, wrote, "A resume is not a career obituary." In other words, the function of the document isn't just to brief prospective employers on your former jobs. Instead, it's a marketing document whose purpose is to present the best you.

If you're a recent college grad, chances are your actual work experience is largely unrelated to your post-college career aspirations. If that's true, a job-by-job chronological presentation is not a good choice for your resume, since it won't really illustrate to employers why they should hire you. Instead, try using a functional format to sell your skills.

The difference between a chronological resume and a functional resume is this:

A chronological resume lists work experience in reverse order, beginning with the most recent job and describing each position held. A functional resume categorizes and describes an applicant's skills, then follows with a brief, bullet-style work history at the end. Let's test Michelle's resume.

The transformer
Michele's chronological resume (the one that stunk) described in detail her responsibilities in three past jobs: Administrative Aide, Psychology Department; Counter Person, Taco Bell; and Youth Worker, First Baptist Church.

Now, Michele's career objective was to land a job serving San Diego's homeless population, and her psychology degree was a real plus. But her work experience -- as a secretary, fast-food jockey, and kids' counselor -- didn't seem to qualify her to assist the city's destitute in returning to productive living.

However, when we reformatted her resume to describe her skills in functional groups -- Program Coordination & Administration; Counseling; and Customer Service -- a more encouraging picture emerged.

To achieve this resume transformation, we examined Michele's target career to determine what broad types of skills might be called for. We came up with counseling, communication, program coordination, knowledge of helping resources, activity planning, substance abuse management and customer service to name a few.


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