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Simple Steps to Shape Up Your Resume

By Robert Half International

Writing a resume is a lot like hitting the gym: It requires initiative, dedication, and, at times, it can be daunting. In the long run, however, the hard work pays off and allows you to put your best foot forward with prospective employers.

Why don't you try engaging in an exercise routine that will improve your career prospects: a five-step resume-writing workout. You may not have the muscle tone to show for it, but you'll have an impressive tool to use in your job search. Whether you're a seasoned veteran or new to your field, you can follow the same simple regimen.

Step 1: Establish an objective.
While a gym buff's main goal may be to lose a few pounds, a job seeker's ultimate aim is to get hired. Start by including an objective on your resume. It should spell out your career goals and your qualifications for the role. Although it is an optional element, an objective allows you to tailor your resume to the job opening. Make sure what you include in this section is targeted to the company and the job for which you are applying. Your objective might look something like this: "An entry-level position at a magazine that gives me an opportunity to apply my background in English and my three years' experience as editor of my college newspaper."

Step 2: Shift into high gear.
If you expect to see results, whether you're working on your calves or your resume, sooner or later, you've got to pick up the pace. Since the work history section is the most important element of your resume, it's the best place to step it up. Most employers prefer that applicants list their work experience in reverse chronological order, starting with their most recent jobs. Be sure to include the position, company, location and dates of employment. Use action words to describe your accomplishments and specifically demonstrate how you made a positive impact on the company. For example, it's not enough to say, "Grew territory revenue in excess of corporate goal." A statement such as, "Grew territory revenues 25 percent in less than six months, exceeding established goal of 15 percent," will impress employers more.

Remember that one size does not fit all on your resume. If you're applying for a variety of roles, what you highlight should relate specifically to each unique job opening.

If you have been out of the workforce for some time or are looking to make a career change, consider grouping your work history under functional categories instead of chronologically.

Step 3: Eliminate extraneous activities.
Even the strongest athletes run out of steam when they overexert themselves. Avoid exhausting yourself, and the resume reader, by weeding out information that does not directly relate to the job at hand. For example, if you are currently in a finance role and a big fan of the circus, there's no point in mentioning your affinity for the flying trapeze. Or if you want to show off a particular skill that isn't included in the work history section, such as familiarity with a certain software application, list the training courses you've taken or certifications you've received. Just don't go into detail about personal hobbies that don't directly relate to the job.

Step 4: Don't forget the final stretch.
Feeling the burn while working out is one thing, but waking up in pain is another. Smart athletes know it's important to conclude their exercise routines with some final stretches. After you've written your resume, you should give it one last look for grammar and punctuation errors, misspelled words and typos. Format the document so it's easy to read and appealing to the eye. Use boldface type for section headings, employer names and jobs titles, and leave ample white space so it doesn't look cluttered.

If you submit your application via e-mail, prepare the file as a plain-text document so it can be read on any computer system. Remove all formatting enhancements, such as underlining or boldface, and replace bullets with asterisks or dashes.

Step 5: Request a quick once-over.
If you've worked hard to develop well-defined abs, you shouldn't be afraid to show them off. Similarly, before submitting your resume, show it to a few friends or professionals in the field and ask if they think it successfully highlights your background and skills. A pair of fresh eyes also can spot any errors that you've overlooked.

Writing a resume can be challenging, but it shouldn't make you break out in a sweat. Approach the task like you would a workout: Break it down into small steps, take your time and give each one your all. With a little effort and willpower, you're bound to strengthen your chances of landing the job you seek.

Robert Half International Inc. is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 330 offices throughout North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. For more information about our professional services, please visit

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