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Five keys to developing a door-opening resume

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The last installment in this space emphasized how resumes should focus around one basic principle – demonstrating the value that you can bring a potential employer. That value comes through a rigorously focused statement of one’s career experience highlighting those job functions and accomplishments that relate to what target employers are probably seeking.

In terms of how you list your work experience, it's really all pretty simple:

1. An up-front summary with an objective, though not mission critical, is recommended.

If you include a summary, and it should be no longer than two or three sentences, highlight your primary skills or functions. Ideally, a good summary ends with a one-sentence objective of what your current career goal is can help clarify to employers the type of role and function you are seeking in your next job. This can be especially important if you've had multiple functions or duties in your career and there might be some question in the employer's mind about how you would fit in.

2. List your experience in reverse chronological order.

The heading or top of each job you list should include the name of the company or organization, a parenthetical about what that company does, and the dates employed there.

For example, a chemical engineer working for a company that's not widely known might list her/her experience this way.

  • Chemical Engineer, XYZ company, a leading Mid-Atlantic plastics manufacturer, privately owned with annual revenues of approximately $250 million.

The above bullet provides an employer with a rough idea of the geography of the company (no need to state exact location or address), the category of business that the company is in, and the organization's annual sales volume. The employee in the above example works for a privately owned company; if the company were publicly traded, that would be an important point to state instead.

Remember a resume is a snap shot of your career, not an encyclopedia.

In some cases, you would replace dollar volume with other defining characteristics: number of members served if it's a nonprofit or professional association, size of the workforce either at that location or globally, or other defining information. If your company is relatively unknown, but provides a unique product or service, or has won prestigious awards or recognition in its field, put that in the parenthetical for that employer.

3. Emphasize the last 10 years of work experience and credentials.

Why? That's generally all employers care about. They want to hire people who are handling or have carried out a similar function within the past several years. If you did similar work to the function that they are hiring for now roughly 18 years ago, most employers won't be overly impressed. After all, they generally hope to find someone who has either a proven track record, well-developed skills and/or is currently performing functions or roles close to the one for which they hiring.

If you are 20 years into your career and you headed up your organization's social committee in the early 1990s, it's time for that kind of content to get rooted out of the document. On the other hand, if you were employee of the year in 1991, it might still be worth leaving that fact in.

Remember: a resume is a snap shot of your career, not an encyclopedia. If you have been working since the late 1970s or before, or the early 1980s, it's strongly recommended that you do not list anything prior to 1990, or nearly 25 years ago, because it's no longer relevant. It will hurt more than help you. Likewise, do not include dates of graduation if they go back more than a quarter century. Age discrimination is an unfortunate reality of today's workplace.

4. Highlight your main accomplishments and be sure to include those that were measurable in some way

Here's where the rubber meets the road. What function or activity did you perform in your job and what were the bottom line results in terms of any of the following? 1) growth in revenues for your project or assignment; 2) money saved or efficiencies achieved through your efforts; 3) awards won or recognition achieved.

"It's strongly recommended that you do not list anything prior to 1990...because it's no longer relevant. It will hurt you more than help you.

There may be other end results or outcomes from your work, perhaps most positively signified by your either getting promoted or taking on a more expansive role. Someone performing a function previously done by two or three professionals can state that in their work experience. If your role in a company has led to any of the above, you should be stating that wherever you can.

5. Your resume should show a progression of working at more advanced levels in course of your career.

Over time, most of us hope to perform at a higher level, contributing more, taking on added responsibility, etc. Your resume should underscore that type of progression. If you have been running projects or driving the strategy or plans for new initiatives, or in any way quarterbacking certain functions or projects at your job, this needs to stand out in your experience. The resume that shows you have been doing the exact same functions, with no growth or changes in responsibility, will be unlikely to open up many doors unless the job you are applying for is extremely mechanical and cookie cutter in nature.

Edtior’s note: At least once a month, this edition of will continue to focus on the many nuances of developing resumes, to ensure that you maximize your chances of getting in the door.