Avoid common résumé traps

Job hunters in the IT industry need résumés that work as fast as the market moves.

"You have the top 5in of your résumé and the first five seconds it's read to catch the eye of a manager, or the résumé goes into the 'no' or 'maybe' pile," says Tim Coxen, an IT recruiter.

But while you're writing that eye-catching résumé, make sure to avoid some potentially fatal mistakes, say recruiters, hiring managers, and authors of résumé-writing books.

Don't make a single grammar or spelling mistake. Such errors are not uncommon in casual writing, but allowing them in a résumé will brand you as a person who overlooks details. Get someone else to review your résumé and catch these small but deadly mistakes.

"If a person can't spell correctly, they give the impression of not being careful. And in technical things, you must be careful," says Yana Parker, author of The Damn Good Résumé Guide.

Don't make your résumé too long or too short. For most positions above entry level, aim for about a two-page résumé.

"When I had to read six dozen résumés, the last thing I wanted was 10-page résumés," says Olimpia Borys, a network project manager who has seen many résumés in her career. "But a page or less is definitely a problem - typically those are people just trying to break into a field."

Don't fail to sell yourself at the beginning of the résumé.

"With a three- or four-line profile at the beginning of your résumé, you can unify all the major points in one opening section," says Timothy Haft, author of Trashproof Résumés. "Give the reader a very complete capsule description, like a trailer for a movie, of the basic qualifications you bring to the table. Psychologically, this says to the reader that this person has credibility, has experience."

Don't make your résumé too generic. Explain exactly how you've contributed to your company's success, and don't be afraid to send different versions of your résumé for different types of positions.

"The thing I look for in a résumé is the wording - if the applicant describes what his or her company produces, I question what part he or she had in it," says recruiter Bob McDowell.

Don't waste your time applying for the wrong job. Borys says she once advertised for a LAN administrator and got résumés for data-entry, IS-management, and application-development positions.

"I discarded those résumés immediately," Borys says. "Even if I might need an application developer six months later, the person who sent that résumé would probably already have found a job or might not have the skills I need."

Don't appear arrogant. "Write as if you were someone else - don't use the word 'I' in your résumé," says recruiter Edgar Saadi.

In following this advice, don't downplay your accomplishments. For example, don't understate your contributions to a group project.

Don't lie. However, don't be afraid to use the strongest language that honesty will allow.

"I tell people to be very honest with a résumé," Coxen says. "At the same time, I tell them they're going up against people who may not be as honest. So they need to make the skill sets they have seem bigger and better than the rest."

Scanners complicate process

The trend towards scanning résumés requires applicants to use different strategies. A résumé that will be scanned can be longer than an average résumé, and it should include every buzzword and acronym related to the job you're seeking. Stick with fonts a scanner can read, such as Times Roman, and avoid questionable typefaces, such as italics.

"I probably would send two copies of my résumé - one beautifully formatted for a human being and one for scanning with no fanciness to it," says Yana Parker, author of The Damn Good Résumé Guide.

Writing skills for a successful job huntBy Renee Gotcher Adams Cover Letter Almanac and DiskAdams Media; 735 pages; ISBN: 1-55850-619-5; $US 19.95.

Writing cover letters can be intimidating, and a 700-page book on the subject may seem even more so. However, Adams Media has done a great job of collecting valuable guidelines in a few quick-read chapters. Most of the book offers sample letters that illustrate everything from cold-contact letters to thank-you, acceptance, and rejection letters. The accompanying Windows software makes first drafts a breeze by generating a handful of customisable form letters based on the text fields you've filled in. The only thing I missed was more strategies for making your cover letter stand out. Aside from this, the duo provides a solid foundation for basic career-related letter writing. This title may be difficult to get in Australia - try using an online bookstore like (, which has it in stock.

Cover Letters for Dummies

By Joyce Lain Kennedy;

IDG Books Worldwide (an ARN affiliate); 238 pages; ISBN: 1-56884-395-X, $24.95.

If you're willing to spend a little time sprucing up your cover letters, this book will help you learn how. Joyce Lain Kennedy dissects cover-letter elements to offer detailed and innovative strategies for succeeding from the ground up.

The sample cover letters aren't as extensive as those in other books, and you won't be able to just skim one chapter and start pounding out great letters.

But if you want to develop writing skills that you can use throughout your career, the time you spend with this book will be well worth the effort.