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Resumes: Just the facts, please

By Claire Bush, Careerbuilder, Arizona Republic, March 26, 2006

Job seekers, take note: Accuracy counts when creating a resume.

A report released in 2005 by InfoLink Screening Services, the nation's leading provider of employment background checks, said that 14 percent of employees lied about education on their resumes.

Last month, the Resume Writers Council of Arizona sponsored a human-resources forum with representatives from state agencies, federal government, private corporations and executive recruiters to discuss hiring practices.

"Every hiring manager on the panel reported that the industries they represent use background checks as a normal part of the hiring process," said Kathy Sweeney, a conference attendee and certified professional resume writer and owner of the Write Resume in Phoenix.

Today's hiring managers quickly can access information online, too. Researching a potential hire with the use of Internet search engines means that misrepresented information about education or job history most likely will be discovered.

Because few job candidates have perfect educational or employment backgrounds, the secret to creating an accurate and powerful resume lies in accentuating strengths, said Barbara Urlaub, owner of AAA Professional Resume Service in Phoenix.

"Everyone's work history is special, just as each person is special. The purpose of a resume is to reflect an individual's uniqueness in the best possible way," she said.

Here are several ideas from career experts for fixing typical trouble spots in a resume:

Incomplete education. One of the biggest sticking points on a resume can be lack of a college degree, or a haphazard accumulation of college credits that led nowhere. A sketchy educational background can send up a red flag to potential employers that the job candidate lacks perseverance.

In this case, "don't list your high school diploma," Urlaub said. "Instead, stress what special skills or attributes you have to offer."

Sweeney said that if a traditional two- or four-year diploma wasn't received, consider including specialized coursework completed instead. "Focus on industry-related training or online courses completed," she said.

Employment gaps. A job seeker may have legitimate reasons for lengthy gaps in paying employment. Staying home to care for children, nursing an elderly relative or attending school are acceptable.

One way to portray these gaps in the most favorable light is to select one or two skills gleaned during this time, and in a few sentences, show where this will add value to your potential as an employee. New mothers must learn time management. Holding down a full courseload teaches discipline. Caring for an ailing family member signals a take-charge individual who can accept responsibility.

"A stay-at-home mom, for instance, could focus on her work experience prior to raising children, then stress the skills she has learned from adapting to her new household duties," Urlaub said.

Volunteer work, church and civic duties all count toward acquiring skill sets, too. Organizing a church fund drive, leading a Brownie troop or forming a neighborhood recycling club are valid accomplishments that can be listed.

Age. Many employees at retirement age are anything but ready for the rocking chair. Some are on their third, fourth or even fifth careers.

Job seekers with decades of experience should consider carefully how to convey that information.

"When I'm creating a resume for an executive, we normally go back 20 years," Sweeney said.

Confusing job titles. "Many employers, particularly large corporations, assign titles that don't accurately reflect duties involved," Sweeney said. If a job title is longer than six or seven words, or is vague sounding, chances are it will be hard for the potential employer to figure out what you did.

Sweeney cites the case of a resume prepared for a loan processor. "Her job was to expedite paperwork so that loans could get funded. However, her employer, a financial institution, gave her the title of Home Specialist II. The challenge was to present her with an accurate title that reflected her job duties."

Sweeney listed the job as loan processor, and in the same line inserted the proper job title.

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