Writing Effective Resumes

Writing a resume can intimidate anyone. How should I start? What should I write? What points should I include? What format should I use? These are just a few of the questions that can bother anyone. But if you keep a few things in mind, you’ll see that it’s not really that daunting a task.

Employers receive hundreds of resumes, so the main thing to keep in mind is to try and make your resume stand out and grab the employer’s attention at first glance. To be able to do this, it should be visually pleasing as well as well written. There are no set rules to writing a good resume, nor are two resumes ever alike. They cannot be, because each resume is structured around a particular job. The only thing all resumes should be is that they should all be as effective as possible, because remember – a resume is supposed to be a selling tool. The more effectively it is written the better your chances of being selected. For a resume to be really effective, tailor it around the particular job that you are applying for, and address the employer’s requirements. So the more you know about the job and the employer, the better you can tailor your resume for that position.

A good resume should include all of the following:

  • Heading – includes your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address.
  • Objective – tells the employer the sort of work you’re hoping to do. The rest should be structured around this objective.
  • Education – tells employers what you’ve learned.
  • Experience – this should be built around the employer’s requirements.
  • Skills and accomplishments – this includes special skills and accomplishments like fluency in a foreign language, proficiency in specific computer programs, leadership experience, a listing of honors and awards, activities that relate to the job, etc.

The contents given above should be written clearly keeping the following points in mind:

  • Keep it free of grammatical and spelling errors.
  • Use bullets and short sentences.
  • Use action words to make the resume stand out.
  • Highlight your strengths, especially those that the employer is looking for
  • Be positive and leave off negative and irrelevant information.
  • Be professional in tone, otherwise you won’t be taken seriously.

There are two basic types of resumes – chronological and functional.

The chronological format highlights your job titles, places of employment, and dates of tenure by presenting them as headings under which your achievements are listed. This format is used when you are staying in the same field, your work history shows growth, your current position is one you are proud of, and there are no gaps in your work history.

The functional format presents your experience under skill headings, so you can list your accomplishments by impact rather than by chronology. In this format, your work history is listed very concisely in a section separate from your achievements. This format is used when you change careers, you need to emphasize skills or experiences, your most recent position is not impressive, or your job titles don’t accurately reflect the level of responsibility you had.

Sometimes the two formats are combined to give what is called a ‘combination’ format.

Which format to use depends on your particular situation.

To get a better idea of what good and effective resumes look like, you may refer to these Sample Resumes.

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Business E-mail Etiquette – 3

Business e-mails are something that almost all of us have to write some time or the other – whether we’re students, job seekers, business executives, or just about anyone else. Even stay-at-homes need to write them sometimes. How crucial well written e-mails are we have already discussed in our previous posts. The heading fields were discussed in Part 1 and the body in Part 2. Now here are some other points that have to be kept in mind in order to produce a well written and well formatted business e-mail:

1. Make it personal: A personal touch to the business e-mail always proves to be more effective. Custom the content according to the person you are writing to. In other words, keep the personal touch only as far as you know the person, don’t take it too far. Try and avoid auto replies, they’re too “mechanical”.

2. Answer swiftly: Reply to e-mails as soon as possible, within 24 hours if possible. If for some reason you cannot reply immediately, then write to them saying that you have received their e-mail and will get back to them as soon as possible.  This shows your efficiency and professionalism.

3. Keep the message thread:  It is better to hit the reply button and keep the original message rather than starting a new mail.  A person very often receives several e-mails a day and it becomes difficult to remember everything. A thread works as a reminder of what the e-mail is about.

4. Be polite: This is very important. You wouldn’t want to give the impression of being rude or disrespectful. So, be careful in the choice of words and the tone of your language. Never use all capitals, all capitals means you’re shouting.

5. Don’t use abbreviations and emoticons: The use of abbreviations and emoticons in business e-mails is considered inappropriate. Besides, you can never be sure whether the person you’re writing to understands the abbreviations or not. Same goes for emoticons, like a smiley. The recipient may wonder why it’s there, which in turn may lead to misunderstandings.

6. Avoid the use of rich text or HTML: Remember, not all e-mail clients read rich text or HTML. Also, many offices keep their e-mail settings to plain text. So, if you send them in rich text or HTML, they might not be able to read your message, or they will get it as a .txt attachment.

7. Be careful with attachments: We all know how attachments can carry viruses, so very often recipients don’t even open them. So, if you do need to send an attachment, ask the recipient first if it’s ok to send it. If an attachment is a short one, it is best to copy paste it into the e-mail body itself.

8. Use the high priority option sparingly: Use the high priority option only when your message is urgent. Its overuse will lose its function, and you may also come across as being aggressive.

9. Add disclaimers:  Disclaimers are very important. They protect you and your company from liability. So, always have disclaimers at the end of your messages.

10. Re-read before sending: Always re-read what you have written in the e-mail before sending it. Re-read through the eyes of the recipient – this not only corrects grammar, spelling and punctuation errors, but also avoids misunderstandings and inappropriate use of words or comments.

All these points may seem trivial, but go a long way in producing effective and professional e-mails, which in turn give a good impression of you as a business person.

Have I mentioned everything here, or have I missed anything? Or do you disagree with any of the given points? Please share your thoughts here so others may also benefit.

Business E-mail Etiquette – 1

Business E-mail Etiquette – 2

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Business E-mail Etiquette – 2

In the first part of Business E-mail Etiquette, we discussed the importance of well written and well formatted business e-mails. It’s these e-mails that give the first impression of you as a business person. We also mentioned that though there are no rules as such on how to write business e-mails, there are certain etiquettes that need to be followed. Last time we discussed the etiquette basics for header fields. This time we will discuss the etiquette basics for the body of the e-mail.

Etiquette basics for the body of the e-mail:

1. Salutations: How to write the salutation depends much on the situation and whether or not you know the person you are writing to. If you know the person, the salutation will be just as you would address him/her in person – ‘Dear’ followed by the first name if that’s how you address him/her, or ‘Dear’ followed by the title Mr., Mrs., Ms, or Miss and the last name. If you don’t know the person, use the normal salutation that you would in a business letter – ‘Dear’ followed by the title Mr., Mrs., Ms, or Miss and the last name. Sometimes you don’t know the name of the person you are writing to; in that case, try and find it out and use it in the salutation. If you can’t find it out, then use ‘Dear’ followed by the position/title of the person – for example, ‘Dear Principal’ or ‘Dear Manager’.

2. Give some background: Don’t assume the recipient to know why you are writing. Always start your e-mail by giving some background information.

3. Keep it concise: When you come to the actual message of the e-mail, come straight to the point and only say what you have to say. In other words, keep it brief and concise. Business persons don’t have the time to read unnecessary things, nor to scroll down looking for the information they want. So, keep your e-mail only as long as it needs to be. If your e-mail is a reply, then be sure to answer all the questions that need to be answered. If don’t do that, it will only mean more e-mails back and forth, and as a result waste of time, or even loss of the client.

4. Give proper structure and layout: Structure and layout is just as important as the content of the e-mail to show your professionalism. Keep your sentences and paragraphs short; leave blank lines in between paragraphs; if you are making points, then number them; keep your language gender neutral; and be sure to use correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Always re-read what you have written before sending your e-mail. You wouldn’t want to regret sending an e-mail with errors, would you?

5. Signatures: Sign off your email the same way as you would a business letter – ‘Yours faithfully’ if you don’t know the person you’re writing to, ‘Yours sincerely’ if you know the person, ‘Best wishes’ or ‘Best regards’ if the person is a friend. Follow this by your name. But keep your signature file short – just your name, your position/title, your company name, phone number, and website link. Sometimes e-mail addresses and mailing addresses are also given, but they are not necessary because the e-mail address is already evident in the header, and no one really uses mailing addresses anymore.

Please feel free to add anything that I may have missed here.

(Some more tips follow in Part 3 of Business E-mail Etiquette)

Business E-mail Etiquette – 1

Business E-mail Etiquette – 3

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Business E-mail Etiquette – 1

When it comes to writing business e-mails, you have to be very careful about how you write them as they are a reflection of you as a business person. Business e-mails are a chance for you to make the right impression and to build trust and confidence. Well written and well formatted e-mails are also effective in conveying the right message. There are no “rules” as such on how to write good and effective e-mails, but there are certain etiquette guidelines that need to be followed in order for your e-mails to be effective.

I give below some etiquette basics to make your e-mails look professional and create a good impression. (Those of you who already know these, take them as reminders). It’s not possible to give all the tips here in one post, so I have divided them into 3 posts. Today is the first – header fields.

Here are the etiquette basics for header fields:

1. The ‘From’ field: Since it’s a business e-mail, decide on what you are going to fill in this field – your company’s name, your designation/title, or your name. Different companies have different rules and preferences, at other times it’s the content or purpose of the e-mail that decides on the ‘From’ of the e-mail. So, use your discretion when filling out this field.

2. The ‘To’, ‘Cc’, and ‘BCc’ fields:  Use your discretion in filling out these fields. Write the name of the person you would like a response from in the ‘To’ field; the name/names of the person/persons you would like the contents of the e-mail known to in the ‘Cc’ field; and the name/names of the person/persons you would like to make the contents of the e-mail known to, and yet would not want to disclose their names or e-mail addresses to the others. The ‘BCc’ is more of a privacy issue, so do be very careful on how you use it. If people from whom you have hidden the e-mails get to know about it, they might not like it since it’s similar to talking behind their backs. At other times, people would prefer it this way in order not to have their e-mail addresses hidden. It’s a very delicate situation – hence, the care in the use of ‘BCc’.

3. The Subject field: This is a very important field since it is this that determines whether your e-mail will be opened or not. The subject should make it clear to the recipient as to what exactly is contained in the e-mail. In other words, it should “summarize” the contents of the e-mail in just a few words – as short as possible. A good subject has another advantage – both to the sender and the recipient. It makes it easy to organize the e-mails in different files and folders, and later refer to them when there is the need. A word of caution: Avoid all caps, all small case, or typos in your subject, otherwise there’s the risk of the e-mail being considered spam. Also, never leave the subject field empty – it’s again taken to be spam.

Do write in if I have missed a point worth mentioning here.

Business E-mail Etiquette – 2

Business E-mail Etiquette – 3

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Avoid the Use Clichés

So many blog posts and articles have been written about the overuse of clichés and why they should be avoided. Even writing and journalism courses give the same advice – ‘Avoid the use of clichés. They are stale and boring. Writers are supposed to be creative, say what you have to say differently’. Still we see their use everywhere. Their power is such that no matter how hard we try, they seem to creep up through whichever way they can. The reason for this may be that we are so used to hearing them, that they inadvertently enter our writing; or they are used for their brevity and precision – they say so much in so few words. Whatever the reason, the rule remains – avoid the use of clichés when writing, especially in business writing. An executive who uses these terms is not only regarded as a bad leader, but a non-creative force as well. The impression is – if you cannot be creative with words, you cannot be creative in business.

Some of the most common clichés used in business are:

  • at the end of the day
  • win-win situation
  • bottom line
  • thinking outside the box
  • wealth of experience
  • low hanging fruit
  • in a nutshell
  • put all the eggs in one basket
  • giving 100%
  • strike while the iron is hot
  • no brainer
  • turn-key solution
  • beat a dead horse
  • everything from soup to nuts
  • leaps and bounds

The list is endless.

Besides sounding boring, clichés have a disadvantage, too. In today’s world, when business has gone global and letters and e-mails have to be written to foreign countries, there are chances of these terms not being understood.  Unless the person reading the clichés is fluent in English and understands the implied meanings, it is best not to use them. But how can you tell if the person will understand them? You can’t. So, this means – don’t use clichés.

According to a recent research, the most used business cliché is “at the end of the day”. Why do you think this is the most used? Do you think some other term should have topped the list? If so, which one?

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Resume versus Curriculum Vitae

There is often confusion between the words resume and curriculum vitae or CV in short. What exactly is the difference, or similarity, between a resume and a curriculum vitae?

The main difference is in the use of the English language. In American English, used mainly in the U.S., Canada, and the Latin countries, a resume (from French meaning “summary”) is a document containing a summary of your job experience and education, usually for the purpose of obtaining an interview for a job. A resume is usually short – no more than one or two pages; and since it is directed to a particular position, it is precise and only relevant information is given. (There are different views regarding the length of a resume.)

Curriculum Vitae (from Latin meaning “course of life”) or CV, on the other hand, is used in two different forms:

1. In British English, a Curriculum Vitae (or CV) is the exact same thing as a resume is in American English. This form is used mainly in the U.K., the Commonwealth countries, and Europe.

2. In American English, a Curriculum Vitae (or CV) has a different connotation. It is a longer document than a resume, and includes a comprehensive listing of professional history including every term of employment, academic credential, publication, contribution or significant achievement. It is used for applying to graduate or professional programs, or when promoting oneself within professional and academic fields. These may be several pages in length, sometimes up to 20 or more.

Have you, or any one you know, been confused by these terms?

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Business Letter Writing

True, electronic mails are slowly taking over hand-written letters (ref: video below). This is indeed sad, because letters written by hand, especially the personal ones, have (or is it had?) their own charm… a personal touch, the touch of hands, both of the writer and the reader. But I don’t think e-mails can completely take over letter writing. Letters will remain, especially formal or business letters. These still are, and will, remain important; though, of course, they are not written by hand anymore, but are typed on the computer and then printed out. Still, they are letters, and are written and used daily in all offices and homes.

Writing business letters is an art in itself. Business letters have to be written effectively in order to convey the right message. And in order to be effective, they have to be well written in the proper format. And for that, certain guidelines have to be followed  —

A business letter should be aimed at the reader’s needs. What are the reader’s needs? They are relevant information presented in an easy-to-understand style. So make your letter clear, helpful, and as friendly as the topic allows. The key principles of business letter writing are:

  • Keep it short: Cut useless words, needless information, and stale phrases.
  • Keep it simple: Use familiar words, short sentences and paragraphs, and a simple conversational style.
  • Keep it strong: Start subject matter in the first paragraph, use concrete words and examples, and do not stray from the subject.
  • Keep it sincere: Write as if you were talking to the reader, and be as friendly as possible.

Use active verbs rather than passive verbs. Passive verbs are long-winded, ambiguous and impersonal. Active verbs are simpler, less formal, and more precise.

The start:

Dear Sir or Madam (if you don’t know who you are writing to)

Dear Mr, Mrs, Miss or Ms (use if you know who you are writing to, and have a formal relationship with)

The finish:

Yours faithfully (if you don’t know the name of the person you’re writing to)

Yours sincerely or Yours truly (if you know the name of the person you’re writing to)

Best wishes or Best regards, (if the person is a close business contact or friend)

A business letter may be written in different formats, depending on the situation.

Look at the different formats of business letters here.

Samples of written business letters may be seen here.

So, what do you think? Is letter writing a dying art?

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