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Best Foot Forward 

Your resume is your first step into a new job. Here are a few tips to avoid making it a pratfall.

When trying to earn the coveted second glance from that special someone, you know the stakes at hand. You want to put your best foot forward, and you know to pay attention to details such as appearance and demeanor. You make certain that everything presents you in the best possible light.

So why would you do anything less with your resume?

The job search can be stressful, time-consuming and unpredictable, due in part to the fact that there are so many factors beyond your control, such as whether the company you solicit is hiring, and the qualifications of those competing for the job against you. However, one factor in your complete control is your resume.

Employment experts recognize that, in a tight and competitive market, the resume is the foot-in-the-door that will help land the job you seek. They advise to distinguish yourself with specifics, especially in categories of education, on-the-job training, and with numbers. And for Pete's sake, don't send a resume with any typos.

A particular resume with an especially embarrassing typo is one of the many resume horror stories seen by Grant E. Cooper, president of Strategic Resumes, a New Orleans business specializing in preparing resumes.

"We had a guy come in to work with us that had been having a hard time finding a job, and his last job was that of shift supervisor," Cooper says. "Well, his typo was leaving out the 'f' in 'shift supervisor,' which was in bold at the top of his resume -- the first thing companies saw that read his title. Needless to say, with a job description like that, he was having a tough time."

Besides ridding clients of typos -- which Cooper calls "automatic disqualifiers" -- Strategic Resumes helps prepare resumes for a wide variety of professions. Cooper has recently helped develop resumes for a National Football League player trying to land a broadcasting job, and an accomplished chef with credentials that included cooking a meal for President George W. Bush. What binds such diverse job-seekers together is the need to have a resume that shines.

"If your resume isn't sharp, if it isn't detailed, they won't look twice," Cooper warns. "These days, employers want details and specific accomplishments, and they want to see it in specific terms. I can't stress enough to be as specific as possible, describe duties in every detail.

"For example, any way that you can put numbers into your resume, it helps, regardless of the intrinsic value of those numbers. For example, a warehouse worker shouldn't just limit themselves to the description of 'warehouse worker.' Add details, add numbers. State that it was a 25,000-square-foot warehouse, with 18 loading bays, serving 110 grocery outlets. It gives credibility. Or if you're in sales, don't just say you increased sales, but add that you increased sales by 20 percent, or you recruited 30 new clients. Numbers are easier to read, too. Prepare your resume so it's not just words, words, words."

Cooper adds that the oft-stated notion that a resume must be limited to one page "is very old-fashioned." He says that the more details the better, not just in areas of education and on-the-job training that pertain to a specific job, but also your general background. These days, well-rounded employees are what companies demand.

"Resumes are way more important than they used to be," Cooper says. "In the old days, you would meet somebody, and the resume was just a formality. If you were persistent enough, you would get a chance. Now, if you don't look good on paper, they don't want to waste their time interviewing you."

Darnell Shuart, president of the New Orleans-based staffing agency Shuart and Associations, agrees -- from an employers' standpoint -- with much of Cooper's approach.

"Generally speaking, I like to see detail on what that makes that candidate stand out as compared to someone else," Shuart says. "If they have the same job title, or graduated from the same law school, what sets them apart? It's accomplishments and awards."

Shuart agrees that typos are the most common, and lethal, mistakes, and that the one-page limit on resumes is limiting. She adds a few specifics that make resumes stand out for her: Large text that makes the resume easier to read, and top billing for detailed job skills. Shuart's rule of thumb: the simpler the better

But Shuart, who reviews countless resumes, says structuring your resume to a specific job is another necessary tactic.

"You have to target your resume to your audience, to let them know you're not so desperate you're answering every want ad in the Sunday paper," she advises. "If you're not qualified, don't apply, but don't shy from something new. You may not have the specific skills the job requires, but you do have skills, and it's most important to let them know that."

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