Resume tips: you're not unemployed, you're unwaged

For years, I didn't have a resume. I figured I didn't need one. I work for myself, out of my home, writing mostly magazine articles. Every so often, however, I've lived vicariously through one of my best friends, who moves to a new job every three or four years on average. He would spend hours, studying every word, and trying to make his resume look just right, perfecting the size and type of his font, making sure the spacing was perfect. I really thought he was worrying a little too much. I still do.

But then a couple years ago, I updated my own resume. I had started writing for the occasional company or corporation, and somebody would ask for it. It just seemed like a good idea, and suddenly, I started to see my friend's point of view and remembered why I had stopped updating my own.

It's hard. What do you say on your resume? You don't want to be too modest and minimize your accomplishments, but you probably don't want to go overboard either. In my early 20s, when my resume was thin, I had "transportation food engineer" as one of my occupations, hoping that I wouldn't have to explain that I actually meant "waiter."

And I understand why, during the primary season, Hillary Clinton has talked about her "35 years of experience," Barack Obama often refers to growing up as a kid overseas in Indonesia and John McCain feels that being a former prisoner of war might have made him more informed on issues of war and torture. Our lives, even if it isn't career related, do influence how we perform our work.

But I know I'm not the only one who has thought about these issues. According to the Department of Labor, the economy is estimated to have lost 63,000 jobs last month. And so I asked Sanjay Sathe for some tips on writing a resume. He knows something about it. He's the CEO of, an executive-level job site that specializes in finding people positions that pay $100,000 or more. So if you're worried about your resume, and wondering how it should look, here's what Sathe suggests:

1) Don't use "power words" as a crutch. Some people, says Sathe, go the route of sprinkling in action verbs throughout their resume, and while that's good, you don't want to do it indiscriminately. "Too many people go too far with words like optimized, enhanced, revitalized and solidified," says Sathe. "You'll only succeed in making the hiring manager's eyes glaze over."

2) Start with a brief, compelling description of yourself. Every resume should have it, insists Sathe, and it's "the perfect place to establish your personal brand -- to communicate why you stand out. If you're a sales executive, maybe you're a "sales turnaround expert" who's 'tough-minded' and "thrives under pressure," but is still "popular for having an even hand."

3) Reinforce your personal brand throughout your resume. If you start off with a compelling description that paints you as a problem-solver, or an amazing salesperson or an incompetent jerk who will hog all of your co-worker's credit (well, maybe that's being a little too honest), you should really make sure that you reinforce that idea when you describe your past accomplishments. "Otherwise, it just muddies the picture of yourself you're trying to create," says Sathe.

4) Focus on accomplishments, not responsibilities. "Responsibilities are generic; accomplishments are personal," asserts Sathe. Instead of saying that you managed a 12-person department, Sathe recommends that you write that you led a 12-person team to increase output by 50%.

5) Connect your personal brand directly to the job you're applying for with your cover letter. But Sathe cautions that you should do a little homework. Some employers are stodgy. Others promote the idea of not just Casual Fridays, but Casual Mondays. If you want to show that you're creative, Sathe says, find a unique way of demonstrating that, without leaving the impression that you're some wild person who is going to turn a conservative corporate culture upside down.

Man, he's good. I'm glad I've never had to compete for a job with him.

Geoff Williams is a business journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale). His first real job was guessing ages, weights and months of birth at an amusement park, or as he used to say on his resume, prognosticator.

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