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The Best Thing I Did For My Resume

Give your cookie-cutter resume the fresh twist it needs

- August 30, 2011

By now, the rules of creating a great resume are established and well-known, but if everyone follows the same advice, how will your resume stand out?

Below, 10 professionals and one student share the unique, creative, and successful approaches they took to elevating their resumes.

Follow their leads at your own risk -- and possibly your own gain.

That Special Something
Julia Zangwill says the resume she sent to TV Land Digital for a designer position did not have a typical header. Instead, it led with this: WHAT MAKES ME SPECIAL (besides what my grandma would say) by Julia Zangwill.

It was a creative (and gutsy) move, but one that paid off. "The headline in Julia's resume made it stand out from the others I was reviewing at the time; it showed a creativity and sense of humor that is important in our business," says Jennifer Larkin, TV Land Digital senior director of content & operations. "And I still remember it three years later!"

Zangwill eventually got the interview and the job (though her grandma probably expected as much all along).

An Internship Worth Talking About
While most people drop internships from their resumes once they've had a few real jobs, Jacki Garfinkel, manager of brand activation at iVillage, kept one in there: an internship with the Montel Williams show.

"I get asked about it on every single interview," says Garfinkel. "I've even been told I was brought in for the interview strictly because of the Montel mention."

It makes me wonder how effective a Montel Williams show reference works on Montel Williams' resume.

Sharing Your Handiwork
Even with experience from Nickelodeon and Scholastic on his resume, Jed Weissberg, general manager for AOL Kids, Parents & Health, still makes room for another professional job: puppetry. "People are intrigued by it, and it's almost always the first thing they ask about," says Weissberg. And when there's an emergency in the office, who doesn't start looking for the nearest puppeteer?

"I had been applying for marketing positions and, when they researched my band and saw how much brand exposure we had and how successful our marketing was, I quickly stood out."

Music to Their Ears
Simon Tam, a former marketing manager for Oregon's "I Have a Dream" Foundation, put his dance rock band The Slants on his resume not to show off his musical chops, but to emphasize his marketing skills.

"I had been applying for marketing positions and, when they researched my band and saw how much brand exposure we had and how successful our marketing was, I quickly stood out," Tam says.

What Is… a Conversation Starter?
Bonnie Zaben, COO of executive search firm AC Lion, included experience as a Jeopardy! contestant on her resume.

"Lots of interviewers noticed and asked me about it," says Zaben. "Most were friendly conversations about the experience, the selection process, and Alex Trebek's personality -- it was a great conversation starter."

But it also gave Zaben insight into her interviewers. One intrigued potential employer spent most of the interview aggressively quizzing her, leaving Zaben with an important impression.

"If this is how he conducts his interviews, then this is not someone I want to work with. So, I waited until the 30-minute mark, made my excuses and never looked back."

Just Who Do You Think QR?
Grace Bello, an interactive content manager with the New York City Economic Development Corporation, placed a QR code on her resume that links to her portfolio. It not only demonstrated her awareness of digital marketing tools, but inspired some on-the-spot brainstorming.

"During my interview, the QR code sparked a discussion [with the director of interactive marketing] about how city government could implement QR codes in order to better serve the public," Bello says. "I think it had a role in branding me as someone who really understood online marketing, and ultimately helped me net a job that I just started, but so far really enjoy."

Putting Your Best Numbers Forward
Nathan Hirst, a global marketing analyst with blender-maker BlendTec, realized after six months of job searching that prospective employers valued statements of impact over job descriptions.

"So, instead of putting something generic like 'managed PPC accounts,' I put things like 'Increased PPC ROI by 125 percent,'" explains Hirst, who says the change "made all the difference" in his job search, though there’s no exact percentage on that yet.

"When in doubt, humor always works!"

Playing with Fire
Teague Hopkins, who runs a Web strategy group under his own name, says the one job he made sure to put on his resume was the hottest one he had: running a fire-dancing troupe.

"Without fail, I was asked about fire dancing in every single interview," Hopkins says. "It was a great way to showcase my individuality and give me an entrance to talk about my leadership experiences." No wonder companies warmed up to him.

Objectively Speaking
Wayne State University information officer Rasheda Williams says the best thing she did to her resume was not an addition, but an omission: dumping the "objective."

"To me, listing an objective is pointless and it seems to limit the possibilities of you actually being considered," Williams says. "If you're applying for a position, then it's assumed that your objective is to get the position!"

Williams instead uses that area to list her qualifications, which gave her "bragging rights and another chance to really shine.”

Humor Me
When Rebecca Maguire transitioned from stay-at-home mom to PR professional, she didn’t run away from her eight years of domestic work; she used it to showcase her humor -- and some equivalent experience at the same time.

Maguire's resume roles include "head of household management," "director of preschool education," CFO, head chef, housekeeper, chauffeur, nurse, zookeeper, gardener, personal shopper, stylist, groomer, social secretary and party planner.

"This ultimately led to the landing of my dream job," Maguire says, "and I now run my own firm. When in doubt, humor always works!"

Amongst Your Peers
An honors junior at Park University, Andi Enns has no fewer than six internships under her belt. The one thing that makes her resume stand out, she says, is a section called "peer review." The section contains the four most popular words her classmates suggested when she asked them to describe her. In Andi's case, the section reads "Determined. Intelligent. Strong. Entertaining."

"I've had four interviews in the last few weeks for marketing and design positions, and every interviewer mentioned it," Andi says. "Two of the interviews led to offers." –- Which leads us to think Andi could perhaps add one more word: Successful.

NEXT >> AvantGuild4 Things Every Resume Should Have

Joel Schwartzberg is an Internet executive, instructor, and author of The 40-Year-Old Version, a collection of personal essays.

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