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Career Coach: Résumés -- The Five Worst Mistakes You Can Make

In this month's column, Pamela Kleibrink Thompson provides some tips on creating the all-important résumé.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson.

Books have been written on résumés, but people still seem to have a hard time understanding how to create one, perhaps because they don't understand that a résumé is a marketing tool. It should sell you. The purpose of the résumé is to get you an interview with someone who can hire you.

Here are the top five mistakes people make when creating a résumé:

1. Not understanding who the résumé is for.

Keep the employer in mind when developing your résumé. Employers only care about what you can do for them. Answer the question: How can you benefit the company?

The employer is busy, so keep your résumé to one page. If it must be multiple pages, make sure your contact info is on every page.

State your qualifications in terms stated in the ad or job description. For example, if the ad says "experience supervising animators," don't say "managed a team of artists." Say "supervised animators." Don't assume that the employer will read between the lines or interpret your résumé.

Study the job description and make your résumé match the job description closely, so that you are the answer to what the employer needs.

Focus on the job you want and create a résumé that reflects how your skills and experience will fit that role.

2. Not supplying the info the employer needs.

The number one problem with résumés is the lack of contact information. Why bother giving an employer anything, if you don't provide easy ways to reach you?

Years ago I got a résumé from someone attending SIGGRAPH who had a fantastic résumé -- it was full of credits and information about what he did on various projects. It was six pages long, but lacked some vital information -- his contact info. It had his mailing address and I sent him a letter asking for his email address and phone number. Most employers won't go to this much trouble.

Perhaps you remembered to include your contact info, but decided to improve your résumé by adding artwork or a grayscale background right behind the contact information, so that the artwork obscures the info when the résumé is copied. Don't add a grayscale background -- it may look great in the original, but it will interfere with the information on your résumé when it is copied.

After doing the copy test, you'll find those beautiful graphics in the background are now some of the ugliest stuff you've seen on paper and, what's more, you can no longer read your email address or phone number or name, which looked so crisp in front of the graphic on the original. Graphics or artwork on a grayscale behind the type don't copy or scan well.

3. Making the employer work to get the information.

Don't bury your skills in gigantic paragraphs of type. Use bullet points and lists to highlight your skills and knowledge. Potential employers are interested in knowing what you know and what you can offer the company.

Be specific. Don't say "a variety of software packages." List the specific software you use and include the version too -- "Maya 7.0" not just "Maya."

Don't make the employer hunt for your contact info. One résumé posted at a SIGGRAPH career center laid out all the information in a spiral so you had to spin the résumé to read it. The contact info was in the center of the vortex. Don't make someone hunt for your phone number and email address. The best place for contact information is near the top, right below your name. The artist probably thought it was a cool idea. The employers did not, as they suffered dizziness from spinning the résumé to read it. A résumé is not the place to be creative.

Don't ask the employer to go to a web site to get your résumé and contact info. Remember that the employers are busy. Make it easy for them to contact you. Also, web sites are not reliable.

Don't challenge the reader with huge blocks of type. You don't want your résumé set aside to be viewed later.

A résumé must be easy to read. Use a legible type font where it is easy to distinguish a numeral "1" from the lower case letter "l" in a large enough size to be easily read (at least 10 point). Many companies scan résumés into computer databases, so select a font that won't confuse the computer.

The résumé is a marketing tool in your job search. The purpose is to get an interview with someone who can hire you.

4. Making the employer guess.

If your résumé shows a variety of jobs, make sure you have an objective at the top that indicates what specific job you're seeking.

Don't be vague.

Your objective should specify the job you want and sell your relevant qualities. For example: An entry-level position in production management at a company that values initiative, outstanding follow-through and efficiency.

Be clear about what you want. It's much easier for people to help you if you tell them you are looking for a job as a character designer for animation, than if you say you want any job in the entertainment field. Position yourself.

Make sure your résumé has details about what you did, including dates of projects/positions. Don't just list your credits -- Wizard of Oz, compositor. Describe what you did -- "composited scenes of witch melting, witch flying through the air."

Highlight your awards and special accomplishments. Don't forget internships and volunteer work related to the job you want. Remember, employers are interested in what you can do for them. They want to know your accomplishments and qualifications, not your job duties.

For example: Lighting TD: "Worked closely with lighting supervisor to streamline lighting pipeline, saving the company an estimated $75,000/year" will pique their interest more than "lit scenes on project X."

Mention your citizenship on your résumé. Visas are an issue that employers in the industry have to deal with, so your citizenship may make a difference to them.

5. Giving too much information.

Your résumé is not your life story. Include only the information that is relevant to an employer. If you have five years' experience in the computer graphics field, employers don't care that your first job was at a pizza parlor. Only list jobs that are relevant to the job you're pursuing.

Your résumé should list your experience in reverse chronological order (most recent job first). A friend of mine, who is a veteran animator, lists his in chronological order. You don't realize that he is an experienced animator when you first look at his résumé, because the first job listed is the first one he had, at a fast-food restaurant.

Remember, the employer is busy. Make it easy for him/her. Your résumé should tell who you are -- what you know (skills), what you've done (accomplishments), and what you want to do (objective or goal). Focus your résumé on the job you want. Review and update every six months, or when your information changes, and update your skills and accomplishments. Your résumé is a marketing tool. If your résumé doesn't work, neither will you.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a recruiter and career coach and has seen thousands of résumés. She will talk about résumés, portfolios and demo reels during her class at the SIGGRAPH conference in Los Angeles. Her class called "Get the Job You Want in Computer Graphics" will be on Tuesday, August 12, from 8:30 am-12:15 pm in Room 406AB. For personal career coaching, recruiting and speaking engagements, contact Pamela at