How to Enhance Your Resume Without Stretching the Truth

How to present your resume in a way that makes you stand out as an applicant--without having to lie.

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Finding a job is rarely easy, but for the millions of people who are currently unemployed, it seems nearly impossible. Saving money is a luxury many can no longer afford because they can hardly keep up with day-to-day expenses.

Are you beginning to think your job hunting efforts are hopeless? Does submitting your resume online feel like sending it into a black hole? When your livelihood is on the line, it might be tempting to resort to questionable tactics to gain an edge over the competition. Maybe you're considering embellishing your resume to make yourself a more attractive candidate.

You should know that lying to get a job is just about guaranteed to backfire, big time. Whether it's your experience, education or abilities, stretching the truth is always a bad idea. It is possible, however, to make your resume stand out as an applicant and without having to lie--it's all about how you present the information.

1. Axe the objective and reference sections. The simple act of submitting your resume makes your objective very clear: You want the job. Resumes should be kept as concise as possible, and writing an objective wastes prime real estate on the page. If you do feel like stating an objective, save it for your cover letter.

The same is true when you end the page with "References available upon request." Yes, let's hope they are. It's much more helpful to bring along a separate page with references and contact information already listed, so that in the case your interview goes well, you can provide it on the spot. (Here are some other old-fashioned resume elements and outdated job-search advice to ignore.)

2. Place keywords strategically. Using meaningless business buzzwords to describe yourself does the opposite of make you stand out. Instead, your resume blends in with the hundreds of others characterizing "go-getters" with "can-do" attitudes and "outside-the-box" thinking.

In fact, Lifehacker lists these six phrases that should be banished from resumes completely:

• Responsible for

• Experienced

• Excellent written communication skills

• Team player

• Detail oriented

• Successful

Instead, research and identify words that describe what your potential employer is looking for in the position specifically. Read the job description thoroughly, and check the company website's "About Us" and "Mission" pages for language you can mirror in your resume. This is especially important because screening resumes is increasingly becoming an automated process, and poor word choice means your resume may never reach a real person's hands.

3. Be specific and show results. The fact that you were a manager means very little if it did nothing to propel the company forward. What's really attention-grabbing--and important to hiring managers--is measurable results directly related to your efforts.

If you increased sales by 10 percent or created a new process that cut a project's time in half, definitely replace dry or obvious job descriptions with those facts. And remember, numbers have much more impact than text. Your resume is the first impression you make on a hiring manager, so don't wait for an interview that may or may not happen to showcase your achievements.

4. Change the order. Traditionally, a resume features the applicant's name and address, followed by an opening headline or title, a summary of qualifications, job experience, and education or training finishing it off. However, following this format may not make the important information stand out.

If your work history is limited but you received extensive training in a specialized field, list your educational accomplishments before delving into past employment. If you possess a rare skill, list your abilities before the rest of the information. Also include only the work history that is relevant to the position you're currently applying for: Two years as an accountant? Great. Those three months you spent making ends meet at the burger joint? Not so much.

5. Keep It clean, neat, and error-free. It should go without saying, but triple-check your resume for errors before sending it out into the world. Preferably, have a second set of eyes look it over. I've personally received a number of professional resumes that looked as though they were created by fifth graders--which is a pretty alarming--but finding even one error means I stop reading and move on to the next applicant.

Most employers will react the same way to misspellings, poor grammar, and formatting mistakes. Again, your resume is your first impression; do you want it to say you don't care enough about the job to proofread it?

And the fancy stuff (colored paper, unusual fonts, or images) is not appropriate for a resume, period. It doesn't look like you put more effort into your resume, it looks like you're compensating for its lack of substance.

Job-hunting can be frustrating and disheartening. When the competition is as fierce as it is these days, you need to do everything you can to get a potential employer to notice you--don't allow a poorly optimized resume to prevent you from getting your foot in the door.

Casey Bond is editor-in-chief of www.GoBankingRates.com, which provides readers informative personal finance and investing content, as well as the best interest rates on financial services nationwide.