It doesn't take an economist to explain some cold, hard facts to the American public. The statistics are grim, folks. With a national unemployment rate of 9.4 percent and an economy that doesn't expect to improve anytime soon, it's sometimes hard to be positive about our country's financial future.

As a job seeker, it's important to boast a résumé that shows you in your best light. Your résumé is your key marketing tool. All the hiring manager knows about you is what's on that document in front of them, so you want to be sure it "sells" you effectively. In today's economy, job openings often draw hundreds of applicants. With such tough competition for employment, it's vital to have a résumé that helps you stand out from the rest of the candidates.

Even if you aren't actively looking for a job, it's always a good idea to have an updated résumé on hand. If you've never written a résumé before, there are hundreds of books available that can help you put one together. Think of your résumé as a snapshot of your working life. Try to keep it to one page if possible-hiring managers have hundreds of other candidates' to read, and if your résumé doesn't grab their attention within a few seconds of reading it, chances are you're not what they're looking for.

Put together a general version first. Be sure to include your name, address, phone number, and email address at the top of the page so the hiring manager knows how to reach you. Try to summarize yourself in a few sentences, and list this as a "Background Summary". Put this after your contact information so the hiring manager can glance at this quickly and get an idea of your background. If you don't meet their needs, she won't have to read any further.

Once you have a working document, you can make changes as necessary and have several different versions. Customize it for each job you're applying for. For example, if you're an engineer with a strong computer background, you may be applying for both engineering jobs and jobs within the IT sector. Put together one that highlights your engineering experience and the other that emphasizes your computer background. By tailoring each version, you're showing that you have multiple skills, which is usually very attractive to employers. I have one résumé that focuses on my nonprofit work experience and one that focuses on my communications background.

Be sure to list your major accomplishments from each job. If you were part of a team, and particularly if you led the team, that developed a new product or service, summarize that information in one or two sentences. Let the hiring manager ask you to explain your role in the project when you come in for the interview. Managers want to see that you can work effectively both as part of a team, and as a self-motivated employee.

Besides your employment background, list your education and computer skills. It's also important to include any training sessions you may have attended, especially if you earned any type of certification. List your community involvement, as well. Many companies are active with local organizations and like to see job candidates that give back to their community, as well.

A few other things to keep in mind:

Make sure you proofread your résumé several times. There's nothing more embarrassing than sending out hundreds of résumés with no phone number on them, or some other glaring error that you missed. Ask your spouse or someone else in your family read it over for you. The more you look at it, the easier it is to overlook mistakes-someone with a fresh eye can find things that you missed or misspelled. Use spell check every time you make a change to the document, even if you're a good speller. Again, your résumé is the first contact a hiring manager has with you, and you want to be sure that everything is spelled correctly.

Have correct employment dates. If the hiring manager checks references, you want to make sure you gave them the correct information so they can verify dates with former employers.

Explain any gaps in employment. If you're currently laid off, it might be a good time to volunteer with a local organization, find a part-time job, or pitch in with the family business. If you're not currently working full-time, hiring managers want to see that you're not sitting around watching TV all day. You want to show that you had initiative and stayed active during your time off.

Your résumé is your ticket to your next job, so make sure it's saying what you need it to say. Good luck!