One of the first things most people do when they start looking for a new job is to polish up the old resume -- that chronicle, shall we say, of partial truths about our wide-ranging work experience.

But if you haven't tried to sell yourself on the job market recently, you might be unaware that the resume is undergoing a facelift.

One of the transformations -- which appears to have caught on with local career counselors -- is the "qualifications brief." It differs from the resume primarily in emphasis.

The standard resume lists work experience, from your current job to those two years you spent delivering the daily paper (to show youthful industry). Often it's a chronology of dates, titles and responsibilities.

The qualifications brief, on the other hand, describes your qualifications for the job you are seeking -- your personal qualities, accomplishments and abilities.

That's a big difference, explains Richard Lathrop, a job-market researcher who has spent most of his life trying to help people find jobs.

Take the case of one man "applying to be chief executive of a substantial organization. No one could compete with him in terms of experience. As a result, he got the job."

But, cotinues Lathrop, "experience in a resume doesn't tell how well the applicant will do. It's just a recitation of his duties -- and very seldom how well they were done."

The chief executive in this case "brought the organization to its greatest crisis. He did not have the qualifications for the job."

Lathrop's executive?: "Richard Nixon."

The qualifications brief also provides psychological advantage. While the resume is "a bid for a job," says Lathrop, the qualifications brief is phrased "as an offer of help.

The applicant is relating to the employer according to his or her need."

Typically, he says, the resume approach is to cite among your job objectives "opportunities for growth." You're "asking the employer for something," which can be a "turnoff."

Instead, as an applicant for a personnel job, for example, you might assure the employer of your ability to provide "higher productivity and morale, along with lower costs and turnover."

Lathrop, who heads the National Center for Job-Market Studies here, describes the qualifications brief in his book, "Who's Hiring Who" (Ten Speed Press, 266 pages, $5.95 paper).

In the late '50s, Lathrop worked on employment problems involving merchant seamen for the Military Sea Transportation Service. Then, as an employe of Army Times Publishing Company, he helped military personnel leaving the service find civilian employment.

It was during those three years that he began formulating the ideas that resulted in establishment of the research center he heads and in the advice incorporated into his job-hunting guidebook.

One of the most frequent failings of the resume, Lathrop has found in analyzing "thousands," is that they "fail to do justice to the people they describe."

This, he says, "helps to explain how highly competent people can mail out as many as 500 resumes without obtaining a single interview."

Capitol Hill is "notorious" for bad resumes, says career counselor Penny Garner of "Taking Charge," who includes Lathrop's ideas in her resume-writing workshops, as does the career-planning office of Prince George's Community College.

They list, "tasks instead of accomplishments," says Garner. "Rarely do they communicate what this person does better than someone else."

What is needed, and what the qualifications brief tries to do, Garner says, is to provide the employer with a "brief description of your qualifications for a specific job."

With these characteristics, contend Lathrop, the brief can help you find a job faster, and even get you higher pay.

A typical brief begins quickly and simply with the basics: name, address and phone number. Put the rest of the statistics -- such as height, weight, health and marital status, if pertinent -- nearer the end.

The brief should be written in "much more of a narrative form" than is customary for the resume, which he says, "tends to be dry as dust." A good qualifications brief "tends to be interesting reading. You see an individual dealing with problems and overcoming them.

"Frequently," he adds, "you find a very strong evidence of personality. The brief conjures up a picture of a likable and productive human being."

The effect you create on employers, says Lathrop, "is an important thing."

Following the basic data, state your objective. Stress what you can do for the boss, not what he or she can do for you.

"Cast your objective," he writes, "in terms of your ability, and the employer's desire to expand operations, increase production, efficiency, quality, income, morale, sales, safety, etc. -- anything that your past experience has already proved you can do to advance the interests of any new employer who takes you on."

An example from a high-school graduate: "Objective: Secretarial assistant -- preferably with an advertising executive looking for . . . the ability to cope with vast amounts of detail."

The next step, says Lathrop, is to "prove -- then and there -- your strong qualifications to turn in an outstanding performance in the job you have specified."

In the narrative, include the "scope and effect" of your work, "things changed for the better," "appealing aspects of your personality" and brief quotes from people who have praised your work.

Keep it all in "brief, staccato, telegraphic style."

The traditional resume features dates prominently, often in the margin, but he argues that "the quality of your experience -- what you did -- is far more important than when you gained it." In the brief, the dates generally appear "unobtrusively" at the end of paragraphs.

End the brief with a "bang" -- with a phrase, for example, like "Love to attack the impossible job."

Most resumes, say Lathrop, end up "with the blahs, just dry statistics." But "That's when the employer is deciding whether to put it in the discard file."

Writing a brief not only helps applicants organize their thoughts about their abilities, says Lathrp, it can also "reinforce their confidence." Because you are teling the boss how you can help, "You're dealing on a much more equal basis. That is terribly, terribly important."

The employer reading the brief, says Lathrop, "sees it as an attractive resume. He doesn't know what it hitting him or her, but he comes away thinking. 'This is one of the best resumes I've ever seen.'"