Everyone knows the importance of a resume. If they don’t, they should. There isn’t a position in the entire universe that’s worth having if the application process doesn’t require the submission of a formal and professional resume in some fashion. If you’ve got your resume down on paper, you’re already ahead of the game. However, it’s important to remember that it should be much more than just a compilation or a summarization of your career or work history.
It needs to create interest, peak curiosity and persuade potential employers to call. In today’s professional realm, a job posting will attract anywhere from 100-1000 resumes.
To say that it’s a buyer’s market would be an understatement. Competition is fierce and the right resume can put you at the top of the pack. Resumes serve one purpose: to get you an initial interview so you can showcase your real talents in front of the decision makers. Realizing that is the key to landing your dream job.
That sounds simple enough. It all boils down to getting your career on paper in some succinct manner, right? Not exactly. Most people have a resume because society has taught them that they have to have one in order to get a job. They are usually written more out of obligation rather than necessity and that makes for a useless rendering of a few things in which you might have some experience.
That’s laughable in most cases. Less than 1% of all resumes are written in a style that stirs the interest of prospective employers. If you think that your career search is daunting, imagine being a hiring manager with the responsibility of finding the best candidate in the stack of resumes (remember there could be up to 1000) staring you in the face. If you want to be THAT candidate, you have to make your resume stand out among hundreds of others. Think of a resume as a personal advertisement and approach it with enthusiasm, not duty, and it’ll begin to work for you.
Gone are the days of following the rules of crafting a top-notch resume. Forget what you learned in college, what you’ve heard through the grapevine and what your super-successful best friend has told you about resume writing. Each resume is a unique tool specific to you, your skills and your current situation. Although there are some very basic principles that you should adhere to, you have greater flexibility, potential and creativity that you probably realize.
First of all, you need to know where you’re heading and what you want to do with your life. You need to know the career path that you’re trying to travel or you will find yourself doing something that you don’t enjoy. If you know the things that you find most fulfilling, you’ll be able to nail your career objective, which is the first step in constructing a great resume. Most people put together a resume and update it from time to time while never making any real changes. A generic resume or one that’s been formatted for a specific template won’t work. If you have a cover letter (which is a completely different subject) you may not need an objective. If you do use one, make sure it is a profound statement defining your career goals as they pertain to the company at which you’re applying. Get specific and make it relevant to the target position.
You’ve succeeded in getting the attention of an employer with a great opening or objective, the next step is to convince them that you’re the right person for the job. You’ll do that in the section immediately following the objective. It is typically called ‘Work Experience’ or ‘Employment Experience’ but there are many other headings that you could use depending on your field of expertise. You decide what works for you. The content of this section matters more than the label that you place upon it. List your experience in the following fashion: Title, Employer, Location, Dates. For example, a heading under ‘Employment Experience’ might look something like this:
Medical Sales Specialist
Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals, Kenilworth, NJ
Depending on your focus, how you want to present yourself and the part that you find most important or compelling, you can change the list order to suit your needs. You may decide that where you worked is more powerful than the title that you held. In that case, the company name should come first. Once you’ve decided what works best for you, you’re ready to get into the meat of the resume by citing your experience.
As always, remember to tailor this to the position in question by listing the most relevant information first. Not all positions are going to reflect your abilities as they pertain to the position in question and there should be a reason for everything in your resume. You can group your duties and skills into three or four general categories and provide detailed examples of how you carried out each skill or you can walk the reader through your experience with a series of bullet points. You can list part-time or full-time employment but be wary of listing several jobs that have been held in a short period of time. With that said, you also need to be prepared to answer ANY and ALL questions about lapses in your employment history.
In most cases, this part of your resume should focus on ways in which you’ve contributed to the success of previous employers. Strong action words are an excellent way to convey that. Some action words to consider include, but are certainly not limited to:
- Achieved, Advised, Attained
- Coached, Compiled, Converted, Created
- Delegated, Designated, Designed, Developed, Devised, Directed
- Established, Executed, Expanded
- Guided, Grew
- Increased, Instructed, Increased, Initiated
- Maintained, managed, Modified
- Organized, Oversaw
- Persuaded, Planned, Produced
- Solved, Sponsored, Supervised, Surpassed
- Consider the following bullet points:
- Grew Product X Market Share by 23% in 2006
- Elected to Technology Task Force in 2005
- Initiated a state-wide program for X,Y,Z
The idea is to reveal as much about yourself in the least amount of space without being too vague. Do not use pronouns such as ‘I’ or ‘me’ or contractions anywhere in your resume. As you continue listing other companies, remain consistent in your format, layout and composition. This includes the parts that you capitalize or underline and the spacing used throughout. Use past tense for previous activities or employment and present tense for ongoing or current activities. Always list your most recent, or most relevant, employment experience first and expand on that position more than the ones that follow. You don’t want four bullet points in your first listing and seven or eight in the proceeding areas. All words in your resume are searchable so using words related to the position you are seeking is highly advisable. If you’re unsure, try to find the matching job description.
The Skills Section, if applicable, comes next. If you’re in the IT industry, this section is a MUST. Other things pertinent to the Skills area are word processing skills (WPM Rate), knowledge of any computer systems or applications (Lotus Notes, Power Point, and Excel), proficiency in reading, writing or speaking any language other than your native tongue and certifications. Employers assume you don’t possess a skill or ability unless you tell them otherwise. Never, under any circumstances, list a skill in which you are not proficient. You will be called on to demonstrate that skill eventually and it’s not worth damaging your credibility.
Honors & Awards is an optional section if you’ve been in the business world for a while. Some choose to put individual awards in the employment history section. For example, ‘won regional award’ is more than appropriate. If you have something that you need to stand out above everything else, take advantage of this section. Keep in mind that you’re trying to be clear and concise without using 3-4 sheets of paper and you may have an opportunity to consolidate information and save on white space. If you’re a recent graduate, this a great way to get your resume together without using the ‘fluff’ that most of your peers will be using. Since you have limited experience, it’s a good idea to make your qualifications known. What you lack in experience can often be made up for by an intriguing and powerful resume and listing your honors and awards is a fantastic way to do just that. You can list leadership awards, athletic awards and/or honors and academic recognition. If you only have academic awards, they can be listed in the Education portion of your resume. As a recent graduate, this section will help to give your resume length and depth and provide as well as provide an insight into your dedication and work ethic.
The next section, Activities & Special Interests, is also optional depending on the position for which you are applying. If you think it will highlight points of compelling interest, use it but exercise prudence when putting this piece together. Employers don’t need to know that you have a passion for kayaking (unless you’re applying for a position as a white water rafting guide) and they don’t need to know everything you’ve ever accomplished. Be very selective. Include any positions of leadership, such as offices held and the responsibilities associated with those positions. It is argued that there is little benefit or advantage of including this piece in your resume but some positions will, in fact, dictate the necessity.
More often than not, the Education piece is featured last. It’s a MUST for recent graduates and anyone with limited professional experience. Your degree should be listed first followed by the college or university and then the graduation date. If you’ve not yet graduated, list the date you expect to finish school. List your GPA only if it is over 3.0. If it’s not a 3.0 or higher, you can break it down by listing your GPA within your Major and Minor. If you’ve been in the workforce for some time, this may take up unnecessary space that would be better served under a different category. Keep in mind that many professional positions require the attainment of a Baccalaureate degree at a minimum and employers will want to know that you possess such credentials. If that’s the case, you will want to include the information on your resume.
References should only be used if you have space that needs filling. It is appropriate, however, to make them ‘available upon request’ or to provide them in a separate addendum or, if you prefer, as part of your cover letter. The former is the standard and provides you yet one additional opportunity to follow-up with your potential employer.
Resume writing is part science, part personal preference. There is no turn-key approach or template that will work for everyone. It isn’t meant to be a personal statement or form of self-expression but a tool with which to market yourself. If it does what a good resume should, it’ll get you in front of a key decision maker time and time again. A well designed and polished resume will mean that you’ll be interviewing twice as often as your equally qualified and experienced colleagues. Your resume should answer any initial questions that an employer might have: What can he do for the company? How does her experience match up with the requirements of the job? What does his work ethic look like? Is she a producer? Is she consistent? Is she articulate and is she able to communicate effectively with customers? You only get one chance to make a first impression and you can pull that off without a hitch if you put in the extra time and effort. Most resumes are feeble, at best, and don’t get much more than a quick glance. You can create a resume that is equal to none by doing a little research, narrowing your focus and making it specific to the position you’re seeking and paying close attention to the details. With that approach, you’re sure to create a masterpiece.
Although there is no cookie cutter approach to the construction of an award-winning resume, there are some basics things to carefully consider. Keep in mind the following:
- You MAY use sentence fragments if the style is consistent and the meaning is clear.
- Start EVERY description with an action word.
- Use the correct tense.
- When appropriate, use numbers to quantify your qualifications (great for sales or finance).
- Avoid listing the entire address of your past and current employers. City and state are more than enough. This will save you some space.
- Make sure NO spelling, typing or grammar errors exist. This means having it proof-read by someone else–over and over again if necessary.
- Do not use contractions and make sure you define any abbreviations or acronyms.
- Use a consistent style and format.
- Choose a font that is easy to read. A good choice is Times New Roman, Courier or Palatino. Do not use a font larger than 14 point and no smaller than 10 point.
- Print final copies of you resume on a quality paper. Do not use a copier or Xerox machine.
- Use the same color and type of paper for the cover letter, resume and envelope. White or ivory paper works best. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that a unique color (pale blue or pink) will give you the advantage. That’s a myth.
- Do not fold or staple your resume. Mail it, with an accompanying cover letter, in a 9 X 12 envelope.
- Use a minimal amount of bold, italics and underlining. These are all great tools as long as they’re not overused.
- Don’t use slang.
- Don’t list sex, height, weight, religion, race, ethnic origin, political affiliation or other personal information. There’s no need to include a personal photo unless the posting specifically requests one.
- Margins should be standard for an 8 1/2″ X 11″ piece of paper. That means a 1″ margin on both sides.
- NEVER, NEVER exaggerate.
- Do not include poor grades or unfortunate work experiences.
- Don’t re-write your current job description.
- Concentrate on achievements AS WELL AS responsibilities.
- Include reasons for leaving ONLY in the case of a divestiture or something similar.
- Don’t undervalue your experience. If you don’t pat yourself on the back, nobody will. It’s okay to toot your own horn for once.
- If you’re new to the workforce, there’s NO need for a resume more than one page in length. In most cases, a one page resume is best regardless of the applicant’s experience. The longer the resume, the more time an employer wastes examining it. However, if your resume is two pages (or longer) there’s no need to panic. You’re more likely to be judged on quality than quantity.
- Do not use pronouns.
- Do not include salary information or requirements unless specifically requested by the employer.
- Always include a cover letter and try to address it to the hiring manager or at the least, the company. Personalization goes a long way.
A little time, creativity and thought will produce the magnum opus that you’ll need to compete in today’s market. Don’t waste your time on commercial resume software packages. That’s like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. Only you are capable of sprinkling a resume with your own personal touches and pertinent information. Keep that, and a few simple, yet flexible, rules of thumb in mind and you’ll soon find yourself atop the proverbial corporate ladder. If you’re having trouble getting your creative juices flowing, take a look at the following examples provided as Word documents for you to download and use as templates or examples if you like. Happy hunting!
Further Reading and Additional Resources
Whole Site devoted to how to write a resume, very nicely put together: