Your resume will have a significant impact on your potential employer’s first impression of you, so you need to make it the best it can be.
This post has tips and suggestions for you to consider, but keep in mind that there is no set formula or template: every resume is different. Also keep in mind that while unique and creative resumes or resumes with humor can win points, there is a fine line between creative and just plain odd. Your resume, even the ultra-creative resume, must always be professional.
In addition to your resume, you should also make sure that you have a professional LinkedIn profile. See my post on LinkedIn for some pointers on setting that up.
What’s it for?
Yeah, sure: we all know that a resume is for telling a prospective employer about your past experience in the hopes that you will get a new job. But a hiring manager has only a secondary interest in what skills you claim to have, where you worked, and what your title was.
What the hiring manager really wants to know is exactly how your work impacted your former employers: Did you increase sales? Great: by how much? If the manger knew that, then it’s not nearly so important what your title was or what skills you claim to have.
Results are what matters most. Previous results are a better predictor of success in a new job than titles, skill claims, or even, yes, grammar.
Okay With that in mind, read on.
Creating your resume
Your resume is something you will need to be able to open up and edit many time over the entire course of your career, so use a tool that you are comfortable using. For most of us, that will be your word processor, such as LibreOffice, Pages, or Microsoft Word.
Know your tool.
Many positions in today’s job market require that you know how to use a word processor, so your resume is an opportunity to show off to your employer that you know what you are doing. Proper use of styles, headers and footers, headings, and fonts will go a long way toward demonstrating this.
When your resume is finished, you should output it in two formats: PDF and text. Unless it is specifically requested, never send anyone your source word processing document.
The PDF output will be what you email to people and to post online, and the text output will be used for online submission tools. When you output the PDF, look it over and ensure that was output as you expected with no errant page breaks or other issues.
When you output the text, be sure that it is plain text with no special characters. Edit the text in a text-editor (not your word processor!) to add in extra space to help separate the sections. Also do things like substitute asterisks for bullets, etc.
How many pages?
Some argue for a one-page resume, while others say it should be as many pages as necessary to convey the information. Here are some options to consider.
- If you are light on experience, don’t fluff the resume to try to force it to be multiple pages.
- If your resume spans multiple pages, make sure the page break is between sections, or if that is not possible, between items. Never separate an item from its heading.
- If you have a multiple-page resume, number the pages, put your name and main contact information on the top of every page, and consider putting a summary near the top.
General writing and grammar
Your resume isn’t just a tool to tell your prospective employer about your experience: it’s also a tool your potential employer uses to decide who to bother to interview. One grammatical or spelling error can send your resume straight into the trash bin. Here are some tips:
- Read your resume out loud and listen for awkward wording.
- Use an active voice! Look for the verbs and make them the strong part of your sentences. Watch out for weak words and phrases like “able to.”
- If you capitalize each word in a heading, do not capitalize the following words unless they are the first word: a, an, in, of, the.
- These words should be spelled as a single word with no hyphen: multitask, multicore, email.
- Use the series comma consistently: Say “dog, cat, and bird” or “dog, cat and bird” but not both! (That extra comma in front of and is hotly debated, so either way is correct as long as you are consistent.)
- Spell out “and” instead of using an ampersand (unless the ampersand is part of a business name).
- Make sure the tense of the text in bullets is consistent. If one sentence is as if it completes the sentence “I am…” then they all should be.
- Avoid using the slash: Instead of and/or, choose one!
- Do not unnecessarily capitalize words: only proper nouns should be capitalized when not in a heading.
- Do not use quotation marks to emphasize words. If you must emphasize, use italics or bold, but use this sparingly if at all.
- Check the spelling carefully, and consider having a second person read your resume to look for errors.
At a minimum, your resume should describe your past experience. Nobody has the perfect formula for what to include in a resume or the order, but following are some generally accepted standards.
The first thing on your resume should be your name and contact information.
- Nicknames. If you go by a shortened form of your name or another nickname, use that on your resume. Only if your degree, published works, or other important documents carry a different name do you need to bother to give it.
- Contact methods. List first the contact method that you prefer people use. If you hope they email and not call, then list the phone number last.
- Email address. These days an email address is even more important than a phone number. Make sure you have a professional-looking email address. For example, an email address like firstname.lastname@example.org may have been funny in high school, but it’s time for it to go. Having an email from your own domain is great, but it’s fine to use a service like gmail. Finally, be sure to check your email at least several times every day. See my post about email addresses and your brand for more information.
- Address. You do not have to list your full address, but you should list at least your city and state (and country if sending your resume internationally).
- Brief contact. If you have a multi-page resume, your last name and preferred contact method (usually your email address) should be at the top of every page.
Typically the top item below your name and contact info is a statement of your objective: what are you looking to do? Make it a stretch! Here is an example objective:
I am seeking a position, as a writer, editor, project manager, or manager of a writing group. Excellent communication, organization, and management skills will make me a great addition to your team.
And here is another that, although a bit long, has a wonderful tone:
A chaos-tamer. A systems software engineer generalist who understands people and technology. A life-long learner, dedicated to bringing products to market with bug-free high-quality software. I provide careful design work applying or establishing BKMs, leading-edge technology, flexible methodologies, and adherence to standards to match the optimal solution to the problem at hand. I succeed when your product succeeds.
Summary of Qualifications
Some people also add a summary of qualifications, either instead of an objective or in addition to it.
If you include this section, make sure you list your qualifications in the order that best supports the job you are looking for. A paragraph is fine, but often, bullets will better present and emphasize the information. Be sure that each bullet has the same tense and voice and that you kill the weak words and emphasize the verbs.
The goal is to tell your potential employer about your work experience, so this section makes up the bulk of your resume. Typically a resume is a single list of experience, listed in chronological order, although some people might break the experience into subsections.
List your experience. For each position, list the title, the name of the company, and the dates you were there (month and year is fine). Optionally add the city and state as well. Then for each position, describe what you did, either as text in a few sentences, or in bullets.
Show the timeline. You want to avoid showing large amounts of time in which you had no work. If you were unemployed for more than a few months, add in any volunteer, contract, or other work you did. If that is not possible, don’t despair, but be prepared to be asked about this in an interview.
Relevant experience. In your job descriptions, word everything in a way that shows how this experience is relevant to the work you are seeking today. For example, if you are looking for a job in an office and you list gardening experience on your resume, spin the description to be relevant to office work: such as being organized, working well with customers, etc.
Benefit to your employer. In the descriptions of what you did in your previous jobs, describe the tasks you did, but also focus as much as possible on the benefits that your previous employer gained because of your work. Did you or the company receive any awards or other recognitions due to your work or management? Did you improve productivity, increase profits?
Measured results. Hiring managers love numbers, so include any concrete numbers you can. Look for things like the percent of an increase in sales due to your contribution, or improvement in productivity, better employee retention, etc.
Multiple roles. If you had more than one role at an employer, then break it out (by role, not location). For example:
Acme Stuff Store, Various locations, Oregon 1992-2012
Manager of Stuff, 2000-2012
Blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah Blah Blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah
Lead Stuff Engineer, 1992-2000
Blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah blah Blah blah blah
Experience subsections. If you have extensive experience, or if your experience can generally be categorized in multiple sections, you might optionally consider categorizing it. Or, if you have undergone a career change, consider listing the experience from each of these careers in two sections.
For example, you could start with a section called “Relevant Experience” that lists that experience that is most relevant to the type of job you are seeking. Then have a second category called “Other Experience” that lists everything else.
Whether you place it before or after the Experience section, your resume should also include a section where you list your particular skills. This is where you can give a summary of all the things you know how to do.
Be sure that the Skills section supports your objective. For example, if you want your next job to be in management, highlight the management skills (saying how many direct reports you had is a good start).
Rather than diminishing these skills by bunching them into a single short paragraph, consider using bullets, grouping skills into categories and remembering to support your objective. For example:
Personnel Management: Experienced in recruiting, training, coaching, and developing talented associates. Effective negotiator and collaborator with the ability to build and maintain business relationships.
Event Management: Complete event management, from planning through follow-up, including venue selection, logistics, merchandising, booth design, staffing training, lead collection, and post-show marketing.
Computer skills: Very fluent in both Windows and Mac environments. Expert-level with Microsoft Office suite, Adobe Creative Suite.
If you have published articles or books that pertain to your profession, list those. You may sort this list by topic, date, or whatever you think best presents the information.
Unless you graduated from a prestigious school, those of us who stopped at Associates or Bachelors degrees (or high school diplomas) should keep the Education section at the end of the resume.
In this section, list the degree earned first, followed by the place where you got it. Including the year is optional. You can plump this section up by listing additional special training, such as an employer workshop, special courses, and workshops. Only list things that you would find impressive or that are applicable to your job goals. Also include certifications or memberships in professional organizations.
I normally do not recommend adding hobbies to resumes unless they are in any way applicable to the job you are looking for. For example, if you are looking for a job that requires creativity, then you might list non-work activities that allow you to boast of creativity.
Other than your citizenship and work eligibility status, do not include personal information such as your marital status, children, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religion.
When it comes to the layout of your resume, if you ask ten experts, you will get ten answers.
My advice is to look at examples online, download any that appeal to you, and design something that uses your favorite ideas from those. However, regardless of the layout that you use, following are some tips to consider:
- There should be space after each paragraph and between bullets.
- Do not indent the first line of a paragraph: this is old fashioned and only appropriate for body copy in books and articles, not a resume.
- Use bullets, not asterisks (except in your text-only output, of course.). Align the bullets so the next line of text is indented properly.
- Use an appropriate font: the default presented by your word processing software is a safe bet. Never use a script or cartoon font.
- Be consistent in the amount of space between paragraphs.
- Use heads and subheads to organize your content.
- Never use two spaces after a period: that rule went away with manual typewriters!
Moral of the story
Your resume needs to be the best that you can make it. Not only will it influence others’ first impression of you, it has a significant impact on whether you will be called in for an interview.
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