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How to write a Resume

Want to make your resume shine? Here's how to put together a resume that'll impress any employer. Your resume should change along with your career goals. Here are some ways to write, structure and polish your resume.

  1. Start by making a list of all the jobs you had and the dates. Don't leave anything out. Include jobs, awards, educational degrees, skills, personal projects: anything that would be impressive and/or interesting to anyone (even if not impressive or interesting to everyone). Even after your resume is finished, maintain this list. That way, you don't have to revisit those portions year after year. Organize your list by category.
  2. Tailor your list to the position you're applying for (this will require a bit of research). Trim out each item that is not directly relevant to the job and add on two or three sentences explaining the relevance of each item. Whenever possible, list your experience in terms of accomplishments and achievements rather than tasks and responsibilities. Show your success. You may end up with many different versions of your resume, each one emphasizing a different set of skills.
  3. Consider stating your objective. Again, keep this short and to the point, a single sentence. Personalize it to the position. Make sure your objective doesn't contradict the position you are applying for. Many employers will ignore an objective; so if it doesn't add something to the resume, don't include it.
  4. It's time to format. Mind the look and feel of your resume. It should have clean lines and be easy to read. Make it two pages max, and only one page if you're just out of school - if you have more to share, save it for the interview. The font should be 10-13, no smaller, no bigger, but you should be able to read it well when you print it out. Black and white is best unless you're emphasizing your artistic or publishing skills (and even then be careful and tasteful). Keep the format neat and organized.
  5. Include an address, phone number and email address. But, do not include an email that shows you shouldn't be taken seriously, such as [email protected] Don't use your current employer's name, number or email, either. If necessary, get an extra email address with a professional name that you can use for job searches.
  6. Proofread, proofread and proofread again. Have a friend or professional that you trust proofread. Have an enemy proofread. Have a stranger proofread. Then proof again! Take criticism well and remember that just because someone suggests something doesn't mean you have to make the change. Don't boast about written communication skills with a typo.
  7. Promote yourself and your skills as much as possible, but be careful. There is a fine line between arrogance and confidence. Try not to cross that line.
  8. Follow directions. This is a huge indicator of responsibility to a hiring manager. If the ad says "no calls please," then don't call! If the job description asks you to provide your salary history, then you will probably want to include that information in your resume. However, this is not an absolute: it may limit your negotiating power to get the best possible salary.
Tips
  • The point of a resume is not to get the job, it's to get the interview. Focus on your best accomplishments. Focus on things you've accomplished so that whoever reads the resume will think, "I want to find out more about how this person did that."
  • Be consistent! Format each entry in your resume in the same way.
  • Include an Executive Summary. Many (most?) resumes only get a brief look-through (there may well be 40 applicants for one job). Sometimes, just five or ten seconds is spent scanning through on each one. Therefore,consider including an Executive Summary as the very first thing the employer sees. This will be a concise (3-5 line) note on your education, experience, and abilities. Label this prominently (in a contrasting colour).
  • Don't over-qualify yourself for a position. Give enough information for interest and save the "wow" factor for the interview. Write the resume for the position you are applying for without altering the truth.
  • Don't go overboard with your attachments! Don't attach 6 letters of recommendation, your diploma, your birth certificate, and your CPR and fitness certifications. Indicate your current certifications and be prepared to give references upon request.
  • If you list your references in your resume (which many employers request anyway), be sure you have their permission to list them.
  • If you're just out of school put your educational details in before your employment details, with the most recent first on both of them. If you've been out of school for more than a year, or you have significant job credentials then list past employment and accomplishments first.
  • Consider leading with your strong suit, whether it be education, skills, work or volunteer experience. The idea is to showcase your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.
  • Detail your duties within each position but don't go overboard. Accomplishments are more impressive than duties. "Cut expenses by 25% over six months while maintaining historic revenue levels," is more impressive than, "Was responsible for a $500,000 budget." The latter says, "I did this," the former says, "I did this and I can do it for you."
  • Highlight your expertise in any particular skills that will impress the interviewer, such as software programs, foreign languages, customer service, or anything else that might be relevant to the job.
  • Listing personal hobbies is optional (and can make you look well-rounded), but make sure they are sending the right impression. You may be proud of your skateboarding prowess, but the employer will probably be more impressed with your Toastmaster's International speaking experience.
  • Quantify your accomplishments, if possible, by applying specific numbers to your successes. For instance, if you streamlined the flow of work for your department, define how much time it saved the company over a period of, say, 4 months. Time is money.
  • Think hard about what you've done and what you've accomplished. Many people are somewhat shy and modest about what they have done on the job. Don't be! For instance, instead of saying "answered phones," say "answered multi-line phone and routed calls for an office of 43 people." The example here shows the prospective employer the volume of work you've handled and the complexity of the equipment.
  • Consider double submissions: Send one application to Human Resources, another to the most applicable ranking officer (research and find out who that is). HR clerks have been known to disqualify resumes on a technicality, while it may catch the (less bureaucratically inclined) officer's eye.
  • If possible, keep the resume for a day or two before reading it again. You may think of something else you want to add before submitting it to prospective employers.
  • Write a cover letter that is short, sweet and to the point (and specifically written for the job you're applying for). If at all possible, do not write more than a page-long cover letter (make sure, though, that you include everything the employer asks for). Try and remember that the person reading it is probably looking at hundreds of resumes. Address logical questions in your cover letter. If you're applying for a position in California but your resume has a New York address, explain why. If you don't, the reader will probably trash the resume (unless the company is ready and willing to pay for a relocation package).
  • Keep your layout simple. For example, don't use too many type fonts, two or three at most. Sans-serif fonts are best for headers, serif fonts are best for listing the details. White space is free and makes for easier reading. Be very careful in using colour (except very occasionally and for emphasis). Make it easy for the employer to find the information he wants.
  • Backup your resume, on a USB, hard-copy, or even in the draft folder of your email.
  • Do not pad your resume. This may be illegal, and, if discovered, may well cost you the job, if not immediately, then months or even years later.
  • Do not include irrelevant personal information. This includes age, religion, political affiliation, race, and similar (unless these are job-related).
  • Be culturally aware. In some cultures it is customary to list your age, marital status, and family status, it is not common everywhere (such as in the US). If you think age is important, you can allude to it with the year you graduated college or high school. Otherwise, these dates aren't necessary. Beware that, depending on the industry, you may face age discrimination if you graduated many years ago. For example, in creative industries, having graduated more than a few years ago may disqualify you from getting an interview for a junior position.
  • Including a photograph? In some countries, or for certain jobs, this is expected. Elsewhere, it may be illegal for the employer to ask for one. It certainly personalizes your resume and adds visual appeal (assuming you don't make Quasimodo look handsome!)
  • Fill-in-the-blank style resume builders are readily available, particularly on Microsoft word processors.
  • Draft, re-draft, and revise again!
  • Remember, the resume lands you the interview and the interview gets you the job!


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