If you are starting to write your resume without first having a written list of your “motivated accomplishments” and a list of your requirements for your next job, then you are probably getting the cart before the horse and may very well be heading in the wrong direction. How will know if a certain job fits your requirements if you haven’t determined what those requirements are?You will conduct a more successful search and improve your chances of finding a satisfying job if you take care of those important steps first – and your search will probably be shorter because you will better focused.For anyone considering a career change, those steps become even more critical to take before writing your resume.
The rules of resume writing
RULE # 1 – There are no hard and fast rules – for every rule there are exceptions.
RULE # 2 – No one can write your resume for you. Others can help, they can critique; but, no one can write your resume for you as well as you can yourself.
RULE # 3 – Your resume is an advertisement – the primary purpose of your ad is to get a phone call – to interest the reader enough that they will contact you for more information. Therefore, since it is an ad, there is no single way to write it – it is an art form of sorts.
RULE # 4 – It is rare that anyone should have more than one resume – this is not to say that you shouldn’t change or revise it when you learn a better way to do it or to correct an error. Respond to different opportunities with different cover letters/emails – not different resumes.
RULE # 5 – Resumes do not work as well as marketing plans when networking. We’ll cover Marketing Plans later in Step #8.
RULE # 6 – A resume needs to look like a resume – don’t take the idea of its being an advertisement as license to deviate from commonly accepted conventions of resume writing. Again this is not without exceptions; those who are in graphic arts, for instance, will frequently have very effective resumes that stray from normal conventions and demonstrate their skills in the resume itself.
RULE # 7 – The primary objective of your resume is to somehow convey to the reader what you can do for them as opposed to simply list what you did for others. How do you do that? Very good question – keep reading.
Your resume may be the primary object used during your job search (your Marketing Plan should be however – we’ll get into that later in Step # 8). Your resume is your advertisement or sales brochure. However, it is just a part of your overall marketing plan.
You will be selecting companies and industries to explore based upon the work you did earlier. You will be writing a resume tailored to present your background and qualifications with the type of career position you are pursuing in mind. Your networking, letter writing, ad responses and many other actions will all be coordinated to build on the same motivated skills and achieve the same goals.
Explaining Why You Are Looking
Later in the job search process, when you start meeting with people for networking meetings and job interviews, you will need to explain why you have left your previous position and what you are seeking. There will be some instances, even before you begin your active search, when you will need to do the same thing.
You need to develop a brief explanation of your current situation and the type position you seek. It should be brief, unapologetic and clearly communicate the skills you wish to use in your next position.
We will talk more about this topic later but now may be a good time to start thinking about developing a 30 second commercial for yourself.
Picking a Direction
Before you can write your resume you have to pick a direction. The exercises in the last chapter should have helped to define your direction.
What type of position is your resume to be written for? Some people have one logical direction and therefore have little trouble with this decision. Others will have more trouble. If you write one resume for two or three career directions, a potential employer may judge that you do not know what you want.
The best solution is to develop an objective that focuses on the function and not the level or title. Then continue to cite the skills you will bring to the table and how the company will benefit.
Those of you who are considering two or more directions can write a separate resume and mount parallel searches for each direction. This alternative works well when there is little overlap among those you must speak with as you conduct your parallel searches.
Dispelling some myths about resumes
Everyone has opinions about resumes and how to write them – after all, it is not a science, it’s an art. Your resume is your advertisement – the purpose of your ad, or resume, is to get a phone call – to be contacted for more information.
Let’s go over some basics and some commonly misunderstood facts about resumes. Read the questions below – are they True of False?
A. Employers expect you to put everything in your resume whether positive or negative.
False – no point in putting negatives in a resume.
B. Your resume must always be truthful, factual and accurate.
C. Having your resume prepared by a professional, rather than doing it yourself, will maximize your chances of getting the job you want.
False – no one can write your resume for you – others can help and give suggestions, but only you can do the hard work of describing your former positions and what you accomplished.
D. No one needs more than one version of a resume.
False – but it is rare – you should not need more than one version of your resume unless you have two truly different career paths to consider. E. Employers like to see a career objective or job objective at the top of a resume.
True – let them know your goals, your expertise – we will show you how to do it so you do not limit yourself.
F. If you hear of a job that does not fit you precisely, you should forget about it and spend your time more productively by concentrating only on those jobs that fit you perfectly.
False – there will rarely be a job that fits perfectly. And often a job can be structured somewhat differently to fit you.
G. If a job is a good fit for you, the goals and objectives of the position will mesh with your goals and objectives.
True – just like a hand and glove.
H. If you are over forty you should not answer ads, because ads get a large response from younger people.
False – but not because of what you are thinking – no one should answer ads who can instead find a networking contact who can introduce you to the hiring manager.
I. If your resume fits an advertised opening well, you do not need to send a cover letter because the purpose of a cover letter is to add info not on your resume.
J. When employers advertise jobs, they will always consider the resumes they receive.
False – usually they are busy with candidates who are introduced by employees and by others.
K. If you have the right experience for the job, the employer will find it in your resume.
False – employers usually spend only a few seconds on each resume to determine whether to put it in the stack to review in more detail later – or NOT.
L. Resumes should always be one page.
False – for college graduates and others who have very little experience, one page is usually enough. If you have between two to five years of professional experience two pages are usually used. Senior executives generally require three pages to adequately present their backgrounds.
M. If you print your resume on bright color paper and/or odd size paper, it will better catch the employer’s eye and more likely be read.
False – stick with plain old boring, high-quality paper – and put the sizzle in the words on the page.
N. Cover letters should list your relevant skills, experience and accomplishments since the employer may not notice certain items in your resume.
True – while one resume usually suffices, each cover letter should be crafted especially for the position and company.
O. It is better to send only as many resumes as you can follow up on, rather than sending more resumes and not following up on each.
True – sending a resume is a waste of time if you are not gong to follow up – but an even better,) much better, use of time is networking. So, if it not a networking letter or email, you may be wasting your time.
P. It is better to contact the hiring manager directly rather than contacting Human Resources.
True – assume that HR can only say NO and that only the hiring manager can say YES.
Q. There is no reason to be concerned how you write your position objective because the hiring manager will figure out if you fit the position.
False – no, they don’t have time to do that and usually do not have the need to do that. They will call to interview whoever does the best job of communicating what they have to offer the company.
R. Hiring managers and employment managers are always more concerned with “screening people in” than with “screening people out” because they need people who fit their vacant positions.
False, generally because it is the unusual job that does not have many candidates.
S. Hiring Managers do not always select the best available person for a position.
True – an even more accurate statement would be “Hiring manager hardly ever hire the best available person for the job.
T. If you are offered a job it must be right for you or you would not have been selected.
U. A well-crafted resume will include a short paragraph on personal interests and family.
False – do not put anything in your resume that someone might construe as a negative.
V. Do not put references on your resume.
True – and you do not even have to use the line “References available upon request.” That line hasn’t been necessary for over 30 or 40 years.
W. Accomplishment statements in your resume help the employer understand your previous jobs better than simply listing your responsibilities.
True – because what you did, especially if quantified, speaks volumes more than limiting yourself to saying what you were supposed to do.
X. You will never be hired without a resume.
False – some of the most capable job seekers do not offer a resume even when asked – rather they use a “Marketing Plan” to promote discussion of “how he/she fits the position.”
Y. For each type position, there is generally only one right way to write a resume.
False – it depends on your accomplishments, goals and motivated strengths.
Think of your resume as your advertisement or your sales brochure. What do you expect to accomplish when you send your resume to someone? You do not realistically expect to receive a job offer from it do you? Of course not. You are less likely to receive an offer just from sending a resume than a car dealer is going to sell a car by putting an ad in the paper or on television. “Hello, please deliver the car advertised on page G-3 of today’s paper and send me the bill.” Not likely to happen is it? The car dealer wants you to visit the showroom. That is the purpose of the ad. A car is a big-ticket purchase and is not likely to be sold without a visit and a test drive.
It is the same with your resume or ad. Hiring you is a big-ticket purchase for a company and the logical step, following their being impressed by your resume (ad), is to call you and ask a few more questions or simply invite you in for an interview. So what is the primary purpose of the resume?
Your resume is your advertisement.
And its primary purpose is to get a phone call.
The secondary purpose of a resume is a meeting agenda. It must work well when you sit down for an interview or at a networking meeting. There is not a lot to be said about this secondary purpose – just keep it in mind should you be tempted to create a little fiction by adding something misleading or untrue.
Writing a resume is an art form, not a science. Just as in writing any other form of advertisement, there are many styles, many points of view. This accounts for the differing levels of success of different resumes.
Get the opinions of two or more people in your field/industry when your resume is nearing completion. Listen to their comments and suggestions. If they do not recommend some changes they are probably not being honest with you or didn’t really read it. Go on to someone else and get his or her comments. Then consider what they have to say. This is like conducting market research on a new advertising campaign. Since resume writing is also an art form, yours will never get wholesale agreement. However, before changing your resume, discuss the changes with your consultant.
Types of Resumes
There are three basic types of resumes:
- Reverse – Chronological resume
- Functional resume
- Letter resume
Each of these will be covered in turn. You will almost always be correct in choosing the chronological resume if:
- The job you are seeking builds on your last position.
- You have the generally required background for the job you are seeking.
If instead you are seeking to change careers or return to a former occupation, look at the functional resume format or the letter resume. If you can make the chronological resume work for you then use it – the other formats leave much to be desired in terms of the information they provide to the decision-maker.
Keep in mind, many people will be scanning your resume: friends, hiring managers, personnel clerks, networking contacts, etc. Keep in mind also that when your resume arrives for consideration for an active opening, your resume will not necessarily be screened first by the hiring manager but rather by some other decision-maker or gatekeeper. We will use these terms as follows:
Hiring manager – The person to whom the position reports.
Decision-makers – Those who are involved in making the hiring decision. Typically this includes the hiring manager, anyone senior to the hiring manager who is involved in the interview process and the hiring manager’s boss who may not interview but who typically has reviewed the resume and has discussed the candidates. Others involved in the interview process, but not senior to the hiring manager, have input taken into consideration by the decision-makers. Human Resources typically has input in screening, reference checking and compensation. Peers and subordinates who meet with you generally are asked for feedback that is taken into consideration.
Gatekeepers – Anyone who can block your resume or telephone call. This could be a clerk told to screen resumes and kick out any resume which does not have a particular job requirement. Or it could be an assistant who has been asked by a harried executive to look through a stack of resumes and “pick out the best ones” with no discussion about what qualifications are desired. Getting around or through the Gatekeepers is one of the many hurdles you must master during your job search.
Reverse – Chronological Resume
This is the most popular format and the format that most employers want to see. Use this format if you are seeking employment which builds upon you recent experience.
The first section should be a position objective including a summary of your qualifications. Think of this as comparable to a headline of a newspaper article. Most people scan newspapers to determine what they will read. If the headline does not interest them, they will not read the article. The same is true of your resume. When confronted with a stack of 50 to 500 resumes, most will not go past the beginning of your resume unless it seems to be on track from a quick glance at the beginning of the resume.
The Cardinal Rule of Resume Writing
Most resumes are not read, only scanned, at least until after the first cut. Therefore, organize your resume so a quick glance will communicate the essence of your background, skills and objective.
The functional resume highlights your experience under broad categories of qualifications important to the type position you seek. It can work well when the position you seek builds on your recent experience but is usually used by those who are seeking to change careers or to return to a career track different than their last position.
A resume is no more a requirement for a job search than an ad is a requirement for selling a car – but it helps. There may be some certain instances, however, in which not having a resume can be advantageous. In this case you should prepare a letter resume. Technically it is a letter and not a resume but it contains much of what would ordinarily be covered in a resume.
The letter resume is the least effective form because employers seem to like to see your resume, often skipping the cover letter and going straight to the resume. But if you are pursuing a position for which an effective resume cannot be written, you can submit a letter that outlines your qualifications for the position.
There is no standard format for a letter resume. It is strictly a function of the reason the letter is being written, the job being pursued and the qualifications you possess.
The basic mission of the letter resume is the same as the chronological and functional resumes – to get a phone call. Therefore, structure the letter to arouse enough interest so you get the call.
Many people construct a resume from the narrow perspective of duties and responsibilities. It then sounds like a series of mini job descriptions. When your resume is competing among many, employers are more likely to respond favorably if your resume relates what you accomplished. Rather than stating what you were supposed to do, state what you actually did and how well you did it. The resume crafted with clearly written achievements brings it to life. It is a large part of selling yourself. An employer will call the person who speaks of what they did before the person who only speaks about responsibilities.
Rather than stating what you were supposed to do, state what you actually did and how well you did it.
Everyone has accomplished a lot in each job held any length of time. However, we are not used to thinking about what we did as accomplishments and simply consider that we only did what was expected. Regardless of whether goals or expectations were met or exceeded, accomplishments did take place. Accomplishment statements are what will make your resume stand out above your competitions’ resumes.
Many people hesitate to write accomplishments because they have been taught not to blow their own horn. The most often cited reason is “I was just doing my job.” That’s OK – just sell it to potential employers. Let them know what you have done.
Accomplishment statements are “miniature stories.” They state the situation, what you did about it and the outcome or results – quantified if possible. They should be brief, ideally two or three sentences. The entire story need not be told. Keep in mind that the purpose of the resume is to get a phone call. The employer can ask questions on the phone or in an interview to learn the details.
To help you to recall accomplishments that you may be able to use in your resume, think about the various positions you have held. What did you do? What were the results? What are some of the war stories you have told? What were the best things that happened during that period of time?
The exercises done in the last chapter have probably provided you with all the material you need to write your accomplishments. Especially look at the statements you developed in exercise #3. The list of words in this exercise, used in chapter 3 as a brainstorming exercise, can be used now to find just the right verbs for your accomplishment statements.
Accomplishment statements are “miniature stories.”
The situation you faced
The action you took, and
The result or outcome.
Now write or rewrite your accomplishments so they tell a very brief story, but one with strong impact. Include the situation you faced – which may have been a problem or an opportunity to be addressed. Describe in the briefest terms possible what action you took. Then, again briefly, describe the outcome. Quantify the outcome if you can – it always communicates better. Write the accomplishment in one or two sentences.
After you have written down a fairly large number of accomplishments, pick out three to five of the best for you last position, fewer for previous positions, and start to polish them. Quantify results, use numbers whenever possible.
Resumes all look like resumes, don’t they? There are differences, certainly some look more professional than others but they all seem to have about the same structure. Even when seen from a distance you can tell it’s a resume, can’t you? There is a reason for that.
Your goal is to structure your interests, skills and experience in such a way that a hiring manager or even a gatekeeper can easily scan it. So certain things tend to be in the same place and therefore end up “looking like a resume.”
Your name and contact information are at the top. Don’t make them too prominent. It is fine to make your name a little larger but your contact information should be downplayed and be in a font no larger than the body of the resume. MS Word automatically places a line under your email address but if you highlight it you can delete the underline. If you have a second page, add a header which includes your name and “Page 2.”
Next comes the Position Objective section that states the function and general level of the position you seek, the benefits the employer will receive from hiring you and the motivated skills you will apply to attain those benefits for the employer – you are selling features and benefits. All this can be done in one sentence. You can then follow that sentence with a brief, several-sentence summary of your relevant experience – all in the same paragraph, usually.
Typically the next section is Experience, headed in several different ways from Work History through Professional Experience. As a rule the company name is listed first – sometimes followed by a description of the company. Dates employed by the company are usually on the same line but on the right margin. The next line has the position title and, if more than one position was held with the same company, the dates in that position are right after the title. Follow with a general description of the job, being certain to give the general scope of the job – it is a lot different to run a plant of 25 employees and a plant of 3,500 employees! Follow with your accomplishment statements. Use bullets. Use more accomplishments in your most recent jobs. Older jobs may not be relevant enough to list any accomplishments – the space may be better served with accomplishments from more recent jobs.
The next section typically is Education. Here is a good place to add certifications, licenses, additional training and the like. Just change the heading to “Education and _____________”
Next you may need to add a section for Technical Skills or Computer Skills. Many in IT use this section but move it to the second section of the resume, ahead of experience.
Sample resume –
Click here for a sample resume. The structure is a good clear structure that will work well for you. It is easy to scan because of the way it is structured/formatted. The resume is in Adobe Acrobat format and will open in a new window.
Notes on resume format
Center the headings so the left margin is kept clear for “content impact.” The reader will more easily pick out position desired, company names and job titles.
If you have a two-page resume, do not print back-to-back. Print two pages.
Using a variety of fonts in your resume, in addition to using caps and underlining, can enhance the visual presentation and makes it easier to read. But don’t overdo it.
The second heading should be the major area of qualifications on which you are basing your search. If you are just finishing your degree and expect to be hired primarily based on your education, then put education first. If you are building upon your current position then use work history, employment experience or similar – this should be in reverse chronological order. If you seek a job based on experience prior to your current job then consider using a functional resume format.
Do not use parentheses if at all possible. Type phone numbers with dashes or periods as separators. The only exception is putting an acronym in parentheses after the phrase it represents such as: Masters in Business Administration ( MBA ). Both are needed in your resume so an employer’s computerized keyword search will highlight either version. Some advise putting a space before and after the acronym so a computer search will see it.
Resume Do’s and Don’ts
- Be truthful, factual and accurate
- Your resume is your ad, your sales promotion piece. Keep it very positive.
- Tell the reader how well you did your job, not just what you were supposed to do.
- Keep it to one or two pages.
- Include accomplishments. Quantify. Be specific
- Put more emphasis on more recent jobs, i. e. more accomplishments.
- Use action words.
- Organize so key information can be picked out easily.
- Make the resume visually attractive. Use white space.
- Ask at least two others who understand your industry to read and critique your resume.
- Don’t confuse a resume with an application form and try to answer all the company’s questions.
- Don’t assume your resume will be read thoroughly. Organize it so the information you want the reader to see jumps out at them when they scan it.
- Don’t use industry jargon in a resume going outside the industry.
- Don’t rely on one version of your resume for different types of positions.
- Don’t send your resume unless you plan to follow up with a phone call.
- Don’t use bright or odd size paper.
- Don’t send your resume without a cover letter.
- Don’t put references in your resume.
- Don’t crowd the resume – leave plenty of white space.