How to write a resume

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Let’s face it. Writing a resume is a daunting task. While the resources providing writing tips are many, few actually provide a step by step process on how to write one. However if you want to write it on your own, we commend your courage and are here to guide you through the process.

 

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Table of Contents

  1. Step 1: Choose From 3 Formats

  2. Step 2: How to Order your Information
  3. Step 3: How to Style your Resume

First, let’s review what a resume isn’t.

  • It isn’t a log of your job history.
  • It isn’t a summary of skills.
  • It isn’t going to automatically get you a job.

Think of your resume this way: It’s an advertisement, and YOU are the product. Your goal is to get hiring managers to buy into what you’re selling – which means giving you an interview. To accomplish that, you need to see it as your marketing tool, your trusty belt buckle of tricks. Without it you are powerless. However, simply having a one isn’t enough to get you an interview.

Think about it — everyone has advertisements. Why should anyone buy into yours? Hiring managers have the difficult task of wading through the ads to find the right fit for their company.

Much like the flashing neon signs along the Vegas Strip, hiring managers are attracted to well-formatted resumes with attention-grabbing details. Studies show that, “8 out of 10 resumes are discarded with only a 10 second glance.” So in order stand out from the crowd it’s important that yours markets your skills in a way that demonstrates that you can successfully perform the duties of the job.

To help you do this, we’ve written easy-to-follow steps on how to write a resume. Before we get into the steps it should be noted that there is no certified way to write one. There are some who insist otherwise, but even certified professional resume writers will admit that, “a guiding principle of the résumé writing profession is that there are no hard and fast rules.” With that being said, below are some tips and guidelines to help you write one that best presents your career goals.

Step 1: Choose From 3 Formats

So you are staring at a blank page on your computer wondering, “Where do I start?” Hundreds ask this same question every day and the reason is most likely due to the fact that there is no standard rule for formatting a resume.

Your formatting decision comes down to 3 choices: Reverse-Chronological, Functional, and Combination. Each format has their own advantages and disadvantages. Below, you will find which one is best for you.

I. Reverse-Chronological

This is the more traditional format and is what you are most likely to come across. Chronological format is flexible and can be used for applicants with any level of experience.

 

I should use if:

  • I want to show a vertical career progression.
  • I want to apply to a job in a similar field.
  • I want to promote my upward career mobility

I shouldn’t use if:

  • I have major gaps in my employment history.
  • I am changing my career path.
  • I change jobs every few months.

II. Functional

While chronological places emphasis on career progression, a functional format focuses on your abilities and skills. Since it heavily emphasizes the applicant’s qualifications, functional format is more suitable for those with an expert level of experience.

 

I should use if:

  • I have gaps in my employment history.
  • I am changing my career industry.
  • I want to highlight a specific skill set.

I shouldn’t use if:

  • I want to highlight my upward career mobility.
  • I am an entry level candidate that lacks experience.
  • I lack transferable skills

III. Combination

As you can probably guess the combination format merges bits and pieces from both chronological and functional formats. Like the functional format, it focuses on specific qualifications, yet the body of the document contains professional experience similar to chronological format. This format is generally reserved for those with a great deal of experience in a particular industry.

 

I should use if:

  • I want to highlight a developed skill set within a specific career.
  • I want to change my career path.
  • I am a master of the subject I am applying to.

I shouldn’t use if:

  • I want to highlight my education.
  • I lack experience.
  • I am an entry level candidate.

Step 2: The Order of Information

Before delving into what information you should add, it’s important to remember that the information you include will largely depend on the format you choose. With that being said, below is a general guide to what information you should add and the order in which you should add it.

I. Contact Information

The contact information section is pretty self-explanatory. This section does not require a label (Contact Information or Contact Details). When listing your contact details you should follow this order:

  • Name (largest font on page, middle initial is optional)
  • Mailing Address
  • Telephone Number (Check that you have an appropriate voicemail message)
  • Email Address (make sure it’s appropriate, don’t use your sexypanda45@gmail.com account.)
  • Link to online portfolio (optional, ensure it is relevant to the position)
  • LinkedIn Profile

Also, be careful not to accidentally add the contact information in the header as applicant tracking systems may not be able to read it.

II. Choose a Resume Introduction

Like formats, job seekers have 3 choices for their resume introduction: a qualifications summary, career objective, and professional profile. The goal of all three are to gain the attention of an employer by highlighting your skills and experience that will help their company. However, the method through which each introduction achieves this goal differs. See below:

Qualifications Summary

With regards to format, the qualifications summary is a bullet point list (ranging from 4 to 6 points) of your most outstanding career achievements. Avoid using generic statements and try to list your skills in a way reflects your unique voice.

 

I should use if:

  • I am applying to a job that requires a rigid set of abilities.
  • I have a wealth of experience in the industry.
  • I possess multiple skill sets.

I shouldn’t use if:

  • I lack experience.
  • I am an entry level candidate that lacks specific skill sets.
  • I lack measurable achievements.

Career Objective

A resume objective, also referred to as a career objective, is a 2-3 sentence statement that provides an overview of your skills and experience. This resume introduction is best for entry-level candidates.

 

I should use if:

  • I am an entry-level applicant.
  • I do not have in-depth experience in the industry.
  • I am a recent college graduate.

 

I shouldn’t use if:

  • I have a wealth of industry-specific skill sets.
  • I am changing career paths.
  • I am writing a cover letter.

Professional Profile

The professional profile is a combination of both the career objective and qualifications summary. It is also the most flexible of the three styles as it can be formatted as short paragraph of bullet-point list.

 

I should use if:

  • I have had major achievement in my past experience
  • I am applying to a position in the same industry
  • I have a special area of expertise in my field

I shouldn’t use if:

  • I am an entry-level applicant
  • I am recent college graduate
  • I lack measurable of accomplishments

Finally, when deciding what skills to add to either of the two, try to target skills specific to the job you are applying for. Don’t just simply copy and paste skills right out of the job description, but instead try to use words common in the industry.

III. Professional Experience

The section is the core of your resume, where you are tasked with proving the skills you have listed in the qualifications summary or career objective. When it comes to labeling this section some use “Relevant Experience,” or “Work Experience” as an alternative to “Professional Experience.”

Remember to list your work experiences in reverse chronological order and only list experience that is relevant to the job you are applying for. For each company create a heading including the company’s name, city & state, your title, and the dates of employment (month and year). If you are still currently working at a company, you can simply write “month, year-Present” for the employment dates.

A general rule is that each experience have around 3-5 bullet points of your main duties and achievements.

3 Parts of a strong bullet point:

  • 1st: Action Verb (should always be first)
  • 2nd: Quantifiable Point
  • 3rd: Specific and relevant job duty

Example #1:

Trained 5+ cashiers, managing their cash limits and guaranteeing quality customer service at all times.

Example #2:(Note that the Quantifiable Point does not need to come immediately after the action verb)

Spearheaded the development of the first media kit amalgamation for all company projects, increasing national sales by 8%.

The above bullet points are great examples because they use action verbs to help to snatch the attention of hiring managers. Here is an endless list of action verbs to help get some inspiration. When writing your past experiences don’t forget to write your action verbs in past tense.

IV. Education

Having a solid education section helps to display the foundation of your knowledge and expertise. Depending on your professional experience, you may want to consider switching the order of the professional experience and education sections.

For instance, college or high school students that lack seasoned professional experience benefit from emphasizing their education by placing it before the professional experience section. In addition, if you possess a wealth of professional experience then it is appropriate to keep this section short and sweet.

Here are the main points to include in your education section:

  • The names of your university, community college, or technical school(Don’t include high school unless you did not attend college)
  • Location of the schools (city, state)
  • Date of graduation (month, year)
  • Degree(s)
  • GPA (only include if your GPA is above 3.0, round up to the first decimal place , and use this format: GPA: 3.5/4.0)

Here are three examples of how you can format an education section (pay attention to the yellow highlighted areas):

V. Additional Sections

By now you’ve already added the nuts and bolts to your resume. Below are a few sections you may want to consider adding to help strengthen it.

Certifications/Licenses

Sample Certifications Section

The certifications section is the most important of the other sections you can include, but adding a certifications or licenses section is largely dependent on your industry. For example, the nursing field has strict licensing requirements while the customer service sector does not.

If your industry requires certifications the hiring manager will be intent on finding them in your application. Make sure to thoroughly research your industry to find any relevant certifications or licenses you may have missed.

Publications

Adding a publications sections is pertinent for graduate students who have published articles that are relevant to the job they are applying to. List your articles in reverse chronological order by publishing date. Choose the referencing style that is appropriate to your discipline. It also acceptable to add works that have yet to be published. You may label these as “Works in Progress” or “Submitted for Publication.” Here is an example of how a publications sections should be formatted.

Awards/Honors/Activities

This section adds another layer of customization to your resume by providing evidence of your abilities. Adding relevant awards and activities helps you stand out from your competition. If this section becomes too lengthy, feel free to break them up into smaller sections. Here are some items to consider adding:

    • Grants
    • Academic Honors
    • Scholarships
    • Volunteer positions
    • Professional Affiliations

Technical Skills

Some careers, such as those in the IT or Engineering fields, require specialized knowledge and hands-on skills. Within the IT industry, a software manager’s responsibilities will differ from company to company. A technical skills section is helpful in showcasing your knowledge of specific systems.

To prevent this section from taking up too much space, try breaking up this section into categories and list your skills within each. For example:

    • Software: Proficient in Microsoft Office Suite, Visio, and Oracle
    • Programming Languages: Excel at HTML, C++, and Python

Additional Skills

Including an additional skills section may be worth considering. An additional skills section is a short and concise list of skills relevant to your industry. This section is similar a technical skills, but is often used for industries that do not specifically require advanced skills. Check out the yellow-highlighted additional skills section in the image to your right.

What to include:

  • Fluency in a second language
  • Knowledge of computer applications (ie Photoshop, Illustrator)
  • Ability to operate heavy machinery

What not to include:

  • Generic statements (Customer Service Skills)
  • Run of the mill skills
  • Unrelated skills

Even if you have already added skills to your career objective or qualifications summary, it never hurts to add more abilities. For instance, someone like an IT manager who works with a wide array of programs and techniques will in turn have a wide range of skills to fill both a qualifications summary and additional skills section.

Step 3: How to Style your Resume

Whew! So the hard part is over. You have all your content typed up and you are feeling confident about getting that interview. Now for the finishing touches. It’s time to give it some personality.

I. # of Pages

This is the most argued point of resume writing. Some professionals vigorously discourage applicants from going over one page, while others argue that in some instances it is acceptable. The bottom line is this: if you have information that is highly relevant to the position you are applying for then go ahead and add an extra page. However, if you are just adding fluff for the sake of adding pages, then your resume will suffer.

II. Font and Sizing Dos and Don’ts

Font style and size is largely dependent on your preference. You can never be sure what the hiring manager prefers so you have to go with your gut. However there are some Dos and Don’ts when it comes to choosing your font and sizes.

Dos

  • Choose easy-to-read fonts
  • Use the same font throughout
  • Change sizes in descending order for your name, headers, and bullet points
  • Choose a font that fits with the text sizes you’ve chosen

Don’ts

  • Don’t choose small sizes to fit everything on one page
  • Don’t pick wacky fonts (for heavens sake not Wing Dings!)
  • Don’t have one uniform text size throughout
  • Don’t go below 9pt
  • Don’t spend too much time on choosing a font

For sizing, many resumes follow a 24, 12, 10 format. This means that the name is 24pt, the body headers are 12pt, and the bullet points are 10pt.

This is by no means a rule, but rather a guideline to consider following. Just remember to keep the readability in mind when choosing sizes. If the hiring manager needs to put on their glasses just to make out your experience, then your application will be on one-way trip to the trash can.
When choosing your font, the choice will come down to a “Serif” style or a “Sans Serif” style. The major difference is that Serif fonts have small lines on the ends of their letters, while the Sans Serif does not. Again, the choice is based on your preference of what you think will be the easiest for a potential employer to read.

It’s worth noting whether your resume is a paper version or an electronic version. For a paper version it’s better to use Serif fonts, while electronic versions look better in Sans Serif fonts. Below are some popular font choices.

Serif Fonts:

  • Times New Roman
  • Georgia
  • Bookman Old Style
  • Century Gothic
San Serif Fonts:

  • Arial
  • Helvetica
  • Tahoma
  • Calibri

III. Lines

Lines are great to use to help break up the resume and allow potential employers to better process the information. Line breaks commonly begin after the career objective or qualifications summary. From there, they are used to break each subsequent section. How you divide it is up to you, but just don’t go page break crazy for every bit of information. Too many page breaks will ruin its readability.

Below are some line styles for you to consider (see the yellow highlights):

IV. Margins

Margins are the first thing a potential employer will notice about your resume, so it’s important that they are appropriately set. One inch margins are the safe bet for applicants that lack experience. If you have a wealth of experience that you are trying to fit to one page then it is acceptable to reduce to the margins. Be cautious when reducing the margins. If they are too small, your pages will look overcrowded. To be safe it is recommended not to go below .5.”

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