Resume Writing Guidance
When you’re applying to a job post, and competing against a number of applicants, it’s likely that one or more staff members (possibly aided by a software program) will conduct an initial screening of resumes. A small number of the resumes will be forwarded to the hiring decision makers for a more careful review. Check out the content below to learn how to increase the odds that your resume will make it past the screeners—and result in an interview.
Your resume is a one-page document that identifies your professional strengths, experiences, and skills. Throughout your search for employment, your resume can serve many purposes:
- If you are applying for an advertised vacancy, the purpose of your resume is to advance you past the screening stage to the interview stage of the hiring process.
- If you are pursuing an unadvertised employment opportunity, or trying to persuade an employer to hire you based on your talents even if a position is not currently available, the purpose of your resume is to convince a hiring decision maker to meet with you for a formal or informal job interview.
- If you are networking, the purpose of your resume is to persuade one of your network contacts to connect you with or recommend you to a hiring decision maker.
The content of your resume should answer the following questions for a potential employer:
- What is your name, and how may I contact you?
- How will you contribute to my success?
- What is your work experience?
- What education and training have you obtained?
The two most common types of resumes are the chronological resume and the functional resume.
A chronological resume lists the jobs you've held, starting with your current or most recent position and proceeding in reverse-chronological order to your first position. Your experiences and accomplishments are then listed under each position held. The chronological resume is the most common type of resume and is preferred by most employers.
A functional resume emphasizes your skills by grouping specific skills under general skill categories. For example, if "technical expertise" is your general skill, you might list "Microsoft Office Suite" as a specific skill under that skill category. Functional resumes are often used by people who are changing careers, as they highlight transferable skills, or by people with gaps in employment history, as they deemphasize the chronology of one’s employment history.
If you are open to working in one of a number of occupations, fields, or industries, are networking or using a direct canvassing approach, or cannot create a targeted resume for each business you apply to, you may want to create several versions of an industry-specific resume. These will emphasize the skills and experience that are most relevant to each occupation or field you are pursuing. For example, you might create a version focused on retail or customer service positions, another version aimed at construction or manufacturing jobs, and a third version focused on positions within a security firm.
If you are applying for a specific position, you will want to create an employer-specific resume that emphasizes your capabilities and accomplishments that are most relevant to that job or job title.
If you are trying to educate the members of your job search network about the overall capabilities and contributions you can offer prospective employers, you will need to develop a general purpose resume that highlights your signature capabilities and accomplishments.
When applying for positions with the federal government, it is wise to use a federal resume. This type of resume is more detailed and contains information not found in chronological or functional resumes.
Properly formatting your resume improves readability and projects professionalism. Here are some popular formatting guidelines:
- Length: One to two pages in most circumstances; if you have a two-page resume, place name and page number in footer of document.
- Alignment: Left aligned, except the heading, which is typically centered.
- Margins: One inch – top, bottom, and sides.
- Font: Times New Roman, Cambria, or a similar font.
- Font size: 10 to 12 point; section titles may as large as 14 point.
- Font styles: Bold your name and section headings.
To create persuasive and powerful items or bullet points for your resume, remember this formula:
Action Verbs + Details + Results = Impressive Resumes
Begin each bullet point with an action verb. Avoid starting a bullet point with the words "Responsible for" and jump right to the verb that tells the resume reader what you did.
Next, add relevant details that show a clearer picture of what you did.
Then, briefly describe what you achieved. The easiest way to identify a result is to ask yourself: "What was the reason for performing the task? What would have happened if the task had not been performed?" In some cases, you might be able to describe a numerical impact—dollars, or improving performance by a specific percentage, saving or earning—but more likely you'll need to describe the result in more general terms.
Review these examples for ideas.
Average Bullet Point(Action Verb)
Good Bullet Point(Action Verb)
Excellent Bullet Point(Action Verb)
|Answered customer phone calls
|Answered an average of 25 customer calls per day. Answered questions, resolved problems, and recommended additional products or services they might find useful.
|Answered an average of 25 customer calls per day. Answered questions, resolved problems, and recommended additional products or services they might find useful. Increased customer satisfaction and loyalty, as well as follow-on purchases.
|Drove a forklift truck
|Drove a forklift truck, resupplied 12 work stations with all parts and materials needed to operate an assembly line.
|Drove a forklift truck, resupplied 12 work stations with all parts and materials needed to operate an assembly line. Maintained an accident-free driving record for more than 3 years, and ensured the assembly line never shut down due to a shortage of parts.
|Maintained delivery trucks
|Performed comprehensive maintenance on 6 delivery trucks that averaged 14 hours of use per day and 30,000 miles per year.
|Performed comprehensive maintenance on 6 delivery trucks that averaged 14 hours of use per day and 30,000 miles per year. Achieved a 98% availability rate and prevented thousands of dollars of unscheduled repair.
|Developed and implemented new employee training program
|Developed and implemented a training program for over 200 new employees on safety procedures and the correct use of tools and equipment.
|Developed and implemented a training program for over 200 new employees on safety procedures and the correct use of tools and equipment, resulting in a sharp decrease in lost-time accidents, workers compensation claims, and employee turnover.
|Processed over 30 invoices per day quickly and accurately.
|Processed over 30 invoices per day quickly and accurately, reducing average billing-to-payment cycle from 6 weeks to 3 weeks.
The best way to increase the odds that your resume will make it past screeners, and result in an interview, is to customize your resume for the position you are targeting.
Here’s how to customize your resume for a targeted position:
- Print the job description for the targeted position and read it carefully. Highlight key words and phrases that identify required and preferred skills and experience, as well as the responsibilities and duties of the position. If you’ve learned about a vacant position through other means (informational interviews, for example), refer to your notes or reflect on what you’ve learned about the position.
- Write down the required skills, experience, and responsibilities.
- Identify your strengths that match the job description’s key words. If you can’t identify a close match of your strengths and accomplishments with some of the requirements listed in the job description, try to think of your strengths and accomplishments that are similar to the requirements.
- Highlight in your resume your strengths that match required skills, experience, and responsibilities of the job description.
- Do not include personal information, including your age, marital status, etc.
- Use present tense verbs when describing your current position; use past tense for your previous jobs.
- Do not use "I" or "my" when describing your capabilities, accomplishments, or experience.
- Proofread it, and proofread it again. Then give it to a friend who is good at catching errors to proofread again.
Cover letters allow you to introduce yourself and tell a brief story to persuade an employer how well your skills, abilities, and attributes match the organization’s needs. If you are pursuing a specific job or position, customize the cover letter for that position and the employer.
If you are pursuing employment with a particular business or organization, but you don’t have a specific position in mind, customize the cover letter for that employer.
Paragraph 1: Say why you are writing
- Identify the position you are applying for, if you are targeting a specific position.
- Mention how you heard about the organization or the job opening.
- If you and the reader have a mutual acquaintance, and that person has given you permission to use their name, mention the connection.
- Demonstrate that you have researched the company by mentioning a new project the company has taken on, their organizational mission or management philosophy, or news item you have read.
Paragraph 2: Connect the dots
- If you are applying for a specific position, consider showing how your abilities (including personal effectiveness and leadership skills) and experience meet or exceed the position’s requirements.
- If you are targeting an employer or occupation but using a more generic cover letter, summarize your most important skills and accomplishments that are relevant to either the employer or the occupation.
Paragraph 3: Wrap it up
- Express confidence that your experience and capabilities will enable you to contribute to the employer’s success.
- State that you look forward to discussing the contributions you can offer in an interview.