Most people equate writing their resume with getting dental work done in terms of fun. It’s necessary, but not necessarily enjoyable. Statistics from today’s challenging job market prove the value of a memorable resume:
- A job offer typically generates between 100 to 1000 resumes
- Only one interview is scheduled for every 200 resumes received by the average employer
- Resumes are rarely read entirely; rather, they are scanned for approximately 10-20 seconds
It becomes clear with figures such as the above that your resume alone may be the one thing standing between you and the job of your dreams. Without an effective resume, an employer may never extend an interview and give you a chance to share what makes you and your talents unique.
This article serves as a guide to crafting the resume that will earn you that interview. While keeping in mind that there is no best or proven “formula” to constructing your resume, there are certain things that should (and should not) be included. In addition to covering content, this guide will also offer some valuable advice on proofreading your resume, so that you can be assured yours has no typos, spelling errors or formatting discrepancies.
Whatever you choose to include in your resume, bear in mind that this is your chance to shine.
Purpose of a Resume
Most people assume that the purpose of a resume is simply to convey information about current and past work experience, educational achievements and the like. Building a resume off of this assumption is what causes so many resumes to be tossed aside, and so many candidates to be overlooked when scheduling face-to-face interviews.
The true purpose of a resume is to get to the next step in the process. Advancing is often the result of a hiring authority being enticed by a resume; he or she wants to know more about the person behind the paper. In essence, the purpose of your professional resume is to make the hiring authority keen on meeting you. You’ll have followed the advice presented in this article, and you’ll have created a resume that, put simply, leaves the hiring authority wanting to know more.
Throughout the drafting process, it’s important to shift your mindset from that of a candidate trudging through the necessary evils of resume writing to the mindset of a clever advertising copywriter. But I’m not a copywriter, you object. This may be true, but because no one knows you better than you, no one is better-suited to sell you to others than you.
The savvy copywriter must convey the same message to his audience that your resume must convey to a hiring authority: if you choose this item, you will get these results. If a television viewer gets swept away by a slick commercial featuring the newest, shiniest convertible, he believes that purchasing the car will allow him to careen down coastal highways, wind in his hair, love at his side. Using this same idea, if you are able to have a hiring manager “buy” the skills you are offering in your resume, he or she may come to equate you with images of increased profits, greater productivity, idea generation, etc.
With this knowledge, and if written skillfully, your resume should result in an increased number of interviews compared to other competing candidates.
RESUME BASICS: GETTING STARTED
Every resume should have two basic sections: in the first section, you “pitch” yourself, or make declarations about what sets you apart from others, and what it is that you can deliver; in the second section, you back up your declarations with facts or data. The first section should have either two or three subsections: a summary, objective and a brief list of skills or accomplishments. Some choose to roll their objective into the summary, while others keep it separate. The second section should have 2 subsections: your professional history and your educational credentials. This is also the section where some choose to include personal or volunteer activities, publications and/or references, but, as we will cover later, these are not resume requirements.
Before setting your pen to the paper or your fingers to the keyboard, take a moment to focus on your target position at your target company. Ask yourself what qualities the perfect candidate for this position would have. What unique abilities would this person have? What is it about the perfect candidate that gets him/her an invitation to an interview above other candidates? By focusing on the employer’s needs, and not your own, your resume will be seen as a potential asset to the company, rather than a liability.
You should also set aside some time to brainstorm or sketch out a rough outline of your resume. This will help to concentrate your writing efforts. Take the question posed earlier (what qualities the perfect candidate would have), and write it in the center of a clean sheet of paper. Brainstorm about what these qualities are, branching out from the center question.
Once you have created as many branches off the center question as possible, write each quality at the top of its own piece of paper. Rank the qualities by putting the pages in order from most important to least important, and then go through each page, listing “proof” that you embody that page’s criterion. The idea behind this exercise is to flesh out the content of your resume with material that is in alignment with what the organization and hiring manager are seeking in their ideal candidate. When you’ve finished brainstorming, you should be in a good place – and mindset – to start creating your resume.
FIRST SECTION: DECLARATIONS
As previously mentioned, the first half of your resume should contain your objective, a summary and a brief list of your skills and/or accomplishments.
The objective should come first, and may or may not have the summary rolled in to it (you get to choose). The purpose of the objective is to communicate to the employer that you are serious about what you want, and where you’re going. It is important to use clear, direct and concise language when writing your objective, because relying on “five-dollar” words and ambiguous or generic phrases will only signal to the hiring authority that perhaps you’re not all that focused, or certain of what it is that you want to do.
Put yourself in the hiring manager’s role. Imagine that you are the hiring authority at a hospital, combing through Registered Nurses’ resumes. Which of the following candidate’s objectives convey a message of having clear career direction?
Candidate A Objective: “To join a growing organization where I can utilize my education and experience to make an impact within my department and the company as a whole.”
Candidate B Objective: “A Registered Nurse position in an organization where meticulous patient care and sophisticated problem solving skills would be needed.”
It doesn’t take much to see that Candidate A’s objective is very generic and non-specific. It could apply to anyone, applying for any position. Aside from these problems, it tells the employer nothing about the candidate. The only information it conveys is that s/he wants to join a growing organization (who wants to get hired by a place about to go under?), and that s/he has an education (most candidates do!), experience (of course!) and a desire to make an impact (“Gee thanks, Mr. Hiring Manager. I sure hope to fade into the woodwork here at your company!”).
Candidate B’s objective, however, is starkly different. It unmistakably identifies the candidate’s target job title, and alludes to two qualities that A) the candidate him/herself possesses, and B) a hospital would need. Candidate B has piqued the interest of the hiring manager, and leaves him interested in learning more about what this person has to offer.
To create your own objective that’s just as effective as Candidate B’s (if not more), simply plug your own variables into the following formula:
Objective: A(n) XXX position in an organization where YYY and ZZZ would be needed.
where XXX = your target position’s title, and YYY and ZZZ = your stand-out qualities
If you can’t settle on your stand-out qualities (after all, you have many to choose from!), do some research. Ask your recruiter to see a description of the position’s requirements and functions, and build off of that. Or, seek out others in a similar role, and ask what qualities or accomplishments might help set one apart in their particular field. Whatever qualities you choose to include, remember that you will be asked to elaborate on these things; you should be prepared to explain how you deliver meticulous patient care and solve problems in a sophisticated manner, as in the case of Candidate B.
Lastly, if you plan to apply for several different positions at different companies, you should strongly consider creating unique versions of your objective statement. This will customize your resume to each role or company, and help communicate to each hiring manager that, just like a fine Italian suit that’s been tailored for its wearer, you are the best fit.
The ”Summary” section of your resume is a short run-down of your key qualities, accomplishments and skills. This is the place where you truly set yourself apart from all the other candidates vying for the position. Just as the objective statement was geared toward the specific role, so should be the summary. This may very well be the only section of your resume that is read in its entirety, so this is where you should really make an impact.
Many candidates fumble around with what to include in a summary. It is not an easy task, to generate a brief paragraph that sells yourself, while leaving some information undisclosed (if you told them everything, why would they want to bring you in for an interview?). To direct your summary, choose several of the following items to include:
- A brief phrase describing your career, paired with a statement of broad or specialized expertise
- 2-3 statements that relate to any of the following:
- Quality of skills
- Unique mix of skills
- Type of environment(s) in which you have experience
- One stand-out accomplishment
- An award, promotion or special recognition that you have received
- 1 or more professional or personal characteristics that pertain to the position
- A statement that describes your professional goal(s) or interest(s)
- This is your objective statement!
Here is an example of an effective summary:
“Registered Nurse with prescriptive authority possessing over fifteen years of experience in treating pediatric, adult and geriatric critical care patients. Innovative in creating individualized patient care plans and delivering education to patients and their families. Skilled in cardiovascular and neurological assessments, and delegating appropriate tasks to support staff. Seeking a Registered Nurse position in an organization where meticulous patient care and sophisticated problem solving skills would be needed.”
Notice how this summary has plugged in an objective statement as its last sentence. If you choose to go this route, there is no need to have a stand-alone “Objective” section on your resume.
Skills and Accomplishments
The final component of the first half of your resume is where you get down to specifics. The materials presented under the “Skills and Accomplishments” heading substantiates the claims you have made about your qualities in the “Summary” section. Another way to look at it is that the “Summary” section is the “cause,” and the “Skills and Accomplishments” section is the “effect;” because you are XXX, YYY and ZZZ, 111, 222 and 333 have happened.
You may choose to present your “Skills and Accomplishments” section in one of a couple different ways:
- Create a bulleted list of your skills or accomplishments
- Create a bullet point that corresponds with each position held or company worked for that includes a skill or accomplishment
Regardless of which route you go, remember to highlight skills or accomplishments that a prospective employer would find valuable in a new hire. This is also the section of your resume to set modesty aside – don’t be afraid to toot your own horn! Your "Skills and Accomplishments" section should be the icing on the cake of what sets you apart from all of the other candidates, and their run-of-the-mill resumes.
SECOND SECTION: FACTS & DATA
The second section of your resume, which should contain your education and professional experience, is the material that most people equate with being on a resume. It may seem like a very cut-and-dry portion, but, as you read below, you’ll quickly learn that there are best practices in presenting this information.
Your professional experience should be the first chunk of information in the second section of your resume. It is best to always put positions held in reverse chronological order; in other words, place the job you currently hold at the top, and work your way back to your earliest relevant position, which should be last. When making your way through your work history, spare the hiring manager from the nitty-gritty details and minutiae of your early roles. For these, provide a brief paragraph that summarizes all of your early career ventures in one fell swoop.
When listing your more prominent roles, examine both the names of the companies for which you worked, and the titles you held. Whichever is more notable should be used consistently in outlining your work history. For example, let’s say that you worked at Jones County Hospital, Smithville Rural Hospital and Cedar Rapids General Hospital, and your respective titles were Registered Nurse, Charge Nurse, and Chief Nurse Executive Officer. In this instance, it would be best to lead each section of work history with the title held, followed by the company name, since the titles are consistently more remarkable. On the same line as the title held, place the dates in which you held that position in italic font. Never use the month when providing dates of employment, unless you were in that role for less than a year.
One final note about detailing your work history: the heading should be listed as “Professional Experience” or “Professional History.” Avoid utilizing headers such as “Work History” or “Employment History,” as these give a lower-level impression to your resume.
Most employers will be interested in knowing what level of education you attained. Educational history should follow directly under your "Professional Experience" section in the second half of your resume.
As with your work history, educational degrees should be listed in reverse chronological order, with the most recently completed degree or certification at the top of the section. If your educational background is a blend of degrees, licenses, certifications and advanced training, place them in the following order: degrees, licenses, certifications, advanced training. When detailing your college career, you need not provide any other information than the school’s name, your degree and area of study. It is also acceptable to provide your GPA, as long as it was 3.5 or higher.
Advanced training courses are a tricky area, and in general, should only be included if they will wow the employer, or add overwhelming value to you as a candidate.
If you are working toward a degree at the time you are creating your resume, you should include the degree being pursued, area of study, and, in parentheses, the date you will graduate.
Miscellaneous Resume Information
Personal Contact Information – This should be present and centered at the top of each page of your resume. Your name should be in bold font that is larger than the rest of the information. It is expected that you will provide your name, address, phone number and email address. Be certain that the phone number and email address placed on your resume are ones that you check frequently, and ensure that voicemails can be left on your phone. No one wants to get passed over for a dream job because the hiring authority couldn’t leave a message on his or her voicemail. Also, do not put the word “Resume” above or below your personal information. It will be plenty obvious to the reader that this document is, in fact, your resume.
Professional Affiliations – This can go after your “Education and Training.” Like advanced training courses, you should provide only professional affiliations that are relevant to the career, company or industry to which you are applying. In addition, be certain to list only affiliations that are current, and if you hold a leadership role in an organization, you should list that as well.
Community Organizations – Same rules as “Professional Affiliations.” It is wise to steer clear of mentioning that you are an active member of, say, The Dallas County Democrats, Republican Party of Travis County or any political organization, as this could either be helpful or hurtful to your resume, depending on who is reading it!
Publications – Include any published writing that you have authored. If something has yet to be published, do not include it. If you are a prolific author, and have myriad works published, it’s best not to list them one-by-one, and instead, provide a brief summary of your publications.
Personal Interests or Hobbies – Personal interests or hobbies are best excluded from a resume. Remember, the purpose for a resume is to get to the next step in the process! You may want to share that you are an avid rock climber or a skilled cat juggler, but save it for your interview. Recall that your resume should stimulate the reader to be curious about whom you are, and make him or her want to get to know more about you. If you reveal everything in your resume, the employer has no reason to invite you in to the office.
Salary Requirements – Leave this out of your resume, unless specifically requested by the employer.
References – Simply include one line at the bottom of your resume. It should be centered on the page, and listed in italics. It should read: “References available upon request.”
That’s it! You’ve got all the necessary components to your resume. Now, let’s discuss how to edit and review the document before you submit it to a prospective employer.
FINAL STEP: EDITING & PROOFREADING
By the time you’ve finished composing your resume, it may be tempting just to run SpellCheck once, and call it a day. If you feel yourself being drawn to this option, take your hand off the mouse and back away from your computer! Take a break, or better yet, get some sleep and distance yourself from your resume. Coming back to it with fresh eyes and a renewed sense of perspective will only make you a sharper proofreader.
Allow yourself ample time to edit and proofread your resume. It is best to re-visit it several times, and better yet to limit yourself to checking for only one type of error per pass. For example, if you are planning to proofread your resume at 10:00 AM, 2:00 PM and 6:00 PM, perhaps you check for punctuation errors at 10:00, spelling errors at 2:00 and overall flow of contents at 6:00.
Not sure of what you should be checking for in your proofreading passes? Here are some commonly used techniques for better proofreading that you can use on your resume – or any document, for that matter:
- Read your document out loud for errors in word sequence and overall flow. Your ears will hear errors that your eyes may skim over if you read silently to yourself.
- Check for spelling errors by reading your resume word-for-word, starting at the end of the document and working your way back to the first word. In other words, read backwards! If you check for spelling errors by reading as we normally do, you will often pass over mistakes, because your brain compensates and is able to “translate” what you were really trying to communicate.
- Give your resume to a few close friends or relatives for proofreading. Offer that you will do the same for them, in exchange for their new viewpoint.
- Place a ruler or blank piece of dark paper beneath each line of text that you are checking, moving it down one line as you finish the previous one. This will decrease the stimulation that your eyes are getting, and allow you to really focus on one line of text at a time.
- Check specifically for incorrect usage of words that are frequently confused: to/two/too; they’re/their/there; affect/effect; ensure/insure; then/than; who/whom; your/you're; its/it’s, etc.
- Check for consistency in verb tenses throughout your resume. You wouldn’t want to have one bullet point under your last job read “Maintained company’s adherence to federal regulations,” and the bullet point beneath it read “Tracks and analyzes P&L data for the department.” The former bullet point expresses a function in the past-tense, while the latter bullet point describes a function in the present tense. Verb tenses should all agree, and be uniform from start to finish.
- When referring to numbers in your resume, you should spell out numbers from zero to ten. Numbers greater than ten should be expressed using digits (i.e. – 15, 100, $100,000).
- Check for consistency in formatting. If one company’s name is in bold text, make sure all of the others are too. Do indented lines all begin at the same point? If your bulleted lists in one section end with periods, make sure that the remaining bulleted lists in your resume end that way as well. Consistency is the key! Having a uniform resume shows that you have an eye for detail and are scrupulous in your presentation.
- If your resume is more than one page, ensure that your personal information is repeated (and centered) at the top of each new page. Pages should be numbered, and you should check to ensure that they are numbered correctly.
- Check that your resume can be easily read. Font size should be, at a minimum, 11-point. Times New Roman or Arial are both clean, simple fonts that lend professionalism to your resume and make it easy on the eyes of the reader. The margins of your page should be set at a minimum of one inch from the top, bottom, left and right page borders, and there should be consistency in the spacing between the sections of your resume.
Once you have completed proofreading, and you feel that you are done, print your resume on the highest quality stock paper that you can afford. Use a laser printer if possible; this will ensure that the text is crisp, and the ink will not run if it becomes wet. The paper should be bright white, 8.5” X 11” in dimension and free of frills or “extras.” Choosing the paper with a strange texture or bits of confetti in it will swiftly get your resume noticed, but for all the wrong reasons.
If you are applying for a senior-level position, it is recommended that you print your resume on Crane’s 100% rag paper. Be sure that the watermark is facing the right way.
Also, be sure to print out several copies of your resume, and keep them secured in a folder, where they are less likely to become wrinkled, curled at the corners or grubby-looking. Before you present your resume to someone, ensure that there are no smudges from dirty hands, or remnants of last night’s dinner dirtying the page.
FINAL NOTE: RESUME INTEGRITY
Bear in mind that whatever you choose to include – or omit – from your resume may be subject to investigation by your recruiter and/or prospective employer. Your previously held positions, compensation, dates of employment and educational credentials are all likely to be verified by any employer who is serious about bringing you on board. Do everyone involved in the hiring process a favor, and see to it that your resume is a document of integrity, just as you are a professional of integrity. Intentional omissions, aggrandizements or flat-out lies are fast ways to become blacklisted within the recruiting community, a company or even an industry.