How to Write a Masterpiece of a Resume
This award-winning guide to resume writing will teach you to write a resume equal to one done by a top-notch professional writer. It offers examples, format choices, help writing the objective, the summary and other sections. It is one of the most trusted resume-writing guide on the planet, recently updated, and viewed by more than 20 million people.
1. RESUME WRITING = MARKETING
Our guide is based on one fundamental premise: Your resume is a marketing document. It’s not the history of your past; it’s an ad. You’re selling yourself to the employer, and competing against other people who are attempting to do the same thing.
A great resume doesn’t just tell them what you have done but makes the same assertion that all good ads do: If you buy this product, you will get these specific, direct benefits. It presents you in the best light. It convinces the employer that you have what it takes to be successful in this new position or career. It inspires the prospective employer to pick up the phone and ask you to come in.
YOU’RE ADVERTISING YOURSELF
Here’s a key thing we know based on deep research: Every resume is a one-of-a-kind marketing communication. It should be appropriate to your situation and do exactly what you want it to do. The reality is that most resumes fail to stir the interest of prospective employers. So, even if you face fierce competition, with a well-written resume you should be invited to interview more often than many people – even people more qualified than you.
A great resume doesn’t only tell the employer what you have done. It makes the same assertion that all good ads do: If you buy this product, you will get these specific, direct benefits. It presents you in the best possible light. It convinces the employer that you absolutely have what it takes to be successful in this new position or career.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
The very best marketing is research-based marketing. So, do your research. Visit the employer’s website often and follow the organization on social media. (Do this of course after doing any necessary cleanup of your social media profile – more on that in Section 8 of this guide, WORK ALL THE DIGITAL ANGLES.) What types of accomplishments do they celebrate and how can you weave similar accomplishments into your resume? What kind of language do they use to describe achievements? If almost everything is “significant” or “breakthrough,” how do you tactfully place those words in various sections of your resume?
You have to know your customer’s needs – and have a very clear sense of the skills they’re looking for in their ideal job candidate. Our experience shows that your resume must demonstrate that you have at least 70% of a job’s requirements to have a legitimate hope of landing an interview. Do all the research you can, from online searches and social media tracking to networking with people you know. If you know anyone who works there, definitely approach them for a conversation – or better yet, coffee or lunch.
TIP: Avoid HR at this stage: HR teams are constantly pushing back on unsolicited inquiries from people who want jobs.
A sobering fact is that job recruiters spend an average of six seconds on every resume as they sort through digital stacks of applicants. So, focus on the employer’s needs, not yours. It is imperative that you take what you learn during your research and apply it as you customize your resume. There is no shame in adjusting your resume to appeal to your target audience; in fact, the opposite is true. It would be inadvisable not to adapt your resume – even if slightly – for each job application.
Imagine that you are the person doing the hiring. This someone with skin in the game. Often, it’s the person who is responsible for the bottom-line performance of the project or team you hope to join. This is someone who cares deeply how well the job will be done. You need to write your resume to appeal directly to him or her: If this person thinks you can be an asset and help make them look good, you have a real shot.
To reiterate: Your resume is a very informed, targeted advertisement. At the end of the day it’s an ad…nothing more, nothing less.
2. YOUR RESUME’S #1 JOB: LAND AN INTERVIEW
It’s critical to always bear in mind that your resume is a tool with one specific purpose: to win an interview. If it doesn’t, it isn’t an effective resume. So how do you prevail? First, embrace some basic truths about the job-seeking landscape.
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU
First, let go of any misguided preconceptions about what your resume is: It’s not about you. Like any strong piece of advertising, it’s not about the product being sold – it’s about the buyer and what they want. Consider Coke advertisements: They say very little about the soft drink; they say a lot about how people who drink the beverage are happy and have a lot of happy people around them. The focus is on the benefits of drinking Coke. Your resume is about the benefits of hiring you.
Your resume is not a place to brag; nor is it a place to be modest. Its sole purpose is to generate interest in you. What differentiates you from the competition. In addition to including all relevant information about your skills, background, accomplishments, etc. (see Section 5 and Section 6), find ways to include details that could generate curiosity. Were you born in a different country? Is there community or volunteer work that’s appealing? Are you fluent in multiple languages? Did you go through college in three years – or later in life? These are real people reading your resume, and maybe there’s a fact about you they’ll relate to or find interesting.
What does that mean? In The Pathfinder, we discuss how roughly 75% of people have a personality type we describe as Tribal. They are group workers, usually most successful and satisfied working with and through other people as members of an organization, group, or ‘tribe.’” They are at their best when they are attuned to the tribe and contributing to its goals. (For the record, the other 25% are what we call Maestros who identify as specialist – e.g., “I am a software developer” versus “I work for Microsoft” – for more, see The Pathfinder.)
Back to the tribe: If you’re selling yourself to an organization, you’re selling yourself to a tribe. The tribe’s members will have to be convinced that you’re “one of them.” Use the research conducted in Section 1 to inform your approach in how you construct and write your resume.
Consider the scenario of two tribes living on opposite sides of a lake. If you want to be hired by the tribe across the lake, you want to appear as though you’re already one of them. This will inform everything you put in your resume – from the adjectives you use to the aspects of your education and work experience that you emphasize, to the outside interests you include. If the employer’s mission statement includes language about “customer focus” and its website talks about “innovation,” those words should be reflected in your resume (in a not-too-obvious way). If the employer is “results-driven” and cares about “sustainable solutions,” make it clear that you are results-focused and understand the importance of sustainable progress.
YOU’RE TELLING A STORY
You have to learn how to write powerful but subtle advertising copy. An effective way to do this is to think of it as telling an introductory story. When you meet someone, you want to know “their story,” right? It’s the same for that hiring manager looking at your resume. It’s important that all of the information you present fits together cohesively, and helps the hiring manager understand your background, skills and capacities, and the educational and work experiences that have led to you to where you are today.
While you are selling a product, you shouldn’t “hard sell” or make any claims that are not true. Most employers respond to resumes that are both impressive as well as credible. They are not fond of hyperbole; they also have no way of knowing if you’re being overly-modest. It’s a balancing act
3. KNOW EXACTLY WHAT KIND OF RESUME YOU’RE WRITING
There are three basic types of resumes: Chronological, Functional, and “Combined” Chronological – Functional. Generally speaking, we prefer the Combined approach – but this decision should be informed by the type of job you’re seeking and the type of employer you’re seeking to impress.
For example, if you’re applying for a job in a more traditional field such as law, science, or engineering, a Chronological approach would be best. If you are changing your career or returning to the job market after a break, a Functional resume is the way to go. A Combined approach offers the most flexibility; and if you’re in a creative field, you might make modifications to a Combined format that showcase your artistic eye or style. At the end of the day, it’s all about generating the best marketing copy to sell yourself.
The chronological resume is the more traditional resume structure. The Experience section is the focus of the resume; each job (or the last several jobs) is described in some detail, and there is no major section of skills or accomplishments at the beginning of the resume. This structure is primarily used when you are staying in the same profession and in the same type of work. It is also commonly used in certain fields such as law and academia. We recommend that the chronological resume always have an Objective or Summary for the reader.
Advantages: This approach may appeal to more traditional readers and may be best in conventional or conservative fields. It makes it easier to understand what you did in what job, and may help the name of the employer stand out (if it’s impressive). The disadvantage is that it is much more difficult to highlight what you do best. This format is rarely appropriate for someone making a career change.
The functional resume highlights your major skills and accomplishments from the very beginning. It helps the reader see clearly what you can do for them, rather than having to read through the job descriptions to find out. Actual company names and positions are in a subordinate position, with no description under each. There are many different types of formats for functional resumes.
The functional resume is a must for career changers, but is very appropriate for generalists, for those with spotty or divergent careers, for those with a wide range of skills in their given profession, for students, for military officers, for homemakers returning to the job market, and for those who want to make slight shifts in their career direction.
Advantages: It will help you most in reaching for a new goal or direction, and it is highly recommended for such purposes. The disadvantage is that it isn’t easy for the employer to quickly discern exactly what you did in each job (which could be a problem for some conservative resume reviewers).
A combined resume includes elements of both the chronological and functional formats. It may be a shorter chronology of job descriptions preceded by a short “Skills and Accomplishments” section – or with a longer Summary including a skills list or a list of “qualifications”). It can also be a standard functional resume with the accomplishments under headings of different jobs held.
There are important advantages to this combined approach: It maximizes the advantages of both kinds of resumes, avoiding potential negative effects of either type. One disadvantage is that it tends to be a longer resume. Another is that it can be repetitious: Accomplishments and skills may have to be repeated in both the “functional” section and the “chronological” job descriptions.
4. GUIDANCE FOR A CAREER CHANGE RESUME
Clearly, career change has become a new norm of working. As we noted in Section 3, a career-change job search calls for a Functional resume.
DEFINE YOUR TARGET MARKET
“Target market” in advertising refers to people a company aims to turn into customers. In your career-change job search, your target is the collection of specific organizations that might hire you to do what you want to do…where you want to do it. Start with geographic requirements – is the world…. or Seattle? Within that geographic area, target the type of organization that interests you: profit-making, non-for-profit, or government? What kind of business or industry? What size organization?
Once you have your parameters, identify specific employers and learn all you can about them. What is their history? What do they emphasize in their messaging? Who are the decision makers? What is their hiring philosophy? What kind of work culture is it? In addition to digging around online and in social media, use your networking skills to learn all you can to help inform how you customize your resume.
PLAY UP TRANSFERRABLE SKILLS
Jobs in very different professional fields can often have a number of similar requirements. Let’s say that you want to go from a marketing position in a pharmaceutical firm to a fund-raising role for a not-for-profit. What are the skills you’ve already demonstrated that are applicable? They may be more than you think.
Consider these possibilities:
- Time management
- Project management
- Persuasive communicating
- Strong decision-making
- Composure under pressure
- Innovative problem-solving
You should also be prepared to speak to your motivation for a career change. You can weave a little of this into your Objective, then also be prepared to write about it briefly in your cover letter, and then of course speak to it when you land an interview.
KEY IN ON THE TRIBE
As a career changer, you are effectively moving from one tribe to another. Within the bounds of integrity, the story you tell has to explain why the tribe you now want to enter is really the right one for you (and not the other one). This is another instance where research is critical. Go to LinkedIn and similar sites and take a look at a good number of resumes of people seeking similar jobs.
Also, tap into your circle of colleagues, friends, and family. Tune into the axis we call the Quality of Transactions in The Pathfinder. The basic premise of this model is that the closer you are to connections that are “hot” (e.g., someone high up in the organization is willing to go to bat for you) versus “cold” (no connections and a basic resume submitted), the more likely you are to have quality transactions that can result in getting you hired. Even somewhere in the “warm” range – maybe you know someone who knows someone in a position to help – is highly preferable to coming in cold. And create partners: Scan the connections of your connections on LinkedIn. Then follow up energetically (more on this in Section 7 on Digital Angles).
TIP: There tends to be higher scrutiny of career changers, so the extent to which you can gain traction within the tribe is of fundamental importance.
5. THE JUICE: YOUR ASSERTIONS SECTION
In most cases, a great resume has two main sections. In the first, you make assertions about your abilities, qualities, and achievements. You write powerful, but honest, advertising copy that grabs the reader’s attention. (Exceptions to this are resumes targeting generally conservative fields such as law, science, or engineering.)
The second section, the evidence section, is where you back up your assertions with evidence that you actually did what you said you did. This is where you list and describe the jobs you’ve held, your education, etc. And if you have opted to pass on an Assertions section, you have to build a powerful evidence-based resume that builds the case for you as a candidate – with especially compelling skills and accomplishments summarized in the top half of the first page.
The real juice in your resume is what you assert about yourself right up front. This is where you shine. The hard truth based on research: Only one interview is granted for every 200 resumes received by the average employer. Research also tells us that your resume will be quickly scanned, rather than read. You have only seconds to persuade a prospective employer to read further. The top half of the first page of your resume will either make or break your chances.
Ask yourself: What does the employer really want? How would you fill those shoes? What would set a truly exceptional candidate apart from a merely good one? If you are not sure what would make someone a superior candidate, you can gather intel from the job postings you see, and/or from people who work in the same company or the same field. You could even call the prospective employer and ask them what they want. Don’t make wild guesses.
Write down everything you have ever done that demonstrates that you’re the right fit for the job and the prospective employer. You don’t have to confine yourself to work-related accomplishments.
TIP: Use your entire life as the palette to paint with. The point is to cover all possible ways of thinking about and communicating what you do well. What are the talents you bring to the marketplace?
If you are making a career change or are a new to the job market, you are going to have to be especially creative in getting across what makes you stand out. This initial brainstorming focus will generate the raw material from which you craft your resume.
So many resumes we see make a gallant effort to inform the reader. But we don’t want the employer to be informed; we want them to be interested and curious. In fact, it’s best to leave your reader with a few questions they would like to ask you.
In your assertions section, state your Objective – your intended job. Ideally, your resume should convey why you are the perfect candidate for one specific job or job title. There is debate out there about whether to state an Objective, but generally speaking, we think it’s a good idea. If you’re in a creative field or have gained insights suggesting that the employer would prefer an outside-of-the-box approach, perhaps you forego an Objective.
Keep it to the point, and keep the employer front and center as your write. Consider this example. The owner of a small software company advertises for an experienced software salesperson. A week later they have 500 resumes. The applicants have a bewildering variety of backgrounds, and the employer has no way of knowing whether any of them are really interested in selling software.
Then the employer spots a resume that starts with the following: “OBJECTIVE – a software sales position in an organization seeking an extraordinary record of generating new accounts, exceeding sales targets and enthusiastic customer relations.” This is a fit. Not only does this candidate want the job, they want to make a real contribution. Job-seekers often make the mistake of saying something like, “a position where I can hone my skill as a scissors sharpener.”
Examples follow. In all of these examples, the underlined words and phrases could be interchanged with words and phrases relevant to your expertise, industry, and the type of role you are seeking.
In this example, the statement is not preceded by the word “Objective.” Experienced IT professional offering more than five years of hands-on experience in programming, web development, and IT trouble-shooting, and seeks leadership role in leading digital organization.
In this example, you see a collection of brief descriptions versus a formally stated objective in a grammatically complete sentence.
Strategic thinker and communicator. Expert storyteller. A decade of deadline-driven on-air reporting. Ready to pivot to executive producer role.
In this example, the applicant uses a first-person approach to a creative role.
“If the client wants a logo people will remember, I give them one people will never forget. If they want their brand to communicate, I make it sing.”
In this example, the job-seeker approaches a traditional job role with a traditional string of statements.
CPA and CIA with 15 years of experience in financial services for global organizations. Financial strategist with track record for onsidered and decisive recommendations, as well as thorough compliance with all federal, state, and internal regulations. Excels at individual as well as collaborative efforts. Known for work ethic and integrity.
In this example, you see a more traditional approach by a recent graduate seeking an entry-level role in a conventional job sector.
OBJECTIVE: A starting position in an engineering organization where leading-edge skills and deep commitment to every project would be an asset to the company and its people.
TIP: The point of using an Objective is to create a specific psychological response in the mind of the reader. If you are making a career change or have a limited work history, you want the employer to immediately focus on where you are going, rather than where you have been. If you are looking for another job in your present field, it is more important to stress your qualities, achievements and abilities first.
It is sometimes appropriate to include your Objective in your Summary section rather than have a separate Objective section.
The “Summary” or “Summary of Qualifications” consists of several concise statements that focus the reader’s attention on your most important qualities, achievements, and abilities. (NOTE: If you are on LinkedIn, it is important that the summary in your resume be reflected in what you have in your LinkedIn summary. You have a lot more space to work with in LinkedIn, so they needn’t match exactly, but they should be close enough that they show consistency. You should be recognizable as the same person!) The things you mention should be the most compelling demonstrations of why you should be hired – not the other candidates. This is your brief window of opportunity to highlight your most impressive qualities – the spiciest part of your resume
In fact, this may be the only section fully read by the employer, so it must be strong and convincing. The Summary is the one place to include professional characteristics (highly energetic, a gift for solving complex problems in a fast-paced environment, a natural salesperson, exceptional interpersonal skills, committed to excellence, etc.). Gear every word in the Summary to your goal: getting that interview.
Here are the most common ingredients of a well-written Summary.
- A short phrase describing your profession
- Followed by a statement of broad or specialized expertise
- Followed by two or three additional statements related to any of the following:
- breadth or depth of skills
- unique mix of skills
- range of environments in which you have experience
- a special or well-documented accomplishment
- a history of awards, promotions, or superior performance commendations
- One or more professional or appropriate personal characteristics
- A sentence describing professional objective or interest.
You would not necessarily use all these ingredients in one Summary. Use the ones that highlight you best.
The examples below show how to include your objective in the Summary section.
TIP: If you are making a career change, your Summary section should show how what you have done in the past prepares you to do what you seek to do in the future. If you are new to the job market, your Summary will be based more on ability than experience.
A few examples of Summary sections:
- Highly motivated, creative and versatile real estate executive with seven years of experience in property acquisition, development and construction, as well as the management of large apartment complexes. Especially skilled at building effective, productive working relationships with clients and staff. Excellent management, negotiation and public relations skills. Seeking a challenging management position in the real estate field that offers extensive contact with the public.
- Over 10 years as an organizational catalyst/training design consultant with a track record of producing extraordinary results for more than 20 national and community based organizations. A commitment to human development and community service. Energetic self-starter with excellent analytical, organizational, and creative skills.
- Financial Management Executive with nearly ten years of experience in banking and international trade, finance, investments and economic policy. Innovative in structuring credit enhancement for corporate and municipal financing. Skilled negotiator with strong management, sales and marketing background. Areas of expertise include (a bulleted list would follow this paragraph.)
- Health Care Professional experienced in management, program development and policy making in the United States as well as in several developing countries. Expertise in emergency medical services. A talent for analyzing problems, developing and simplifying procedures, and finding innovative solutions. Proven ability to motivate and work effectively with persons from other cultures and all walks of life. Skilled in working within a foreign environment with limited resources.
- Commander – Chief Executive Officer of the U.S. Navy, Atlantic Fleet. Expertise in all areas of management, with a proven record of unprecedented accomplishment. History of the highest naval awards and rapid promotion. Proven senior-level experience in executive decision-making, policy direction, strategic business planning, Congressional relations, financial and personnel management, research and development, and aerospace engineering. Extensive knowledge of government military requirements in systems and equipment. Committed to the highest levels of professional and personal excellence.
- Performing artist with a rich baritone voice and unusual range, specializing in classical, spiritual, gospel and rap music. Featured soloist for two nationally televised events. Accomplished pianist. Extensive performance experience includes television, concert tours and club acts. Available for commercial recording and live performances.
SKILLS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
In this final part of the assertions section, go into more detail. In the summary, you focused on your most special highlights. Now you tell the rest of the best of your story. Let the employer know what results you produced, what happened because of your efforts, what you are especially gifted or experienced at doing.
TIP: Don’t tell them everything you’ve ever done. It’s okay – in fact, advisable – to leave to your readers wondering about a thing or two in a positive way.
Sometimes the “Skills and Accomplishments” section is a separate section. In a chronological resume, it becomes the first few phrases of the descriptions of the various jobs you have held. We will cover that in a few minutes, when we discuss the different types of resumes. When it is a separate section, it can have several possible titles, depending on your situation:
- SKILLS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- SUMMARY OF ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- SELECTED ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- RECENT ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- AREAS OF ACCOMPLISHMENT AND EXPERIENCE
- AREAS OF EXPERTISE
- CAREER HIGHLIGHTS
- PROFESSIONAL HIGHLIGHTS
- ADDITIONAL SKILLS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
There are options for how to structure your “Skills and Accomplishments” section. Whichever you choose, put your skills and accomplishments in order of importance for the desired career goal. If you have many skills, the last skill paragraph might be called “Additional Skills.”
TIP: Be sure to use action-oriented words. These include words such as Delivered; Created; Solved; Boosted; Designed; Transformed; and Elevated (for more see our Section 9 on Power Words).
Here are a few ways you could structure your “Skills and Accomplishments” section:
- A listing of skills or accomplishments or a combination of both, with bullets
SELECTED SKILLS AND ACCOMPLISHMENTS
- Raised $1,900 in 21 days in canvassing and advocacy on environmental, health and consumer issues.
- Conducted legal research for four Assistant U.S. Attorneys, for the U.S. Attorney’s office
- Coordinated Board of Directors and Community Advisory Board of community mental health center. Later commended as “the best thing that ever happened to that job.”
- A listing of major skill headings with accomplishments under each. The accomplishments can be a bulleted list or in paragraph form. The material under the headings should include mention of accomplishments which prove each skill.
National Training Project / Conference Management.
- Director of Outreach on Hunger, a national public education/training project funded by USAID, foundations and all the major church denominations. Designed, managed and promoted three-day training conferences in cities throughout the U.S. Planned and managed 32 nationwide training seminars and a five-day annual conference for university vice-presidents and business executives.
Program Design: Universities.
- Invited by Duke University President Terry Sanford to develop new directions and programs for the University’s Office of Summer Educational Programs, first Director of Duke’s “Pre-college Program,” first editor of “Summer at Duke.” Designed and successfully proposed a center for the study of creativity at The George Washington University.
- A list of bulleted accomplishments or skill paragraphs under each job (in a chronological resume).
Director of Sales and Marketing
DELAWARE TRADE INTERNATIONAL, INC. Wilmington, DE
- Promoted from Sales Representative within one year of joining company to Director of Sales and Marketing. Responsible for international sales of raw materials, as well as printing and graphic arts equipment. Oversaw five sales managers. Was in charge of direct sales and marketing in 17 countries throughout Europe and the Middle East.
- Recruited, trained and managed sales staff. Developed marketing strategy, prepared sales projections and established quotas. Selected and contracted with overseas sub-agents to achieve international market penetration.
- Negotiated and finalized long-term contractual agreements with suppliers on behalf of clients. Oversaw all aspects of transactions, including letters of credit, international financing, preparation of import/export documentation, and shipping/freight forwarding.
- Planned and administered sales and marketing budget, and maintained sole profit/loss responsibility. Within first year, doubled company’s revenues, and produced $7-9 million in annual sales during the next eight years.
6. THE NITTY GRITTY: YOUR EVIDENCE SECTION
The evidence section includes some or all of the following: experience, education, and possibly additional items such as awards, affiliations, and publications. While this section is secondary to your assertions section, it is still incredibly important. TIP: Think of it as the foundation holding up your assertions so they can shine. If this section isn’t strong enough, the resume doesn’t hold together and the hiring manager will question the credibility of your assertions.
List jobs in reverse chronological order. Don’t go into detail on the jobs early in your career; focus on the most recent and/or relevant jobs. (Summarize a number of the earliest jobs in one line or very short paragraph, or list only the bare facts with no position description.) Decide which is, overall, more impressive – your job titles or the names of the firms you worked for – then consistently begin with the more impressive of the two, perhaps using boldface type.
You may want to describe the employer in a phrase in parentheses if this will impress the reader. Include military service, internships, and major volunteer roles if desired; because the section is labeled “Experience.” It does not mean that you were paid. Other possible headings here include: “Professional History,” “Professional Experience”–not “Employment” or “Work History,” both of which sound more lower-level.
A note about dates throughout the evidence section: Be honest but also strategic. Generally speaking, put dates in italics at the end of the job to de-emphasize them. Don’t include months, unless the job was held less than a year. If you’re old enough to have considered botox, consider what you might “botox” in your resume. The year you earned your degree(s) doesn’t have to be included. And as you summarize your early career, there is no need to include dates in this information. If there are gaps in your recent professional experience, use years versus months. Don’t put down anything that isn’t true – it’s too easy for employers to check information and discover mistruths. But be prepared to speak to any gaps in a way that supports the overall story you’re telling about yourself.
List education in reverse chronological order – degrees or licenses first, followed by certificates and advanced training. Set degrees apart so they are easily seen. Put in boldface whatever will be most impressive. Don’t include any details about college except your major and distinctions or awards you have won, unless you are still in college or just recently graduated. Include grade-point average only if over 3.4. List selected coursework if this will help convince the reader of your qualifications for the targeted job.
- Include advanced training, but be selective with the information, summarizing the information and including only what will be impressive for the reader.
- No degree yet? If you are working on an uncompleted degree, include the degree and afterwards, in parentheses, the expected date of completion: B.S. (expected 20__).
- If you didn’t finish college, start with a phrase describing the field studied, then the school, then the dates (the fact that there was no degree may be missed).
- Other headings might be “Education and Training,” “Education and Licenses,” “Legal Education / Undergraduate Education” (for attorneys).
If the only awards received were in school, put these under the Education section. Mention what the award was for if you can (or just “for outstanding accomplishment” or “outstanding performance”). If you have received awards, this section is almost a must. If you have received commendations or praise from some very senior source, you could call this section, “Awards and Commendations.” In that case, go ahead and quote the source.
- Professional Affiliations
Include only those that are current, relevant and impressive. Include leadership roles if appropriate. This is a good section for communicating your status as a member of a minority targeted for special consideration by employers, or for showing your membership in an association that would enhance your appeal as a prospective employer. This section can be combined with “Civic / Community Leadership” as “Professional and Community Memberships.”
Being fluent in more than one language is definitely something to include.
- Civic / Community Leadership
This is good to include if the leadership roles or accomplishments are related to the job target and can show skills acquired, for example, a loan officer hoping to become a financial investment counselor who was Financial Manager of a community organization charged with investing its funds. Any Board of Directors membership or “chairmanship” would be good to include. Be careful with political affiliations, as they could be a plus or minus with an employer or company.
Include only if published, and provide links where you can if you think the work is impressive and relevant. Summarize if there are many.
- Comments from Supervisors, Clients, other Professional Elite
Include only if very exceptional. Heavily edit for key phrases.
- Personal Interests
Tread thoughtfully here. While personal interests tend to feature prominently on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, you should weigh how much it can help you when applying for a job—ideally on a case-by-case basis. It you include a section like this, keep the following in mind.Advantages: Personal interests can indicate a skill or area of knowledge that is related to the goal, such as photography for someone in public relations, or carpentry and wood-working for someone in construction management. This section can show well-roundedness, good physical health, or knowledge of a subject related to the goal. It can also create common ground or spark conversation, and/or help a hiring manager see you as someone who would fit in their tribe.Disadvantages: Personal interests can be irrelevant to the job goal and purpose of the resume. Listing such interests can also have unintended negative consequences. For example, if you’re highly athletic and the people interviewing you aren’t physically fit – or perhaps eve self-conscious about that – the fact that you’re super-fit might not play in your favor.If in doubt, do not include a Personal Interests section. Your reason for including it is most likely that you want to tell them about you. But, as you know, this is an ad. If this section would move the employer to understand why you would be the best candidate, include it; otherwise, forget about it.
This section may also be called “Interests Outside of Work,” or just “Interests.”
You may put “References available upon request” at the end of your resume, if you wish. This is a standard close (centered at bottom in italics), but is not necessary: It is usually assumed. Do not include actual names of references. You can bring a separate sheet of references to the interview, to be given to the employer upon request.
7. WORK ALL THE DIGITAL ANGLES
Social media venues offer valuable possibilities for powering your job search, as well as a few potential downsides. Be sure your digital footprint is an asset as you prepare your resume.
OWN YOUR DIGITAL FOOTPRINT
Social media is a primary vehicle for communication. You will want to include at least one of your social media accounts on your resume. Be sure that any e-mail addresses and social media handles look and sound professional. If not, get new ones. You want to be JayJonesEngineer@xxx.com; not JayBird@xxx.com. Understand that most employers – 65% or more – use social networks to research candidates. Roughly half of them do so to see if the candidate is likely to be a “good fit” for their culture – in other words, right for their tribe.
It is documented that employers regularly review social media to see if there are reasons not to hire an applicant. So, it is imperative that you review all of your social media postings and clean up any content that you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to see. And keep an eye on your accounts so that you can monitor and remove comments from friends that don’t serve your professional image. Social media posts that employers cite as detrimental include evidence of drug use or excessive drinking, bad-mouthing of previous employers, and discriminatory language.
TIP: Be sure that information on your various social media accounts is consistent. You can’t assume that an employer will only check out your LinkedIn page. They may also look for you on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Google+.
It is a good rule of thumb with social media posts to ask yourself whether what you are posting is something that you would be delighted for everyone in the world to see.
USE SOCIAL MEDIA TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
Remember that you’re marketing yourself. Owning your digital footprint is also about taking advantage of an additional opportunity to make a good impression. Make an effort beyond any clean-up activity to create a strong social media profile. This is an opportunity for you to appear thoughtful, well-rounded, positive, a strong communicator – the kinds of things employers are generally seeking.
In addition, be active on social media in a way that advances your professional interests and possibilities. Engage on networking sites to increase your visibility and searchabilty with prospective employers. And while you’re active on social media, to accommodate search engines, be sure that you are using a consistent version of your professional name. If you’re “Robert L. Smith” on LinkedIn, you should be Robert L. Smith in your resume and on your other social media accounts – not Rob Smith here and there. Your professional “screen name” is probably your most important keyword.
As mentioned earlier, follow your prospective employer on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the like. Think of what you see as an aggregated news feed about the employer. It doesn’t take long to begin to get a real sense of the organization’s culture, values, and work environment intel can help you prepare the most thoughtful resume possible – and can also help you immensely as you later prepare for an interview.
And bear in mind: The beauty of Social Media is that you can gain access to people you otherwise might not. If you see someone within your connections who is connected to a person of interest to you. Perhaps they are in the field in which you are seeking work; perhaps they work for a company you wish to get in to – then ask your contact to introduce you.
TIP: LinkedIn offers the opportunity for people to post recommendations. Be sure to ask people to provide recommendations for you, in particular those people who can speak to the strengths that you most want to be emphasized.
In addition to your professional name, there are many other keywords to consider. Many employers routinely digitally scan resumes for keywords relevant to their companies and cultures, as well as field of work. You should assume that this is being done.
Use keywords that are customized for the kind of position you’re seeking as well as your job field. For example: Consider that your current title is “Program Assistant.” But when you search online, you don’t see that title much. What you do see with high frequency on Indeed, LinkedIn, etc. is “Administrative Assistant.” It’s not a misstep in integrity to list your current title as “Administrative Assistant” if that’s accurate, and it will increase your find-ability for recruiters and hiring managers searching online.
Similar guidance holds true for skills and accomplishments. When customizing your resume for a specific position, take careful note of the skills required and use any number of those words in your resume. If you think of yourself as someone who “leads stakeholder communications,” but the employer uses the phrase “stakeholder engagement” – that’s right, you’re now an expert in stakeholder engagement. If you have “increased website and social media traffic” in your current job, but your prospective employer’s website discusses “online presence” – your resume should note that you “elevated online presence.”
Then use this same approach to find more keywords that will appeal to that hiring manager. After conducting your research on the employer’s website and social media pages – as well as media articles about the organization – comprise a list of words and phrases that appear regularly. Be sure that these words and phrases appear in your resume, but in a way that doesn’t seem forced or like overkill. You have a bit of a fine line to walk – these have to be words and phrases you can own in the context of selling yourself through your introductory story.
8. MAKE IT EYE-CATCHING
Think of your resume as a visually appealing piece of art. This your masterpiece! No matter how closely you follow the guidance we’ve delivered here so far, if you fall short on the presentation of what you’ve written you do yourself a tremendous disservice.
A note here about using images or video. Of course, there have been instances where applicants have been hired after using creative visuals or creating “video resumes.” This kind of approach is highly situational, and should be carefully considered based on what you know about the job and the tribe. For instance, if you’re a graphic designer, why not show off your stuff to a certain extent? Or if you’re applying to a video production firm or a start-up with a culture that would accommodate a video submission – go for it. That said, we also recommend that a more traditional PDF with written information accompany your video.
VISUAL APPEAL, FORMAT, AND LENGTH
Everyone freely gives advice on resume length. There is no universal right or wrong. Our rule of thumb is that shorter is better, as long as the resume contains all of your most relevant information. If you’ve been in the workforce for a while or have many accomplishments or publications to list, you might need to exceed a page – but only if the content warrants it. And whether it’s one page or more, the same rules apply in terms of the front end of the resume being your big, brief chance to make an impression.
Use a simple, clean, symmetrical structure. Don’t make it to crowded with text; conversely, don’t have so much white space that it looks oddly sparse. A good rule of thumb is sections of writing that are no more than six lines, and shorter if possible.
Be sure to design elements to your advantage. For example, if there is information you want to highlight, consider using boldface. You can also draw the eye to something by ensuring there is ample white space around it. Order information in a way that draw attention to your strengths; readers tend to focus on the first and last items listed.
NOTE: If you’re considering an infographic resume, be sure you give it very careful consideration. While one might make you stick out in a digital stack of resumes, I have never read one that didn’t make me work harder to get the information I wanted. Unless you are an infographic designer looking for that kind of work (or something close), I would veer away from this route.
Your resume must be error-free. There are no spelling errors, no typos. No grammar, syntax, or punctuation errors. There are no errors of fact. Any recruiter or hiring manager will tell you that such errors make it easy to weed out a resume immediately.
List information in a consistent way. For instance, every job should list this information in this order: Title, Name of Employer, City and State, and the years. Use boldface, underlining, and italics consistently. If you decide to bold one job title, all titles are in boldface. If you underline one section heading, underline them all.
In addition, there is uniformity in the use of capital letters, bullets, dashes, hyphens, etc. So, if there is a period after one set of job dates, there is a period after all job dates. If one degree is in bold, all degrees are in bold. If one job is lasted as 1999-2001 (versus 1999 – 2001 or 1999 to 2000). Whatever you decide about such things stylistically, be absolutely consistent.
DETAILS THAT MATTER
There are any number of details that really matter. Consider all of the following.
- Font. Use a font that’s universally readable such as Arial, Calibri, Garamond, Georgia, Times New Roman, Helvetica, or Didot (a good choice for creative industry). Whatever font you select, use it consistently. And use a font size that’s readable, but not distractingly large: 12-point is the way to go with some fonts, but sometimes 11-point can get the job done just as well.
- PDF. Save your resume file as a PDF. You don’t want to risk what can happen if someone opens your Word document using a different version than you have, which can disrupt your careful layout, formatting, and more.
- File name. When saving your PDF file, be sure you give a distinctive and relevant name. Definitively don’t give it a number (e.g., NickSmith_V3.pdf) and don’t call it NicksResume.pdf. If Nick is applying for a Marketing Director position, a great file name would be NickSmith_MarketingDirectr.pdf).
- Keep track. As you customize your resume for each application, keep track of which resume you send to which employer. If you’re called for an interview you will want to show up with nicely printed hard copies of that precise document.
- Don’t mix first-person and third-person. Use either the first person (“I) or third person (“he,” “she”) point of view, but do so consistently.
- Watch your verb tense. If the accomplishment is completed, it should be past tense. If the task is still underway, it should be present tense. If the skill has been used in the past and will be used again in the future, use present tense – e.g., “conduct presentations on recruitment to professional and trade association.”
- Experience first. Experience sections should come before Education. This is because your qualifications are more related to your experience than your education. Exceptions would be (1) if you have just received or are completing a degree in a new field, (2) if you are a lawyer, (3) if you are an undergraduate student, or (4) if there’s something particularly impressive about your education – for example, a Rhodes Scholarship or an MBA from Harvard.
9. DO’s and DON’Ts
- Sell yourself – first and foremost.
- Always bear in mind the needs of your customer – the employer. What do they need to know to assess that you’re right for the job and will deliver for them?
- Customize your resume for each job application.
- Use keywords selected with your prospective employer in mind.
- Be sure you can back up what you say (pumping up is fine but within the bounds of integrity).
- Use dynamic, high-energy language.
- Tighten up sentences where you can. Space is at a premium.
- Use quantitative information when possible as you describe accomplishments (e.g., ($1 million portfolio, increased sales 30%, double revenues).
- Look at everything you’ve written in your resume and add action verbs wherever possible.
- Make your resume long enough to include all relevant information.
- Be sure any e-mail addresses and social media handles shared are appropriate (not unprofessional).
- Use the same version of your professional “screen name” consistently.
- Be unduly modest. You are selling yourself, period.
- Wing it. Real preparation and homework is required – no matter how lucky you’ve been in the past.
- Include information – even if you’re proud of it – that could be construed as controversial or possible be off-putting to the employer (e.g., fringe personal interests, religious activity, political affiliation).
- List everything you’ve ever done. It’s better to leave an employer a little curious and more apt to interview you.
- Include salary information. It is appropriate for you to provide this information only when asked.
- Mention reasons for leaving jobs. You can have tactful, professional reasons ready for interviews.
- Include references. Provide them when requested, and be sure your references know that an inquiry is on the way.
- Try to be funny or cute – no matter how great your personality, these things don’t translate on paper.
- Include every single piece of information about yourself – this is not your resume’s job. If the employer wants to know more about you, they’ll ask you for an interview.
- Get wordy. Don’t use three examples when one will suffice.
- Be hyperbolic. Don’t use more than one power word or adjective in one sentence.
- Underestimate the power of reading the job posting carefully and doing all of your homework. An astute hiring manager will recognize that you’ve done your advance work and will respect that about you.
10. USE YOUR WORDS (POWER WORDS)
This isn’t about using fancy or unique words. It’s about using words that connect with your customer. Remember: This is customized ad copy.
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