Introduction: How to Write a Winning Resume
Often times landing a job offer starts with the quality of your resume, which is essentially a summary of yourself on paper. Your resume provides a way for an employer to get a picture of who you are within about 30 seconds, and determine whether or not you are worth interviewing. Therefore, it is important that what goes on your resume is relevant, well organized and, most importantly, makes you stand out.
A resume can serve many purposes such as helping you get an interview, providing a first impression with an employer, and it can also give you a way to document your educational background, skills, work experience, and goals/achievements. A good resume typically exhibits the following qualities:
- Consistent formatting
- Conciseness, it is a summary of relevant information
- Clear layout, makes it easy for the reader to raid for information
- Contains only relevant and recent information
- Sells the candidate, makes the candidate stand out from others
Throughout the following steps, I hope that my familiarity with resume writing, and my experiences through feedback from others will help you write or improve your resume.
Step 1: Things You Must Include
There are certain things that must be on any resume including your name and contact information, some sort of objective, your education history, and job related skills. It is also important to have something about your prior/relevant work experience , but it is hard to say this is a must have, because sometimes you don't have any. Even listing irrelevant work experience, such as a part time job you had, is better than listing none at all.
Step 2: Brainstorming
Similar to writing any other document, before you begin writing a resume it is important to think about what you want to say. The main question to ask yourself is, what can I put on my resume that will make myself stand out? Next, you should think about the things that must be included (from the previous step), and then the specific things you want to include based on your situation and area of expertise.
Step 3: Header
The top of your resume, which is the first thing the reader of your resume will see, should contain a header. This header should state your name, and your contact information. It is important that the header stands out from the rest of the document, but it shouldn't be too dominant. Also, make your name stand out from the rest of your header by using a bolded, centered, or larger font; thus, making it easier for the employer to remember your name.
Three different header styles are shown below, and there are many others that would be acceptable for your resume. Two things I like about the first one are that the name seems to stand out, and that the line separates the header from the body. The second example header is right justified, which automatically separates it from the rest of the document; this one would have the same effect if it was centered, but if it were left justified it would need something else to keep it separated from the body. The last example header is one that a college student may want to consider using, and I like it because it finds a way to put some extra information in there without getting too cluttered.
The number one thing to remember is, the simple fact that you have a header is more important than the exact style of it.
Step 4: Body
There are really only two main components to a resume, the header, and the body. The body of the resume is made up of specific categories of information that should be clearly separated into sections. When thinking about what sections you are going to include the first thing you should think about is what your resume must have: contact information, which has already been covered in the header; an objective, job related skills, and educational background, all of which would make great sections.
There are many other categories that also make good sections; following are some examples of good sections to include on your resume, and what sorts of things to include in them:
- Objective -
In your objective statement you should state what your career objective is, and try to convince the employer that you know what you want to do. This should be done in a manner that is brief and to the point. An objective statement could look like this, "To obtain a position in human resources best utilizing my communication, teamwork, and leadership skills."
- Skills -
The skills section of your resume should contain any job related skills that you think will help you get a particular position in your field. For example, if you are in a computer science related major you should have a section that lists all of your computer skills.
- Education -
Include your recent educational background. If you have been in college for a year or two it is not necessary to list your high school education. You should list where you are getting (or got) your education, your graduation date, area of study (include a minor if you have one), and don't forget to list your GPA.
Other categories that make good sections:
- Work Experience -
List the jobs you have had in the past. The most important thing to include in this section is the career related work experience you have had. If you haven't had much career related experience you should include other jobs you may have had. Volunteer work experience is a good way to make your resume stand out, so if you have any you should include it in this section.
- Relevant Coursework -
This is where you can include any classes that you have recently taken, and that you think have provided you with useful knowledge for the position you are applying for.
- Activities -
If you are actively involved in clubs, sports, or your community this would be a good section to include on your resume. If you have any professional affiliations you can list them in this section, or in a separate "Professional Affiliations" sections if you feel the need to really highlight them.
- Awards and Honors -
This can be included as it own section, or you could mention your awards and honors throughout the other parts of the resume when necessary.
Step 5: Body - Formatting and Phrases
There are many ways to separate and format the sections in your resume. The important thing is that they are separated in some manner, so that the reader can quickly find things. Remember one quality of a good resume is that it is easy to raid for information.
Section headings should stand out, but not dominate the page. A good way to do this is to make the heading the same font and font size as the rest of the document, but bold and/or underline the heading depending on the style of the resume. If the section headings are hanging out to the left then bolding works well, but if there is text directly below the headings, sometimes underlining and bolding looks better.
Within each section it is important to have consistent formatting, and some sort of ordering of the information (chronological, relevance, etc.). Each section doesn't have to be formatted exactly the same, but sections that contain similar styles of information should be formatted the same way.
When appropriate you should include some phrases that briefly describe your experiences. These phrases can go in any section (other than the objective, I suppose) and they should be placed directly after the item you want to point out. In the first image below there are some phrases in a couple of the sections, and you will notice that some of the words are circled; these circled words are action verbs. Most if not all of your phrases should include an action verb, because they immediately grab the attention of the reader. The last two images show different ways to format your sections effectively.
Step 6: Body - Organization
Previously, you should have determined what sections you are going to include in your resume. Now it is time to think about how you are going to organize those sections, and also the details within each section. Throughout this step it is important to think about what information is the most relevant and also the most recent.
Most commonly, after the heading, the first section of a resume will be the objective statement. That is usually the case no matter the situation, but after the objective section the organization of the document will begin to differ depending on the situation. For example, someone who graduated from college 30 years ago doesn't want to put their educational background at the beginning of their resume, as they would be better suited showing off their work experience and job specific skills. Just as it is hard to say what exactly should be on any resume, it is hard to say how exactly that information should be organized. But, a good rule of thumb to follow is that you should try to organize the sections in order of importance and relevance for your particular situation.
A college student should consider organizing their sections in the following order (from top to bottom): objective, education, relevant coursework, work experience, job related skills, other things you want to include. Whereas, someone who has had more experience in a particular industry should consider this organization: objective, work experience (with more details), job related skills (also with more details), educational background (with fewer details), other things you want to include.
Finally, within each section it is important to have consistent organization. Usually, the best way to order information is reverse chronologically (if a date is applicable for the section). For example, in the work experience section list your most recent jobs first. If a date is not applicable for the section, e.g. job related skills, then you should list the items in order of importance, with the first item being the most important. Also, sometimes you need to break a section down into subsections, which is perfectly okay, but make sure the document doesn't become to cluttered as a result.
Step 7: Fonts and Font Styles
When deciding on the font for your resume it is important to remember a few things. Obviously you want to choose a professional looking font, whether that is a serif or sans serif font is up to you, but keep in mind that it is hard to go wrong with times new roman. Don't use more than two different fonts throughout your document. In my opinion using a single font throughout is the best approach, but it would be alright to use a different font for the section headings and/or the resume header. Using too many font styles (bolding, italicizing, underlining, bulleted lists, etc.) is also something to be cautious about, because your document can start to look unprofessional.
The first example below shows overuse of different fonts and font styles. There are three different fonts, and the item in the bulleted list is also italicized, which isn't necessary; it would be better to use one or the other, but not both. The second example shows a couple bad fonts (in red), and good fonts(in blue).
Step 8: Tweaking Your Resume for a Specific Job
Of course your resume is going to change over time as you gain new skills and experiences, but that is not what this step is about. Rather, this is about changing your resume to fit a specific position or employer. Say you were to send out three different resumes in one day, the point I am trying to get across in this step is that all three of those resumes could contain slightly different information.
There are some sections on your resume that you want to pay close attention to, each time, before passing it along to someone. The first one being your objective statement, which is likely to change depending on the particular company or position you are applying for; usually it just requires some minor tweaking. If you have a section on relevant coursework it is likely to change, because it should be relevant to the particular position. Sometimes your skills section will change a little, but really this should only be to add new skills, unless you have an overwhelming amount of skills; in this case it is tough to state them all, thus you will need to change what you list based on relevancy.
The most important thing to remember when you are tweaking your resume for a specific job is that you need to remain honest, and be able to back up whatever you put on it. If you see that a company is looking for someone with a particular skill, and you don't normally have that on your resume, but you do have a little experience with it, you better be sure that you can back it up if you put it on your resume.
Step 9: Final Thoughts
As you have probably come to realize, writing a resume is a lot about personal preference, and there are many different ways to write a great resume. However, this doesn't mean that there aren't guidelines that should be followed to create a high quality resume, and it especially doesn't mean that just throwing something together will work.
- Don't include personal information
- Don't use personal pronouns, such as "I" or "you"
- Edit very carefully
- Know the employer before you send out your resume
- Be brief, but not too brief (Can you scan it quickly and pull good information from it?)
- Get some feedback from someone that you think would be helpful
The final thought to keep in mind is that the ultimate goal when writing your resume it to make it stand out, so whatever it takes to do this should be done. I hope this tutorial has been worthwhile, and useful in your quest to write and/or improve your resume.