Tips for Resume Writing
Your resume is your first introduction to an employer – and first impressions are lasting impressions! You want to impress your prospective employer with your ability to communicate, your good judgment and organization, and the skills and experience you can bring to the job.
You send out your resume to secure an interview. The more effective your resume, the more interviews you will get. A strong presentation of your skills, experience, and accomplishments builds your image, and gets you an opportunity to market yourself successfully.
Your resume must be brief; it’s a summary, on one or two pages at most. You want it to pique your prospective employer’s interest, not tell your life’s story.
Here are some tips that will help you prepare an effective resume. We’ve also created some examples for you:
Before you start writing your resume, review your skills and experiences. Ask your partner, mentor, colleagues what they think you do well, what your best attributes are. List them.Highlight those that make you unique. What make you special, or especially interesting as a candidate for this job?
Pick out those most relevant to the kind of work you are looking for, and eliminate everything that isn’t relevant to your job application.
Develop your PARs, your best weapons
Make a list of active “Problem, Action, Resolution” (PAR) statements that illustrate quantifiable accomplishments. For example:
(P) Our company noted that our 500 employees extended their two daily 15-minute coffee breaks by as much as 3.8 minutes each.
(A) I surveyed employees and found that they enjoyed the coffee, but that service at the coffee pots was slow.
(R) I reduced the grade of coffee, which reduced costs by $5,785.00 per year, and lingering over breaks by 11,750 man-hours per year.
For your resume, condense the statements:
Selected lower grade coffee for corporate coffee service for 500 employees, saving $5,785.00 annually in coffee costs and 11,750 man-hours previously spent lingering over coffee. Here’s another example:
(P) A vintage COBOL mainframe system, key to the core business, often patched and updated, had become expensive and difficult to maintain.
(A) I developed a re-engineering plan, and using appropriate analytical, restructuring, and data re-engineering tools completed restructuring in six months with existing IT staff, and achieved transparent conversion in one weekend.
(R) Re-engineered system stable and still operating cleanly after three years, reduced maintenance costs by 75%, and deferred development and introduction of new hardware/software by as much as ten years.
Restructured key COBOL mainframe system in six months with existing IT staff, achieving system stability, 75% reduction in maintenance costs, and prolonged system life for as much as ten years.These brief, action-packed statements should show how your previous employers benefited from your achievements in terms of dollars earned, or costs or time saved.PAR statements are your most powerful resume weapons. Focus on what makes you stand out as an effective contributor in the kind of job you’re looking for. Practice writing them until you have a good selection of relevant statements to choose from. Writing PAR statements that illustrate your abilities also prepares you for an interview. You’ll have ready in your mind organized, succinct anecdotes that demonstrate your skills.Stick to the truth; resume inaccuracies will come back to haunt you. And stick to the point: what makes you valuable to an employer.
Quantify, quantify, quantify! Numbers, as you know, are what count in the measurement of effectiveness.
A shapely resume
- Start with your name, address, phone, fax, e-mail.
- Objective statement. This is optional, and may limit your candidacy to a particular position. Some employers like them, many recruiters and employers prefer resumes that just stick to the facts. If you are responding to an ad, and if your resume will be read electronically, the objective statement should mirror the wording of the ad as far as possible.
- Be as precise and communicative as possible here. Not “A software sales position,” which could apply to anything from a retail shop clerk to a highly-specialized flow-control solutions expert. More like: “I want to use my extensive experience in flow mechanics and knowledge of software to sell solutions in the expanding what’s-it market in Ontario.” This statement nails several precise points immediately:
- two specific skills you bring to the job,
- that you want to sell,
- that you know something about the market for the employer’s product, and
- that you want to be located in Ontario.
- be creative, accurate, and brief!
- Summary of skills and/or attributes. This is where you can highlight the specific skills and personal attributes that make you outstanding. The summary, like the objective, is optional. You can format this section as a bulleted list, or as a series of phrases that don’t necessarily make sentences: “Over 10 years progressive production experience in plastic molding. Background in multi-union shops, skilled in labor management and dispute, problem resolution. Also fluent in French, Italian, and Spanish.” This is a good place to include stray, but useful, bits of information (like additional languages), and to customize a general resume for a specific job.
- For the body of the resume you can choose between two styles (chronological or skills-based). Either way, stick to what is relevant to your job goal. Use your PAR statements to demonstrate your skills, your ability to judge their usefulness, and your ability to communicate. Jettison material that doesn’t illustrate your value to your prospective employer in the job you want to do.
- Education and skills training. Start with your last post-secondary degree or certificate. List skills training separately from education, and only if courses add particular business value. For example, a would-be senior financial executive might want to list specific tax training, and a would-be project leader might usefully include training in specific project management techniques.
- Don’t include your failures, or programs started and never completed.
- Unless you are a recent graduate, with not much work experience, or unless your degree concentration or dissertation is specifically useful in this context, it isn’t necessary to include details of your education. Just the school, school location, certificate or degree, and date of graduation will do.
- If your education is specific to your profession, for example, engineering or accounting professional designations, put your education before your work experience on your resume.
Use discretion about:
- awards, include if they’re specifically relevant to the job you’re applying for, or truly exceptional. A Nobel peace prize may not be relevant to a job developing antipersonnel weapons, but it’s unusual and highly regarded. hobbies, sports, other activities, include only if your involvement has developed particular useful skills or demonstrate strengths. Reading, listening to music, pickup touch football with your buddies at the lake, don’t have the same weight as, say, writing a monthly column for a trade magazine, sitting on the Canadian Opera Company Board, or Olympic speed skating. If your interests have developed a particular skill, develop a PAR statement for use in your resume and in your interviews.
- personal details like age, marital status, religion, unless you are applying for a position that requires a specific status.
- the title “Resume” – redundant, isn’t it?
- references, or “References available” – be prepared to give suitable references (complete with current phone numbers) when you are interviewed.
- End it. If it’s more than two pages, it’s too long! Go back and slash what isn’t truly relevant.
- Make it pretty, but not too pretty. Make sure the fonts you pick and the styles you use are consistent throughout the resume. Don’t use teensy type to fit more on a page; edit the text instead.
- Don’t use unusual fonts: if you e-mail your resume (and you’ll often be asked to), the recipient has to have the same software and fonts to print your document the way you intended. So stick with common, cross-platform stuff.
Two (plus) styles
A job-by-job listing, starting with your most recent job and going backwards. The most powerful resume style, and preferred by the people who have to read them. Use this format for search firms.Will a chronological resume work for you?
- Have you worked steadily, and for 2 or more years for previous employers?
- Are the gaps between jobs no more than a few months?
- Do you have several years of employment in the field or type of work you’re looking for?
- Do your past positions show growth or progress in your desired field?
- Do your past job titles and the companies you have worked for show that you are qualified for the position and salary you’re looking for?Yes to most questions? Then a chronological resume is a wise choice. Have a look at the example.
Skills-based or functional resumes
A skills-based or functional resume describes your skills and any accomplishments that illustrate them, and includes a summary list of previous employers. A skills-based resume style may be better for you if:
- You have a short work history.
- You are making a career change or planning a big move up in your career.
- You have an erratic work history or gaps in employment.
- You have used the same skills in many positions and a chronological resume would be redundant.
- Your job titles don’t relate to the type of job you want.
- Older experience qualifies you for your job search objective but your most recent experience doesn’t support your objective and a chronological resume will work to your disadvantage.These are conditions that might eliminate you as a candidate. To overcome the problem you need to draw an employer’s attention to your skills instead of your employment history. Look at our example of a functional resume.
Professional Sales resumes
A professional sales resume should be in the chronological style, but need specific additional information. Please look at our example. The key is to quantify, quantify, quantify: numbers, as you know, are the measurement of sales effectiveness.Example of a Sales Professional’s Resume.
Write for your reader
You have about 20 seconds to engage your reader’s interest. The reader will scan your resume for your education, company names, and titles first. Write what the reader needs to know!
This isn’t your autobiography. Keep your resume short and to the point. Employers look for the candidate who demonstrates he or she can best do the job. They want to see your relevant experience, accomplishments, skills, and training. Focus on what the position requires.
Electronic readers are even pickier. Make sure the precise words the reader might scan for are there. If the ad says, or your research tells you, a “Professional Services Manager” with “financial services experience” is what they want, use those words!
Follow instructions. If your resume is to be e-mailed with no bold, italics, or underlines make sure you have stripped any formatting from the text. The electronic reader may reject your resume if you can’t provide what it can read.
If you’ve got what they’re looking for, you’ll get the interview.
Your resume may be one of hundreds. The more attractive the position and the company you are applying to, the heavier the competition. There will four or five interviews. You want one of them.
They are looking for specific experience, accomplishments, skills, and training. Make sure the most relevant of your experience, etc., is listed first for each of your most recent jobs, or most-to-least relevant if you are using a skills-based style (see Two styles).
Quick tip: Customizing your objective and brief summary of skills and abilities at the beginning of your resume to mirror the employer’s stated preferences may be the only change you need to make. The body of your resume must support the summary, of course.
Easy to read
This isn’t a novel.
- write bullets.
- leave out the trim.
- bullets let the reader scan your resume in 20 seconds, three times faster than paragraphsResumes written in a traditional paragraph format are not easy to read. The pros reading your resume may only scan one or two lines of each paragraph and move on if they don’t find what they’re looking for immediately.Easy doesn’t mean empty. Your most recent jobs and accomplishments should include 6 to 10 items, using those PAR statements you created.Quantify what you can, showing the measurable benefits of your efforts. Name names where possible. Use action verbs and the active voice:
- Modified widget production process to save $0.02 per unit, $9 million annually.
- The production process was modified, for important corporate savings.You want to illustrate your responsibilities and demonstrate achievements.
Keep it short
Brief, factual, active. Two pages are the maximum! Just 20 seconds to present your image.Summarize older or less relevant information. Too much detail, especially for long-past history, can be counterproductive. If your most interesting experience appears to have occurred 20 years ago, an employer may feel your career has peaked and is declining. See Two styles.
Years of experience? Summarize it. If you have more than ten years of relevant experience in your field, summarize anything that isn’t directly pertinent now. See the Chronological Resume example.
Don’t assume the reader knows your industry or function. Identify your employers by complete corporate name and include industry and company size (in revenues or number of employees) for recent employers. Avoid trade jargon and spell out acronyms the first time you use them.
Led United Way (UW) team.
Raised record $12,436 in UW payroll donations.
Limit your comments about outside interests and non-business activities to two or three lines unless you have significant recent achievements in that area.
Read, re-read and edit your resume
Spend the time to get your resume right. Write, rewrite, edit, and rewrite again. Get your partner to read it – events you talked about at length three years ago may have slipped your mind, but the recipient of your confidences will remember!
- spelling errors,
- grammar errors, and
- formatting inconsistencies.Use a dictionary, get someone competent to proofread. Don’t rely on software to correct your resume.Ask someone you respect in your industry (a mentor) to review and comment on your resume. Then polish it again.Sloppy work here will destroy your image. Ensure your resume is perfect.