Guide to Writing an Effective Resume

Guide to Writing an Effective Résumé

Competition for jobs can be intense. Employers typically receive dozens, if not hundreds, of résumés for a single opening. The hiring manager typically spends less than 30 seconds reading a résumé; that’s how long you have to grab that person’s attention.

Make it easy for the hiring manager to focus on your résumé. This means proper formatting to ensure you appear professional, and clearly stating why you are the best person for this job.

Also, recognize that you may need more than one résumé, or at least need to customize the one you have for each job application. Your résumé introduces you to the company and lets your prospective employer know that you are serious about this opportunity.

How to Properly Format Your Résumé

Most résumés follow a standard format. There are a few variations typically based on whether you wish to highlight skills (common for job seekers with little-to-no job history) or professional experience. Even with these variations, the average résumé still includes the same sections; the only real difference is how the format emphasizes each one.

The simplest way to create your résumé is to use a good résumé template. A number of websites offer free templates online. You may also use one of the preloaded templates in your computer’s word processing program. You may also choose to use the template as a starting point for creating your own unique document.

Your résumé is not the place to let loose your artistic, creative side. Employers expect a simple, clean font like Times New Roman or Arial. Print your résumé on white or cream-colored paper. Do not try to stand out from the crowd with hot pink stationery and Comic Sans font. However, you can draw attention to important points with bold or italicized fonts.

Since things have become so electronic, some companies want you to include your résumé in the body of an email, as well as an attachment. Test your résumé in an email format. In other words, copy and paste it into an email, and then send the email to yourself. If it looks like a big mess, create an email version with all of the formatting removed, so that it looks like a regular document. In addition, others want you to paste your résumé into an online application. Having a text only version of your résumé makes this much simpler. When updating your résumé for a particular position, remember to update both.

In an effective résumé, the most important information belongs at the beginning of the document, so focus your skills and background in the first half. Keep your résumé limited to one or two pages. If your template includes sections you do not complete, delete them.

What Not to Do in Your Résumé

Gone are the days when employers wanted to know details about your personal life. Do not include information such as marital status, race, ethnicity, religion, age, hobbies (unless relevant to the position), and other personal characteristics.

Written references should remain separate and only provided upon request. Do not even include a reference section with the sentence “References available upon request.” However, do gather these references, and make sure to get permission from each person you hope to use as a reference.

Do not badmouth a former employer or position on your résumé or during the interview. Find a diplomatic way to respond to questions that may come up during an interview. Your resume is not the place to express any negative thoughts or opinions.

The cliché is that everyone lies on their résumé. Do not lie on your résumé. In today’s world of background checks, lies are easily discovered. This means do not claim to have graduated when you did not, or that you had a 4.0 GPA when you really had a 2.8. HR departments will likely uncover these lies when they check your education history. Do not compromise your morals and credibility to get a job.

Do not send out a résumé with errors, typos, or spelling and punctuation mistakes. Proofread it numerous times, and then print it out and proofread it again. Have a friend review it, as well to make sure it flows well and makes sense.

Finally, do not use slang or technical jargon, even if the jargon is common in the field you’re applying for. The person initially reviewing your résumé may not have the same background and therefore likely won’t understand your tech speak. However, if it is necessary under the skills section to list the names of programs and other technical expertise you have, then it would be appropriate to use the appropriate language.

How to Craft a Powerful Résumé

Your résumé opens with your name and contact information, including physical address, email address, and the best phone number to reach you. It is recommended that you use an email address that is professional/generic and does not include any idea of your hobbies, likes or characteristics. For example, you should use an email address like versus or

Remember, the purpose of your résumé is not to receive a job offer. People don’t normally receive a job offer based off of their résumé. Your goal is to impress the person reading your qualifications enough in 30 seconds or less to schedule an interview. To that end, you want to make it very clear who you are and what value you can bring to the organization.

If you have a job history, place this above sections like Skills and Affiliations. Again, the most important information belongs at the top. If you have no formal job history, you may still have relevant experience to include here, such as volunteer work or internships.

When writing your job history, word it carefully. Many employers, even smaller ones (and nearly all of the larger ones), now use a digitized method to review résumés that are posted online. What this means for you is that if your résumé does not include the required keywords, the system will not return it as a possible match to interview, no matter how well-crafted it is. Guessing the keywords may seem impossible, but, in reality, the job description itself provides the clues you need.

You have a number of options. First, you can simply review the job description, looking for nouns that appear repeatedly in the job description. The closer the keywords are to the beginning of the posting, the more important they likely are.

You can also look at multiple postings for similar positions within the industry. Highlight anything that seems like it might be a keyword, and compare each listing for common words. Whichever terms appear most often across all job postings are the most likely keywords.

Another item in detailing your job history is specifying your accomplishments. You want more than a list of responsibilities; you want to include specific achievements, preferably ones with quantifiable results, such as increased sales by 12 percent or reduced shipping costs by 20 percent. This does not replace the job description; it strengthens it.

It is only necessary to list your highest level of education. If your highest level of education is high school, do not list the year you graduated as it can give your potential employer an idea of your age.

The Power of Networking

Most people think the average person finds a job through a job board or other advertisement. In reality, the vast majority – as high as 80 percent – find jobs through networking.

This does not mean to ignore the job boards and résumé building. It does mean, however, that you should always keep a few copies of your résumé with you, and tell everyone you know that you’re on the hunt (except, of course, current coworkers). Tell your friends, tell your family, tell former coworkers; you might be amazed at the leads your network sends your way.

Don’t Forget the Cover Letter

Your résumé is not complete without the cover letter. Of course, not every hiring manager reads it, but some refuse to read a résumé without a cover letter. Your cover letter gives you the space and opportunity to really sell yourself. Like your résumé, customize it for each job, and use a standard, 12-point font like Times New Roman or Arial to match your resume.

Open your letter with a description of why you’re applying for this job. What interests you about it? Have you always wanted to work for this company? This is the place to say it.

Next, tell the employer why they should want to hire you. Go through the job description, highlighting the required skills and experience so that you can explain how you fulfill those requirements in your cover letter.

Finally, tell them what you like about the company and why you want to work there. Check out the organization’s website to find concrete examples that you find interesting and can include in your cover letter, such as industry awards they received, something in the company’s mission statement that appeals to you, or charities they support. This lets the hiring manager know that you did your homework and that you fit in with their culture.

Close by thanking the hiring manager for their time and adding a statement saying that you have attached your résumé.

What Happens Next?

Most companies take a week or two to schedule interviews. Generally, you won’t even receive a call until after the job posting closes. However, there is nothing wrong with following up with the hiring manager or human resources department within the first week of submitting your résumé.

A simple call stating you wish to verify they received your résumé is not too pushy, and demonstrates enthusiasm for the position. At that time, ask for an idea of when you can expect to hear from them. If that date comes and goes, follow up with a second phone call.

In the meantime, keep looking for the right job. It’s out there, waiting for you to find it.

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