A resume is usually the first thing that a typical employer will view about an employment candidate. Often, as few as ten seconds are spent scanning a resume before making an initial “keep or toss” decision, so it’s vital that the appearance, structure, and words in your resume give it the best chance of landing in the “keep” list instead of in the trash.
The Basics of a Great Resume
Your resume is a written statement that describes your work experience, education, and short-term career goals. Your resume is your most important marketing tool. Often, recruiters and hiring managers form their first impression of you based on your resume.
Prospective employers are looking for skills, but they are focused on reading about your past accomplishments. How have you saved your employer money, improved security, solved serious issues, or improved efficiency? Tangible results are effective and capture a hiring manager’s attention. You need to emphasize positive results in your work experience.
In this section, you look at the various elements of a great resume. The later section, “Different Types of Resumes,” describes variations in a resume’s arrangement.
The top of the first page of your resume is the heading, and it contains your name and contact information. If you have prominent certifications, they may appear here as well.
Many resumes include a sentence or a short paragraph describing the candidate’s mission or goals, or a statement about a desired position. Typically, this statement is about your experience and the position you want right now, not a position you want in the future. Your summary should tie directly into the position you are applying for and include a powerful statement regarding your experience, abilities, and meaningful accomplishments.
Example summary statements follow:
- Technology manager with eight years’ experience seeking a software development or software QA position in online financial services.
- Systems and networking manager with experience managing successful infrastructure upgrades seeking a technology leadership position in a SaaS company. Part-time university instructor.
The second example emphasizes accomplishments in this case, successful infrastructure upgrades.
The employment history section describes each job that you’ve had, along with relevant details. If you’re writing a chronological resume, each job will include a summary of responsibilities and accomplishments
If you’re writing a functional resume, each entry will include the company, position, and timeframe; the details will appear elsewhere in the resume.
Whether you are creating a chronological resume or a functional resume, make sure you list accomplishments and not merely responsibilities and skills.
The education section describes your formal education, such as the college, university, vocational school, or technical school you attended. Typically, this section is short and may appear before or after the employment history section.
If you have little higher education and work experience, you may need to include your high school education. However, professionals with a college degree probably don’t need to list their high school. If you do not have a college degree, list certifications and professional training.
Training and certifications
Training and certifications may appear together in one section or separately. Or you might put training information in the education section. As you can see, no single right way to put this information together exists, as long as it is readable and accurate.
Someone with just a few training courses may want to list them individually. However, if you have 20-40 years of IT work experience, you’ll likely have more training courses than can fit in several pages of text! In such a situation, a short narrative for training might appear.
People in a technology field learn a lot on the job, often without formal training, so be sure to include relevant skills on your resume. If you have a lot of skills in technology, you may want to group them in categories.
If you have too many skills to list, include relevant and up-to-date skills and discard the rest. For example, if you are applying for a Java developer job and your past experience includes Cobol and RPG, listing those skills may not be relevant. Look at what the company is seeking and highlight your related skills.
If you have a lot of skills but are light on employment history, you might place your skills section before your employment history section, so that someone reviewing your resume will see your skills first.
Depending on your background, you might want to include additional sections on your resume. Whether to include each depends on several factors, such as the following:
- Company culture: Your research needs to include the company’s culture — how the company behaves in the community and what it values. Tie yourself into that culture somehow, so that you look like a good fit. For instance, if a company you’re targeting emphasizes its volunteer work, include a volunteer work section in your resume.
- Rounding out your profile: If you believe that you need to emphasize that you are more than just a programming machine, you may want to include a section listing your outside interests and involvements.
Some of the sections you might include in your resume are described next.
Some professionals include an “interests” section to demonstrate that they are not all work and no play. Outside interests can show that you are gregarious, have varied interests, and have a life outside work. If you know that you have a connection to your hiring manager (or someone higher up in the company) through an outside interest, list it so that you become more familiar.
You could list interests in a short, bulleted list or in a few lines of text, such as “Interests include landscape photography, scuba diving, and RC airplanes.”
You can list your industry association memberships, including any positions beyond that of a general member.
Often, professionals like to include a short section on volunteer work. It’s often not required, but it does demonstrate selflessness and a desire to help others. Employers usually appreciate someone who makes time for others, and volunteerism is a good indicator of someone who is comfortable in a variety of situations.
Image When filling in employment gaps, show that you kept busy.
Customarily, references are not included in a resume. In the past, including a general statement, such as “Professional and personal references available upon request,” was common. Now this statement is unnecessary; an employer is going to ask for references whether or not you include this statement.
Formatting Your Resume
The format of your resume is as important as its content. If it’s cluttered and hard to read, a resume for the best candidate will be discarded as quickly as a well-written resume for an unqualified candidate.
A well-formatted resume has the following characteristics:
- Plenty of whitespace: Text should not crowd the top, bottom, or side margins. There should be room between sections and paragraphs.
- Absence of colors: Keep everything in one color — black.
- Single, readable font: The entire resume should be in one easily read font such as Times Roman, Helvetica, or Arial, with the following exceptions: The heading with your name can be slightly larger and in a different font, and the limited use of boldface and underline is acceptable.
- Visual simplicity: A good resume is beautiful in its simple elegance. In a good resume, less is better.
- No graphics: So many of today’s applicant tracking and application systems parse and populate data from your resume. Graphics will cause problems and cause fields to be populated inaccurately. Avoid cool graphics and complicated formatting techniques with your resume. Unless you’re a graphic designer or a marketing campaign designer, hiring managers don’t care about the graphics and may consider them distracting. Recruiters definitely don’t like graphics, because they often must edit your resume, to, say, add a heading.
In short, a well-formatted resume is minimalist in its visual style.
When working with soft copy resumes that you’re sending via email or uploading to an employer’s website, a job search site, or a recruiter, it’s best to send the resume in Word or PDF format. If you’re working with an outside recruiter who will be presenting your resume to one or more employers, send your resume in Word format, with the document unlocked, because the recruiter might need to transform your resume into a particular format.
Although Acrobat’s cool features include prohibiting printing or copying text from a document, it’s better not to use these features in a resume you upload or email. An employer’s screening process might include the need to extract text from your resume, and you don’t want to do anything to interfere with that. Best to send your resume as a plain, unprotected PDF.
In most cases, RTF (Rich Text Format) is acceptable format for your resume. Based on the rules of simplicity, your resume probably wouldn’t need anything other than RTF in the first place.
For organizations that want hard copy resumes, print them on good quality white copier paper. Printing on colored paper (even the slightest off-white), textured paper such as linen, or paper with a lot of flecks can be harmful. (However, you might consider recycled paper if the company is committed to recycling.) Yes, in many ways you need to stand out, but using a brightly colored or textured resume is risky.
You might consider printing your resume double-sided, to give your potential employer the impression that you know how to be a good steward of resources.
Cleaning up metadata
Before you send a soft copy resume, you need to be sure it’s free of metadata and other extraneous data that could cast you in a bad light. Check for the following:
- Document properties: Be sure that the document author and reviewers state your name or are blank. Check the description and also make sure that it contains your name or is blank.
- Check for tracked changes: If you have been using a Track Changes feature, be sure you have performed an “Accept All Changes” operation so that you are sending a completely clean resume free of any prior edits.
- Hidden and deleted data: When customizing resumes, you might mark some content as hidden. Sometimes, deleted content is still in the document. Make sure you have all that cleaned up. One technique is to start with a new, blank document and copy the text from a clean resume into the new empty document.
Tailoring Your Resume
You need to create a targeted resume for each position you seek. Word processing programs make this task fairly easy. However, be sure to develop a system to track each resume you send out.
Organizing your resumes
In this age of word processing programs, every resume should be customized for each particular job and company you’re targeting. The method you use to create your customized versions is up to you. Some suggested techniques follow:
- Super-sized resume (remove the parts you don’t need): Start with a master resume that includes lengthy descriptions of each job, education, and so on — perhaps even multiple separate descriptions. Make a copy of the resume, and then remove the parts you don’t need. The result, those component parts that are just right for the position you are targeting.
- Franken-resume (build from different parts): From your collection of headings, summaries, employment positions, education, and more, pull together the pieces you want, in the order you want, to create that perfect, targeted resume.
- Modify the last resume you used: From the resume you most recently sent to another company, make all needed changes, so that your new resume is just right for the position you’re targeting.
Content that you removed for a prior application may be relevant for a later one. Remember to restore content that you may need later.
Whichever method you use is up to you. Perhaps you have a system different from these that works for you. As long as you can keep your records organized and know which resume you sent to which company (and still have copies of each), you should be all right.
You should also consider keeping a worksheet that lists the resumes you used for each job. You might create a little database that includes a lot of different details about each position you targeted, who you spoke with, which resume you sent and to whom, and so on.
Customizing resume content
Every prospective job is different from every other. Even two jobs with the same job title are different. Every company has its own style and way of doing things. These considerations should compel you to take the time to customize your resume for each job you apply for. Following are some pointers that will guide this work:
- Match applicable skills and duties: Read through the job description carefully, and make sure that each skill and knowledge required appears in your resume when applicable. In other words, if a job description requires Active Directory administration and you have that skill, make sure you include it in each job where you performed this task.
- Emphasize company similarities: Employers like to hire people who are familiar with their industry. If you have work experience in the right industries, make sure your resume includes this information.
- Include required education: If an education level is cited in the job description, and you have the proper education, make sure you include it clearly in your resume.
To make sure your resume stands out from others, you may want to read other position postings from the same company to get a broader view of the desired skills. Also, find out what you can about the company. Search for articles (good or bad) in local press and trade publications to get an even better idea of their recent history.
Although looking at other people’s resumes is common, you should not borrow more than a phrase or two. Borrowing attractive styles and formats is okay. There is a tale of an employer who did an Internet search of a sentence in an applicant’s resume, and found that exact text (and more) on a sample resume found online. If you have someone else’s resume (or a sample) and you like the way something was said, seriously consider rewording it.
Types of Resumes
Every professional has a unique work history, education, skills, and career path, with different strengths and weaknesses. Because of this, no single resume structure will ideally highlight everyone’s strengths. For some, showing a progression of employment is ideal. For others, the best approach is to showcase skills and experience. In this section, you look at the two primary types of resumes and a type that’s a combination of the two.
A chronological resume lists work experience, typically in reverse chronological order (with the most recent position first). A chronological resume is the most common resume type because it’s the easiest to build and maintain and because potential employers like to see a candidate’s recent positions, responsibilities, and accomplishments first.
You’ll want to use a chronological resume if you have continuous work experience and your most recent positions are relevant to the company and position you’re targeting.
The typical order of sections in a chronological resume is
- Employment history, including detailed descriptions of each position and notable accomplishments
- Accomplishments, skills, training, interests, associations, volunteer work, and so on
A functional resume highlights your skills and work experience as your resume’s primary theme. You’ll use this type of resume if your recent work history doesn’t adequately show that you have recent, relevant work experience. For instance, if you’re seeking a programming job but your last position was something different, a functional resume can emphasize your programming skills even if they aren’t as current as you’d like.
Following are some reasons why you might want to use a functional resume include:
- A need to emphasize skills
- Little work experience
- Gaps in employment history
- Work in various industry sectors
- Employment history that doesn’t show a steady progression of job titles or responsibilities
- Employment history with a long work history in one position
Following is the typical order of sections in a functional resume:
- Accomplishments and skills
- Employment history, listing only employers, positions, and dates, with no other details
- Interests, associations, volunteer work, and so on
Note that in a functional resume, like a chronological resume, you put your best material early in the resume. In a functional resume, you emphasize your accomplishments, skills, and experience, whereas in a chronological resume you emphasize your employment positions.
A hybrid resume is a combination of chronological and functional resumes. A hybrid resume depicts skills, education, and employment history, and these may appear in any sequence.
If you have a professional background that requires you to get creative with your resume structure, try different layouts and ask your peers and mentors for their opinion.
No one perfect resume format exists. The types of resumes discussed in this chapter should serve as a starting point for you to build the resume that perfectly and succinctly describes your skills and work experience.
What Not to Put in Your Resume
Although various countries have local practices on resume structure and content, in most locations you would never include certain items in a resume, such as the following:
- Compensation: You should keep records of your pay, but your resume is not the place to include this information.
- Date of birth: Because you already have your name and contact information, including your date of birth might be excessive. A potential employer will ask for your date of birth on an employment application form.
- References: Usually, you supply references in a separate document.
- Opinion: Your opinion of an employer, good or bad, is best left off a resume.
- Work samples: Including samples of your work could make your resume too long and might violate confidentiality agreements.
Examples of Winning Resumes
This section provides a complete chronological resume, shown in Figure 1, and a complete functional resume, shown in Figure 2. Both resumes describe the same fictitious individual whose background makes each type of resume ideal for that person.
The chronological resume shows a typical progression of work experience and accomplishments, whereas the functional resume portrays skills, accomplishments, and experience unrelated to the positions in which they occurred.
Figure 1: Chronological resume example:
Figure 2: Functional resume example: