A resume is more than just a summary of your education and work history. Writing a bland resume that simply lists what you did and when is a surefire way to not get the interview. Resume writers need to always keep in mind that a resume is really an advertisement of who they are as an employee. The purpose of a resume is to sell you to a prospective employer, not to simply list your history and leave it up to them.
In order to write an effective resume, the first step is to understand the format. A resume must be neat, organized and provide plenty of white space, the use of a professionally written resume template will help you achieve this. Short, bulleted lists that succinctly detail duties, history and accomplishments sell your message while achieving maximum readability. That is the key to a great resume. If a resume is a chore to read and digest, there’s no way you’re getting the interview.
Here is the basic layout of a typical resume:
- Personal contact information
- Objective – this is optional
- Employment history – listed in reverse chronological order, latest job first and so on
- Education – again, in reverse chronological order
- References – this is also optional
Understanding proper format is just one part of writing a successful resume. Knowing what to actually put into a resume and specifically how to say is it equally important. Here is a look at what to list – and what to leave out – in these key areas.
Personal Contact Information
This section should be located at the top-centre or top-left of your resume. List your name, address, telephone number and email address. If you have any professional titles or certifications, you can list them with your name as long as they’re not too overdone. For example:
“William Strauss, CPA” is fine.
“William Strauss, CPA, CMA, CFM, CIA, CFE, EA” is a little much.
Also, leave out any information that identifies race, religion, political affiliations and things of that nature. Leave out your date of birth as well. Finally, if you have an unprofessional sounding email address like “email@example.com,” get a new one.
Listing an objective on your resume is optional. If you do choose to list one, make sure the job you are applying for has something to do with fulfilling that goal. If you list a long-term objective, this job had better suit some step along the way. If it’s a short-term objective, this job must meet it completely. If your objective has nothing to do with this job, leave it out. They’ll just wonder why you’re applying for such a bad match if you don’t. Also, if the job doesn’t suit your goals, thing about why you’re applying in the first place.
For experienced professionals, this is the biggest selling point of a professional resume. Employers want to know if you have what it takes to do the job. There is a right way and a wrong way to fill this section of your resume.
The incorrect method of listing your employment history is to dryly list employers, dates and duties. This is boring and it leaves it up to the person reviewing your resume to decide if you’re qualified for an interview. They will have to go over a long list of past job duties and struggle to see if your qualifications and history match their needs. Keep in mind the first person who sees your resume might be a human resources staffer unfamiliar with the technicalities of the actual job, and it might be difficult for them to make the necessary interpretations. You need to make it easy on them or your risk them giving up and moving on to the next resume.
The right way of listing your work experience is to list accomplishments and quantifiable information instead of just duties and tasks. This shows that you aren’t just a worker filling a role; you get results. For example:
Just listing a job title like “Helpdesk Manager” is incorrect because it is vague and leaves it up to the reader to determine what that means.
“As Helpdesk Manager, I coordinated the activities of six-member helpdesk team in the service of 550 end-users locally and abroad” is correct because it is quantifiable, listing specific numbers and showing the breadth of your responsibilities.
It is also crucial to list specific accomplishments like “organized network wide Microsoft Office 2010 rollout” instead of vague things like “numerous end-user software upgrades.” Again, this leaves out all vagueness and shows them exactly what you can do.
For those new to the workforce, this is the most important part of the resume and should be listed on top, just below “objective,” instead of the employment history. All certifications, degrees, continuing education, student organizations and more can be listed here. For experienced professionals who are listing work experience first, this section can be a little more “bare bones,” just listing dates, degrees and any other very important information. This section will be a little different for first-time job hunters.
Students fresh from university need to approach this section like professionals approach the employment history section. This means more details are required and anything pertinent to the job and any impressive accomplishments need to be listed here. Honor societies, student groups, extracurricular activities and more can all be used to display a graduate’s level of responsibility and teamwork abilities. Students with a great amount of academic expertise but little in the way of practical experience need to scrutinize their education history and put their best foot forward here.
Listing references is optional unless the job listing specifically asks for them. Even writing “references available upon request” is optional and even outdated, since most employers already assume this to be true. If you are listing references, however, be sure to contact all your references first. This is a common courtesy and it also servers the purpose of preparing them. If they know the call is coming, they’ll be more likely to think of something nice to say.