If you’re just sitting down right now to write your resume, it’s important to go over everything and make sure everything is ready to go. Or maybe you’ve already crafted a well-written, concise resume — so you think – and you just need to give it a good once over. Regardless, there are very crucial guidelines to follow to get the most out of your resume. Here’s a checklist of all the key points that will make your resume worth reading and will maximize impact in order to get the interview you want for the job you need.
Have you organized your “database?”
What you need to do before you even start writing resumes is create a master list of EVERYTHING you have done. Write down every job you have had, the dates, contact information if necessary, titles, everything. For each job, list every single major duty you performed. Then detail all your accomplishments at every single job. This entire list won’t go on your resume, so there is no need for brevity here. Quite the opposite. This list must actually be exhaustive.
When this is finished, do the same for your education history. List all degrees, schools, dates attended, awards won, important extracurricular activities, major achievements, certifications and anything else that may look impressive on any resume template in the future. Once again, leave no stone unturned. Be sure you brainstorm and think of anything that showed teamwork, leadership, individual initiative and any other qualities that you, if you were the boss, would want in an employee. At this stage of the process you must leave nothing out.
Save these lists for later. You are going to need them when you write each resume.
Have you contacted your references?
Some job postings ask for references and some don’t. The ones that don’t ask up front may ask later in the interview process while others may never ask for references at all. Regardless, it’s better to be prepared ahead of time with high quality, reliable references than to scramble for them later just after being asked.
Think of three to five good references that would be able to stress your good qualities. Former co-workers or supervisors are great choices. If you’re fresh out of school, then professors, professional level peers in student organizations, supervisors or co-workers at internships and the like would all fit the bill. You need to contact the people you have in mind ahead of time to ask if they wouldn’t mind giving a reference during your job search. The first reason for this is that it’s common courtesy to ask first and not just list a former co-worker on a resume and have them get an unexpected phone call. A more beneficial reason to you is that you will put it in their heads early that they need to give a reference, leading them to give it some thought ahead of time. This preparation will lead to a well thought out recommendation instead of an off the cuff response that may or may not help you.
How good is your contact information?
Your email address must sound professional. No prospective boss is going to take “email@example.com “ or “firstname.lastname@example.org“ seriously. If your only email address is something frivolous like this, log on to one of the many free email services out there like GMail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, etc and sign up for a new one. Get something that doesn’t make you sound like someone who never gets out of bed before 9am and you will be ahead of the game.
You must list a reliable telephone number. If you list your home number but you’re never there, that’s not a good number to use. If you write your current job phone number on your resume but you can’t take that kind of call at work, that number is a bad one to use as well. Use a cell phone or any number that you can answer reliably during regular business hours. Remember: you can’t get an interview if they can’t get in touch with you.
- Remember the “business communication” philosophy. Your resume reflects your professionalism and how you would behave in a professional environment. It shows off your writing talent and your ability to convey ideas and concepts elegantly in a piece of business communication. Every facet of your resume must communicate the idea that you are the consummate professional. Keep this in mind throughout the writing process.
- What resume format are you using? Which resume format you choose depends on your situation. Are you a seasoned professional with years of experience or maybe at least one or two jobs in your field under your belt? Or are you a job changer looking for a fresh start in a new field? Maybe you just graduated from university or will graduate soon. Depending on which situation you find yourself in, you’ll choose either a chronological or a functional resume format. Each format is designed to emphasize the strengths of the applicant.
The chronological resume format favours professionals who are staying in their field. In this format, job history is listed first, as this is the professional’s strong point. Each job is listed in reverse chronological order, starting with the current job, then the previous one and working backwards. Education is listed after job history, again, since work history is the most important and impressive aspect of someone who is already in the field.
The functional resume format is best suited for those applicants who are changing careers or by graduates. In a functional resume, the first major section is a list of talents, abilities and the like. The goal here is to detail the skills you have attained, through past jobs in other fields or in college through classes, internships, extracurricular activities and the like, which are transferable to the job at hand. The idea is to state that you have skills that you can apply to this job, and then, when summarizing employment and/or education later, back up the talents listed with facts.
- Are you using a clear, professional font? Stick to fonts you think you’d expect to see on typical business communications like interoffice memorandum. No professional would ever use Comic Sans, Algerian, Showcard Gothic or anything out of the ordinary like that. Stick to a simple, easy to read font like Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri and other fonts of this nature that look sharp and professional.
- How are your paper and envelope? Your paper should be middle of the road. It can’t be the cheap copy paper that your office uses for the fax machine, but it shouldn’t be the ornamental, overwrought manuscript style sheets from the high end stationary store. Go with simple, good quality white or off white paper with a matching envelope. Use a laser printer, not an easily-smearing inkjet, and print the envelope in the printer instead of hand writing it. Your neatness will probably put you ahead of many applicants before they even read the resume.
WRITING THE RESUME:
The main idea to keep in mind constantly with every resume, and ever cover letter while you’re at it, is that the resume must be targeted to the job you’re applying for. This mean you should never rely on a generic resume.
A generic resume tells a company that they’re not important enough for you to take the time and address them individually. So does a cover letter addressed “to whom it may concern.” More importantly, not targeting your resume specifically will sell you short. Conversely, a targeted resume tells the company exactly what you can do for them.
To write a targeted resume, assemble the “database” you created earlier. Get all your employment and education information in front of you and then look over the job posting. Take notes, writing down the key qualifications and job duties. Now, look at your database and match your experiences with the details of the job posting. This is the way to write a targeted resume. When summarizing past job duties, accomplishments and education details in their respective sections of the resume, list the ones that match the job’s needs FIRST. You will have more, but you’ll be writing bulleted lists and many resume reviewers never read the entire list, so give them the relevant information right away. Targeting your resume like this ensures that readers will get this message loud and clear: “I am exactly what you need for this job.” It is simply the very best way to make sure you get an interview.
Did you list a career objective? Below your contact information and above your work history is where you might detail your career objective. This is a single sentence where you will show your initiative as a hard working professional who is determined to succeed in your field. For your objective, examine your career path and, more specifically, how this job relates to it. An example would be:
- “Objective: To obtain a position as an auditor at a top five accounting firm where I can apply the skills I’ve gained in my eight years in the field to contribute to a successful audit team.”
In this example, assume the writer is indeed applying for an audit position at a firm in the top five firms in the field. If not, this would not be appropriate. As it stands, the writer is touting his success in the field, flattering the prospective employer and telling them he wants to contribute. This job will be mutually exclusive, and this objective ties everything together.
If you can’t relate the job in any way to your career goals, it’s best to simply leave this section off the resume, or even reconsider applying for the job.
Did you list accomplishments or duties? A common mistake many resume writers make is that they view their resume simply as a dull, dry summary of all past jobs and duties. This may do well if the prospective employer suffers from insomnia, but it will do you no favours in getting a job interview. Always remember that your resume’s purpose is to sell you to the employer. Next to targeting your resume, the best way to do this is to list your accomplishments and achievements, instead of simply detailing your job duties, every single time you can.
Consider which of these two would appeal to you more as an employer:
“Oversaw 15 member sales team, motivating the group to increase the company’s profits by 20% over just six months.”
One is a boring listing of a job while the other says exactly what the applicant did and quantifies it with numbers that show results. This is a perfect example of the “accomplishments, not duties” approach. Writing down accomplishments from past jobs that relate to the duties listed for the job you want is the very best way to “sell” yourself to the employer. I tells them “I can do this job. I’ve already done it, and look at my results.”
For every past job you list, you need to detail accomplishments whenever you can. It is definitely more difficult than just throwing out a laundry list of duties, but it pays off so much better.
Are there gaps in your work history? Did you explain them? There are many reasons for gaps in your work history, including layoffs, sabbaticals, returning to school and more. Since you detail your job history on your resume by date, it’s easy for resume reviewers, especially human resources professionals who do this for a living, to find these gaps. Not explaining them may make some reviewers wonder why, and some may jump to the wrong conclusions. Eliminate this possibility by explaining any gaps right on your resume. A simple list of the dates between jobs and the reason, such as “took time off to pursue further education,” “downsized from previous job, spent three months seeking employment,” et cetera works a lot better than leaving them wondering.
Did you make sure to use bullet points? Never, ever use paragraphs to describe past work duties or education. Busy professionals will be reviewing your resume and do not have time to seek out the pertinent information about you from a massive wall of text. A resume with an intimidating layout with very little white space will probably end up in the recycling bin with nary a glance. Make it easy on reviewers by doing their work for them. Use short, bullet-pointed lists to boil down your accomplishments, duties and history into the essential facts. Everyone likes reading lists better than trying to figure out what’s important from a rambling screed. Using short lists also makes your resume pleasing to the eye. A good amount of white space leaves “breathing room” for the reader and is so much more inviting and pleasing to the eye than wall to wall ink.
AFTER YOU’VE WRITTEN THE RESUME
Have you had someone proof read it for you? After writing and rewriting your resume to make it perfect, it’s easy to miss mistakes. After all, you already know it forward and backward and know what it’s supposed to say. Proofreading it yourself after being so familiar with it is a surefire way to miss errors. Don’t rely on spell check, either. While spell check can catch spelling mistakes, it will miss correctly spelled but misused words and grammatical mistakes.
Instead of going it alone, grab a few friends and ask them to proof read your resume. A few fresh sets of eyes will easily find mistakes you would have missed. Ask your friends to especially try to read from the prospective of someone running a business looking to fill a position. Tell them to not be afraid to be critical. After all, it’s easier to hear criticism from friends than to miss out on an opportunity due to a resume that wasn’t as good as it could have been.
How’s your cover letter? After spending all this time on a resume, many job seekers make the mistake of not giving enough attention to their cover letter. They just see the cover letter as a necessary evil to getting the resume out the door. This is just not true and falling into this trap could eliminate you from the competition.
Your cover letter should be seen as an extension of your resume, and you should give it the same amount of attention and care. It is an introduction to who you are. It will tell the company a little bit about you and why you are interested. If written well, it should whet their appetite and make them want to find out more by reading your resume. Just like with your resume, you need to never ever use a generic cover letter. Target the cover letter to the job and company. This is the information that needs to be in a cover letter:
- The job you’re applying for (including a posting number if there is one).
- Where you learned about the opening.
- A brief mention of some interesting notes about your background and qualifications as they apply specifically to this position.
- Why you are interested in this job.
- An invitation to contact you for more information or to meet to discuss the opening.
- A note thanking them for their time and consideration.
Since we’re discussing the subject of the cover letter, be sure who you are sending it to. Do NOT send a cover letter to “dear sir or madam,” “to whom it may concern,” or any other generic non-person. If the specific contact person is not listed, make a phone call to the company. It doesn’t take much to tell someone that you’re interested in the job and would like to know who to send a resume to. By the way, be sure to be courteous! You never know who you’re talking to.
- Did you follow up? Sure, this is more of a job seeking tip than an actual resume tip. Still, it’s important to remind job seekers that persistence pays off. Companies usually are very busy and may put off the hiring process for an indefinite period of time. Calling to follow up if you haven’t heard from someone in a week or two is always a great idea and might even cause them to just tell you to come in for an interview. There’s nothing at all wrong with showing interest. Enthusiasm is always a desirable trait in new employees.
Searching for jobs and everything else that goes along with it, like organizing your entire work and school history, contacting references, making a ton of phone calls, writing resumes and cover letters and following up can be an intimidating process. Going into it unprepared only makes things worse. Following this checklist before, during and even after the resume writing process will make it a lot easier and will definitely get better results than just using copy and paste an updating last year’s resume and cover letter. Good luck!