At first glance, writing a resume seems fairly simple: You summarize your professional accomplishments, detail your experience, and highlight your unique skill sets. Yet how you write and arrange it can make a difference in distinguishing yourself from the competition. Approach your draft with a concrete checklist of how to format, what to include, and the style in which you write, and you will simplify and expedite the drafting process itself and improve the final result.
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What Should a Resume Do?
The objective of your resume is to stand out and make employers want to interview you. It should include where you worked, what you did, and what you learned along the way. It should also demonstrate what you can do for an employer and why you are well-suited to the roles you’re pursuing.
The challenge is that most employers will receive far more applications than they have time to thoroughly review. To whittle down the stack, they review to reasons to disqualify candidates from further consideration. Therefore, attention to detail is so important: A resume may be disqualified for being too short, too long, too busy, too trendy, not results-oriented, or simply due to a typo. Before you hit send, make sure your writing is compelling, concise, and entirely error-free.
There are four basic types of resumes. The format you select should make the most sense for your industry and ideal roles: The more the content is customized to a specific job, the better chance it has of grabbing someone's attention.
This is the most common type of resume. It lists your work experience in reverse chronological order, beginning with your most recent job. When drafting, emphasize your most recent job experience and accentuate a history of growth, increasing responsibility, and if applicable, promotion.
- Advantages: Many employers prefer this type of resume because it provides a quick scan of an employee's employment history, job titles, length of employment, and level of responsibility.
- Potential drawbacks: If you are just beginning your career, have changed careers, are pursuing a role that differs from your work experience, or have sporadic work history, a chronological resume is not ideal and should be swapped out for one of the other formats below.
A functional resume highlights your skills and strengths whether from paid or unpaid positions. It is often used by career changers and individuals who lack experience in a particular field.
- Advantages: For certain roles or companies, this type of resume can be ideal as it emphasizes what you can do - not where you did it. It highlights skills acquired "in life" rather than being restricted to work experience only.
- Disadvantages: Because it can downplay work lapses, demotions or job-hopping, many hiring managers regard functional resumes suspiciously.It is also not the best formatting to use if you want to demonstrate career growth or a pattern of employment history.
A targeted resume is tailored to match the requirements of a specific job. It describes all relevant to experience and education related to the position being sought. A targeted resume can also highlight a job seeker’s capabilities and accomplishments across jobs, including a chronological employment list.
- Advantages: This type of resume can be beneficial as it draws attention to your skills and accomplishments while simultaneously identifying specific positions and titles that relate specifically to the role an applicant is pursuing.
- Disadvantages: Because this resume includes a more expansive list of points (both relevant experience and skills), it can be both time-consuming and demand a strong focus on editing and concision: Sections may need to be quite sparse to cover all relevant areas within the length of a standard resume.
A combination resume uses aspects of both chronological and functional resumes: It typically begins by listing those significant skills, which are pertinent to obtaining the desired position. This is followed by a section that lists employers in reverse chronological order. Responsibilities and achievements are also listed for each position. This resume is typically used by those who have at least 12 years in the workforce, demonstrable skills and a highly successful work track.
- Advantages: This format provides a clear chronology of your work history while simultaneously emphasizing your skills.
- Disadvantages: This format has the potential to be repetitive as it may highlight the same skills across different roles.
Most people will need several resumes tailored to different positions. This is especially true as more and more job seekers are applying online:
This type of paper resume is formatted in an aesthetically pleasing way with different fonts and formats, such as bullets, bolds, italics, etc. It is typically mailed or left with an employer after an interview.
This type of paper resume has been stripped of any unusual fonts or formatting. It is straight text that will be fed into a scanner to create an electronic database listing. It is important in this resume to utilize a keyword list (a list of 20-30 of the phrases that best describe your skills and experience) at the top of your resume, as these will be the words a potential employer searches.
This type of resume is sent by email or uploaded to a website. Some companies prefer no formatting, just straight unfettered text that can be easily scanned or added to a database. Most companies have the ability to create and read PDF files. Today, the preferred way to send a traditional resume is by email, as they can capture your original formatting, are easily printed and are fixed (can't be modified by the recipient).
Polishing vs. Patching
Resumes are dynamic documents that should be continually refined and polished. As your experiences, goals and the job market itself change, so too should your resume. Yet many individuals continually "patch" as time goes by cutting and replacing individual sections without considering the document as a whole. Most employers can tell when a resume has simply been "doctored up" for a new round of searches.
Although it's not necessary to start from scratch each time you revise your resume, it's a good idea to take a hard look at the document and consider the following questions: Is there a better way to organize the information? Can the resume be more targeted? Does your additional experience change the way you talk about your profession and responsibilities? Looking at the resume in its entirety and refining based on your current experience and goals will make for a stronger draft — whereas simply adding will, over time, detract from its cohesion and readability.
Elements of the Resume
The order in which you present the different elements of your resume depends on your background and their level of importance. List the most important information early in the resume, and list the least important information late in the resume. You determine the hierarchy based on your own history. Key elements include:
- Name, address, phone number and email address
- Professional qualifications or summary of qualifications
- Professional organizations or related extracurricular activities
- Awards, commendations, promotions
Resume Writing Tips
Use your resume to obtain an interview— not a job. While you don’t need to detail each accomplishment, strive to be unambiguous and concise. This can be achieved by ensuring your writing is:
The average time spent on a resume is 20-40 seconds. Make your points quickly and clearly. Margins, spacing, and plenty of white space contribute to aesthetic appeal and readability.
Action verbs such as "initiated," "designed," "managed," etc. convey energy and motivation in your career pursuits and accomplishments.
When listing employment dates, use the same formatting throughout. The same holds true for your choice of bolding, punctuation. Doing so shows an eye for detail and contributes to the readability of the document.
Emphasize unique skills and accomplishments rather than common responsibilities. Anyone can list functional responsibilities on a resume, but an employer will want to know what you learned and the results of these efforts.
Short and snappy
Write in a clear, straightforward and succinct manner and keep your resume to two pages at most. Avoid personal information such as age, sex, marital status, health, etc. Finally, omit any mention of salary history or your reason for leaving a previous employer. If an employer asks for a salary history, include this information on another page or in your cover letter.