Your resume is your key to the world of business. Writing one can be a nerve-racking task as most of us are aware of the previously stated. Precisely for this reason, you need to know what you are doing and why you are doing it when you are writing your resume. This guide will provide you with a step by step process, and if you follow it, you will surely end up with a master-key.
The first thing that we need to go over is what a resume is not. A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that their resume serves one singular purpose. That is absolutely not the case.
Let us go over some things your resume is NOT.
Resume is not:
- A summarization of the positions you held in the past
- A log of the things you consider as your skills
- A magical piece of paper that will surely get you the job
A resume is not a list of jobs you had in the past. It is one part of it, but you can not expect someone to hire you solely based on what you did in the past. It is something to be mentioned, but do not make it the focal point of your resume.
Your resume should not be just you listing your skills. Doing this will get you nowhere as the employees are interested in more than just what you think you are good at.
As stated at the beginning, your resume is your key. That does not mean that it is your house. It will get you through the door, but the rest is up to you. Getting hired is not just having a polished resume. You will need to prove yourself further.
You can think of the resume as a commercial for a product you want to sell. That product being you.
What is your goal? To make the hiring managers buy your product. And this does not mean that you get the job. It means that you get an interview with them. The purpose of your resume is to offer you a chance at getting hired and to make that chance as high as possible.
As we have established your goal with the resume is to get an interview. So, let us go back to the metaphor of your resume being a commercial and you being the product.
Your resume is your magical bag of tricks. A way to market yourself to the respected buyers. If you don’t have it, chances are you are not getting that interview.
For better or worse having a good commercial is not enough. Take some time for that to sink in. Everybody has commercials, and yet not all products sell equally well. Right?
So why should somebody buy your product based on your commercial? The hiring managers have to sift through tons of resumes. The trick is knowing what the hiring managers look for and giving them just that.
Just as gamblers are drawn in by the flashing lights of the Monte Carlo so are hiring managers attracted to detail-oriented and well-formatted resumes. Again, think about it. How much time can the hiring managers really have to go over every resume? Not a lot. Studies prove that 8 out of 10 resumes are discarded after being looked at for 10 seconds. Your own file should stand out from the crowd, and the safest way to achieve that and still retain a professional feel to it is to follow these established rules.
Before we jump right into it, there are still a few things to mention. Different writers use different approaches and resume writing is not something that is done in a universal way. It is possible that some will tell you exactly opposite suggestions as compared to the ones you might read here. So, take everything with a grain of salt when it comes to resume writing techniques. One guiding principle that all can agree on is that: ‘there are no hard and fast rules in resume writing.
So now that we have covered that as well let us get into it.
Step 1: Choose resume format
If you are having a resume writer block and have been staring at a blank page for hours, don’t be alarmed. Many have experienced exactly this, and this kind of block is more common than you would think. The first problem most resume writers encounter is that they don’t know where to start.
So where should you start?
Sad as it gets, there is no definitive answer to that. The reason for this is that there are no established rules for formatting a resume.
Don’t be too alarmed, though. Just because there is no established rule, it still does not mean that there is no starting point.
The first step is choosing what formatting style to use. There are 3 prominent styles, and we strongly suggest that you pick one of one of these 3.
- Reverse chronological
It is not always easy to chose from the 3, but it is essential for your resume. Each style has certain upsides and downsides and is best suited for a different purpose. We will go in-depth regarding each style to try and make a choice as easy as possible for you.
1. Reverse – chronological
You should use this style if you have been working for some time now and want to point out the progress of your career.
You should not use it if you have not been steadily working and if you have gaps in your work history.
You should also use this style if you are seeking employment in the same or similar field. This style will highlight your progression in your respective profession and should not be used if you are changing careers.
Use it if you want to progress in your current line of work and plan on staying in it. Don’t use it if you plan on changing jobs frequently.
If one of these 3 styles were to be described as traditional, then it would surely be the reverse chronological. It is, without a single doubt, the most common formatting type and you have surely seen it in the past even if you haven’t realized it at the time.
The reason for it being the most common one is that it’s highly flexible and is just as suited for somebody applying for their first job as it is for somebody gunning for the position of the CEO.
It can achieve this very purpose because it puts emphasis on your career progression and has a very clear structure.
If you have gaps in your employment history, use this style as it will not put that in the first plan and will highlight your strong skills instead.
Don’t use it if you want to move upwards in the same industry and if you have been steadily working.
You should use the functional style if you want to change your career and are looking to branch out.
Don’t use it if you lack experience and industry standard valued skills.
Unlike the reverse style, the functional format does not put the accent on your career progression but rather on your abilities and skills. The idea behind it is to sell all that you can do even if it’s not essential to you performing a certain task. It focuses on your qualifications, and you should use it if you already have considerable work experience behind you.
If you want to highlight a specific skill set relevant to a particular industry or are a master of a given discipline you should use this style.
You should not use this style if you wish to put the focus on your education as it is better suited for focusing on your skills. Don’t use it if you are an entry level candidate as your resume will not look very attractive to the hiring managers.
As its own name says, the combination style puts together a piece of both chronological and functional formats. From the functional format, it takes focusing on specific qualifications; and from the chronological format, it takes the form. So just like the chronological format the body of the document contains your professional experience but still focuses on your strong points.
This format is best suited for experts in a particular field or in particular parts of a certain field. It should be used by those who have an immense amount of experience in a certain industry.
Step 2: The Order of information
Saying too little can be just as dangerous as saying too much. It is important to know what information you want to add to your resume and what you wish to omit. This is directly related to the style you have chosen. Remember that the information you put can vary from style to style.
After you have decided on the style and what information you want to put in the resume, you need to know in what order you should put it in. It might not seem like a big deal, but it is. There is no merit to all of your best qualities if they are stuck at the end of the file, and the hiring manager had stopped reading long ago.
1) Contact information
Your contact information is your contact information and there is no reason to go in depth about it. Make sure that you don’t get it wrong as it might cost you a job, though.
There is no need to put a label on this section (Contact information or Contact Details.)
What there is a need for is to follow a certain order.
- Name (largest font on page, middle initial is optional)
- Mailing address
- Telephone number (Make sure that you have an appropriate voicemail)
- Email address (even though you might be fond of your old email address don’t use it if it is not an appropriate one)
- Link to online portfolio (there are a lot of them out there so make sure that you chose the appropriate one and that it is relevant to the position)
- LinkedIn profile
Make sure that you do not add the contact information in the header by accident. It is possible that the applicant tracking system won’t recognize it if you do so.
2) Chose a resume introduction
The way you start your resume can go a long way. That is why there are three ways to do precisely this. A qualification summary, career objective, and professional profile. All three styles serve a singular purpose. That is, to make your skills stand out from the crowd and to show just how you can help the company. All three achieve their goals in very different ways, and it is again important to choose the correct introduction style for you.
You should use it if you are applying for a high-profile job that requires a unique set of abilities and if you are a veteran of the industry. You can also use it if you have multiple skill sets and are a sort of ‘jack of all trades.’
Do not use it if you lack experience or if you are an entry-level candidate who lacks specific skill sets.
The qualification summary can be best described as a bullet point list which ranges from 4 to 6 points. These points need to be your greatest achievements in the business world. When making these bullets don’t use generic or worn out statements but rather try to give them your unique touch.
This one is for those who are just breaking into their respective carriers. Use if you are an entry-level applicant and if you don’t have intimate knowledge of the industry onside-outs. It is also highly suitable for recent college graduates.
Do not use it if you are an industry veteran with riches of specific skill sets. Do not use it either if you are changing career paths or if you are writing a cover letter.
The career objective or resume objective is just that. It is a short, 2-3 sentences long, statement that will provide an overview of your accomplishments. It is best suited for entry-level candidates and should be avoided by experienced professionals.
You should use the professional profile if you had a significant achievement in your line of work or if you are applying for a position in the same industry. It is suitable for top experts of a certain professional field, as they can benefit the most from it.
Don’t use it if you are an entry-level applicant or a recent college graduate. Avoid it if you lack accomplishments as this style highlights precisely those. The professional style is a hybrid of the 2 previously mentioned styles. It combines parts of the career objective and qualification summary which makes it the most flexible of the three as it can be formatted as short paragraphs or a bullet-point list.
Do not just choose one at random but rather take a moment to figure out what particular skills are needed for the job you are trying to get. Once you know that, you will know what style you should choose.
3. Professional experience
If the parts before can get you through the door, the professional experience is what lands you the job. It is the essence of your resume and its most important part. In this section of your resume, you should prove the skills you have listed in the qualification summary or career objective.
Professional experience sounds good, but some prefer ‘Relevant Experience’ or ‘Work experience’. Feel free to use the one that sounds the best for you.
Also, do not to forget to list your work experience in reverse chronological order. Don’t get carried away and only list experiences that are relevant to the position you are applying for.
For every firm you have been at, you need to make a separate heading which should include the name, city and state, your title, and the dates of employment (month and year). In case you are still working for a particular company just put ‘month, year – present.
For each of the positions, you should aim to have 3-5 separate bullets which are made of your general duties and achievements.
3 Parts of a strong bullet point
1st Action Verb (should always be first)
2nd Quantifiable point
3rd Specific and relevant job duty
Example 1: Educated 10+ interns, instructing them in the day to day operations and evaluating them.
Example 2: (The quantifiable point does not have to come right after the action verb)
Organized a program for cost optimization and implemented it, increasing cost efficient by 6%.
These examples were written with one goal in mind: to snatch the attention of the hiring managers. And, these samples achieve that by using the action verb to the fullest.
One thing to remember is to always write your action verbs in past tense if you are writing about past experiences.
Education is essential for any job, and the more you have of it, the better. However, it is not always best to have too much education and too little experience. Depending on that, you might want to switch the order of the professional experience and education sections.
Include some of these points in your education section:
- The name of your university, college, or technical school (avoid including high school unless you did not attend college)
- Location of the schools (city, state)
- Date of graduation (month, year)
5. Additional Sections
Now that your resume is starting to take shape, here are a few additional sections you can use to strengthen it.
- Certification/Licence: Depending on your respective career field, the hiring manager could expect to see your certificates. It is always good to include them as long as they are relevant for the position you are applying for.
- Publications: This one is for graduate students that have published articles relevant to the job they are applying for. There is a certain form here, and it is to list your publications in reverse chronological order (by publishing date).
- Awards/Honours/Activities: Use this section to add another layer to your resume. It speaks of your drive and your achievements. By listing all relevant awards and activities you will stand out from the competition.
- Technical skills: With the growth of the IT industry, this section has gained on relevance. Some engineering fields require specialized knowledge and skills. Try not to take too much space with this and break up this section into categories and list your skills within each.
- Additional skills: This section is similar to technical skills but is broader. You can include things that are relevant for any job such as fluency in languages, knowledge of certain computer programs or a permit to operate heavy machinery.
Step 3 How to style your resume
Now that the hard part is over you can begin to tinker with your resume and give it some personality. It’s time for the finishing touches, and more often than not, it is precisely them that will land you the job.
Number of pages
This is a heartily debated point among resume writers. Some believe that you should never go over one page while others argue that there are cases when you may do so. So, let’s make it simple for you. If you are certain that you need space for relevant information, feel free to go over one page; but, if you can put all the relevant information in one, do so. Avoid adding information that is not relevant as your resume will suffer if you do so.
Font and Sizing Dos and Don’ts
There is no rule for the font sizing as you can never know what the hiring manager prefers. Go with your instinct and do it the way you feel is best.
That being said, there are some rules that you should follow.
Make sure that the font is easy to read and always use the same font throughout the entire resume.
Switch sizes for your name, headers, and bullet points in a descending order and choose a font that fits the text size you have chosen.
Don’t choose a small size just so you can fit everything on one page and don’t pick out of the ordinary fonts. Don’t go below 9pt and don’t mull over this too much.
The standard sizing is 24 for the name, 12 for body headers, and 10 for bullet points.
These are not the rules that must be followed at all cost, but rather proven measures. The most important thing to keep in mind is the readability. If the person reviewing your application can’t read the file, it will quickly be discarded.
The choice between fonts will come down to a “Serif” style or a “Sans Serif” style.
Serif fonts have small lines on the ends of their letters whereas the Sans Serif do not. Choose one that describes you best and feels better to you.
Some argue that Serif fonts are better for paper versions and Sans Serif for electronic ones. Keep that in mind but still go with what your gut tells you is better when it comes to fonts.
Popular Serif fonts:
- Times New Roman
- Bookman Old Style
- Century Gothic
- Popular San Serif fonts
Lines serve the purpose of helping to break up resumes and allow the employer to better soak in all the information. They usually begin after the career objective or qualification summary. After this part, it is up to you to break up your resume as you deem best. Try not to overdo it as too many page breaks lower the readability. Always read your resume after doing this or give it to another pair of eyes. You will notice if the lines are bad if you won’t be able to concentrate on the resume for too long.
Margins are something that is commonly overlooked for no good reason and is the first thing your employer will notice. A one-inch margin is the safest way to go if you don’t have much experience with resume writing. If you do know what you are doing and wish to fit it all in one page, you can reduce them. If you choose to do this, make sure that the margins are not too small. Never go below 0.5.
These are all the tips you will need to write a professional resume. If you don’t get the job right on the first try, don’t hesitate to learn from your mistakes and go through your resume again.
Practice makes perfect. Also, always keep in mind that your resume is your resume and it needs to stay precisely that. Just because somebody has a different type of a resume that you may have liked does not mean that it is suited for you. Know yourself, your weaknesses and strong points, and your resume will reflect that.