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A resume is one of the most important tools in your job hunting arsenal. Essentially a biography of your education and experience, the resume’s purpose is to entice employers to invite you to an interview where you can discuss what you have to offer in more detail. Unfortunately, most recruiters only spend 10 to 20 seconds looking at each individual resume, so the key to writing a great resume is to tailor it to the job you want, highlighting that you have the skills and talents necessary to not only qualify for the job, but to help the company reach its goals.
Before you begin writing your resume, organize the information to be included. List your education, including the schools you attended and when, what you studied and the degrees or certifications earned. Don’t forget to include any special training you’ve completed or relevant coursework. Do the same for all of your work experience; list all of your employers, dates of employment and the roles you held. However, instead of listing the tasks you completed in these jobs, think about your achievements and how you might quantify them for an employer. For example, if you worked in sales, how many clients did you have? Did you meet your sales goals? How much new business did you bring in? As you describe your experience in the resume, describe your achievements using powerful, active language that shows employers that you are dynamic and an asset to their company.
In addition to listing your education and experience, gather additional information and materials that you can use for your resume. For instance, if you have testimonials or letters of recommendation, consider whether you can use some quotes from them to highlight your experience. Don’t forget about honors, awards, and any relevant volunteer or community organizing experience as well. Do not include your GPA, Social Security Number, information about your religion, race, gender, marital status or sexual orientation.
Once you’ve gathered and organized all of the information for your resume, it’s time to format it. While there are any number of creative methods of organizing a resume, such as infographics, most job seekers use either a chronological or functional format.
With a chronological resume, each section is arranged starting with the current or most recent experience to the oldest. A functional resume is more focused on your experience and skills, highlighting specific achievements in key functional areas. Instead of a chronological listing of employers, a functional resume provides an employment summary listing just the employer name, position and dates of employment.
Chronological resumes are by far the most common, as many employers like to see a consistent employment history with progressive growth. However, if you have gaps in your employment history or are changing careers or fields, a functional resume may be a better option, because it draws employers’ attention to your experience.
Once you’ve chosen a format, remember that a resume should be a maximum of one page (resumes for the federal government and certain academic or executive positions can be longer) with 1-inch margins all around. Choose a simple, professional font like Times New Roman in 10- or 12-point size. Avoid using too much special formatting, such as bullet points, as many electronic resume programs cannot read them and your resume may be distorted when submitted electronically.
Regardless of the format you choose, you need to include a professional summary at the top. The summary allows you to briefly highlight your skills and accomplishments and articulate what you can bring to the table for an employer. The summary should be specific, with quantifiable achievements – not a bland description with vague terms like “experienced” or “excellent communicator.” Keep in mind that the summary is likely to be the first thing a recruiter reads on your resume, so focus on making a great first impression.
Because many companies now use algorithms and computer programs to review resumes, it’s more important than ever to tailor your resume to specific positions. The easiest way to do this is to carefully review job listings and identify keywords that will help your resume pass the first review. Use the same language in your resume that the employer uses in the job listing, and spend some time researching the company website to determine the organizational priorities, key messages, vision and goals. Try to weave as much of the same language into your resume as possible, and show how you can be a valuable part of their team.
Above all, include your complete contact information, and carefully proofread your resume multiple times before sending it out. Have someone else look it over as well to spot any errors. If you are having trouble – or your resume isn’t getting results – schedule an appointment with a career counselor, or consider working with a professional resume writer.
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An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer and editor, specializing in careers, business, education, and lifestyle topics. The author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), which covers everything from career and financial advice to furnishing your first apartment, her work has also appeared in Young Money, Lewiston Auburn Magazine, USA Today, and a variety of online outlets. She's also been quoted as a career expert in many newspapers and magazines, including Cosmopolitan and Parade. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.