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Resume Tips: How To Describe Yourself On Your Resume

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The goal of a resume is to get a job interview. Use your resume to highlight your qualifications and invite potential employers to find out more about you.

What’s in a Resume?

A resume provides a synopsis of your relevant education, experience and skills. It’s better to confine the information to a single page, and no longer than two pages at most. The resume should include the following information:

  • Contact Information: Put your name, phone number and email address at the top of the page. You can use boldface and a slightly larger font. You can also format your information by using a resume template in a word processing program such as Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages.
  • Objective: Connect your resume to the position or industry you’re applying for. It can be as simple as “Seeking a position as an administrative assistant with ABC Company.” Avoid a generic objective such as “Desire a position in which I can use my skills and experience.” Look for examples of job objectives on careers websites such as Monster, Indeed and ZipRecruiter.
  • Skills and Experience: As much as possible, focus on the qualifications you have that are most relevant to the position you seek. Don’t assume the person who reads your resume is going to take the time to make the connections. Study the job announcement and highlight the part of your background that demonstrates how you’re able to meet an employer’s needs.
  • Education: Include formal education as well as any additional training relevant to the position. Do not include your grade point average (GPA) unless you’re a student with little or no previous work experience, and even then, include a grade point average only if it’s outstanding (3.75 GPA or higher).

Remember to Include Soft Skills

So-called “soft skills” are almost always transferable from one job to the next, even in vastly different fields. Soft skills are akin to personality traits in that they reflect who a person is rather than focus as much as what they know how to do. Soft skills include the ability to work independently and as a team member, communications and interpersonal skills, leadership qualities, and time management abilities. Words and phrases such as “dependable,” “punctual,” “detail-oriented” and “multi-tasker” describe qualities that any employer would view as assets.

Chronological vs. Functional Resume

The three types of resumes are chronological, functional and combination (also called hybrid). Which format you choose depends on personal preference, your qualifications, your work history and the position for which you’re applying.

A chronological resume:

  • Lists experience and education in chronological order
  • Best suits individuals with a consistent work record in one career path
  • Highlights progressively responsible positions with more than one employer in a single industry
  • Shows little or no gap in work history

A functional resume:

  • Allows you to organize your qualifications by skill sets instead of employment history
  • Best suits new graduates or others with a limited work history
  • Highlights qualifications of individuals changing career fields

A combination (hybrid) resume:

  • Allows you to combine elements of chronological and functional resumes
  • Best suited for those with a steady but diverse employment history
  • Focuses on skill sets relevant to the position you’re applying for instead of on previous job titles

Using Resume Adjectives and Verbs

A phrase such as “responsible for” does not say much about how you did your job. Use your resume to tell your prospective employer how well you did your job. Did you help improve efficiency or customer satisfaction? Did you find a way to save your employer time and money? A new employer wants to know how you’ll be an asset to the organization. Here are some examples of action phrases:

  • Managed team of three administrative support specialists
  • Communicated organization goals effectively to trainees
  • Provided courteous customer service
  • Demonstrated strong interpersonal skills
  • Reduced paper usage by 10 percent
  • Maintained accurate records

Notice that each phrase begins with a verb in past tense. It’s standard practice to use phrases rather than complete sentences in a resume to keep the document brief. Don’t use the word “I,” since it’s understood that you’re talking about yourself.

Resume Adjectives

Use resume adjectives sparingly. Resist the urge to use too many adjectives and instead aim for concise descriptions of your skills and qualifications. When you do use adjectives, make them relevant to the position or industry you’re applying for.

Resume adjectives for teachers can include “creative,” “structured” and “resourceful.” Resume adjectives for nurses can include words such as “thorough,” “skillful” and “energetic.” Avoid words and phrases such as “dedicated” and “knowledgeable.” They don’t give the interviewer any information about you.

Formatting Your Resume

Choose a standard business font such as Times New Roman or Arial. Set the size to 12 point for the main text of the resume. Underlined text can be difficult to read, so use italics instead where appropriate. Limit the use of italicized and bold text, as too much can be a distraction.

Set the margins to 1 inch all around. Your text should be left-justified, which means the text is aligned along the left margin. Section headings are easiest to read if they are left-justified as well. Bold the text on the headings so they stand out.

Prepare to Print Your Resume

Standard copy paper is acceptable, but your resume may attract more notice if you use a higher quality business paper. Stationery and office supply stores sell paper that’s packaged by weight. Paper labeled 20-lb. refers to the weight of 500 sheets of uncut paper. The heaviest business paper is 32-lb. and usually contains either cotton or linen fibers. Cotton fiber paper is smooth, while linen fiber has a fine texture that you can see and feel. Which you choose is a matter of preference.

White or off-white paper is the best choice, although some people like to use light gray, light blue or ivory. Avoid brightly colored paper. It will make your resume stand out, but not in a good way. The content of your resume should speak for itself. Hiring managers are often skeptical of individuals who use gimmicks and attention-grabbing tricks on their resumes.

Printing Your Resume

Print your resume using black ink and a good-quality printer. If you don’t have a printer at home, save your resume to a flash drive and print it at the public library. Most libraries allow you to print a limited number of copies for a nominal fee. Otherwise, get copies printed at a copy center or office supply store. It’s not expensive; prices usually start at 11 cents per page.

Send Your Resume to Prospective Employers

If you’re mailing a resume, make a neat stack of papers with your cover letter on top. Do not clip, staple or fold the corner. It’s easier for people to read the pages if they are separate, and the reader can attach the pages, or not, depending on personal preference.

Fold the cover letter and resume together in thirds and place in a standard #10 business envelope. It’s unnecessary, and even distracting, to place your resume in a folder or document protector and send flat in a large envelope. Make sure there’s sufficient postage on the envelope before dropping it in a mail slot. You don’t want your resume returned or, worse, delivered with postage due.

Some prospective employers request that you send your resume via email. Do a virus scan on your computer before sending a resume as an attachment. You can include a cover letter as an additional attachment or put the information directly in the body of the email.


Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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