RESUME WRITING TIPS
A lot of folks tend to panic when it comes time to write a resume, and they end up making some simple mistakes. This page is to give you some broad guidance in terms of how I structure a resume, and how I help make other people's resumes better.
WHAT GOES ON MY RESUME?
For the wide majority of resumes, you'll want the following components:
Name and contact information
Make sure this is listed correctly (you'd be surprised) and is always up-to-date. If they can't easily get in contact with you, they won't. You can usually do just your e-mail address and phone number these days.
Short descriptions of why you're awesome
This used to be the 'goals' line that so many recruiters told you about; I've seen them fall out of use in the last four or five years. The goal used to be something broad and dumb, like 'I want to find employment at a job that challenges me', but that's basically crap and everyone wrote the same thing. So instead, I'd advise you to list two or three descriptions of why you're awesome instead. Talk about yourself like you're describing a product (because you are -- you!) with something like this:
Detail-oriented and focused • Highly motivated, self-reliant, and enthusiastic • Strong interpersonal communication and problem-solving skills
Think of it like a short list of why anybody should keep reading your resume; this is one of the big areas where my opinion diverges from the 'professionals' (who still like a 'goals' section), but I think my way is better. I've never had anyone complain about having this section instead of the other, and plenty of folks have been hired, so I'd say that means my way is OK.
Skills and/or Proficiencies
These are where people start to fall apart. It's important to write your skills like you're writing an advertisement; there's a world of difference between writing 'Microsoft Office' and writing 'Several years experience with the Microsoft Office Suite'. One of them is a boring checklist of stuff you can do, the other makes you sound proactive and professional. List all your skills in a way that makes you sound rad. You're not a 'Good communicator', you are 'Effective, professional, and friendly in all interactions and communications'. See what I mean?
NOTE: Don't put 'detail oriented' unless you've gone over your resume with a fine-tooth comb and know for sure there are no spelling errors. You'll look like a jackass if there are.
List your highest level of education; if you're currently going to school, list the name of the school and put (Ongoing) next to it. You don't need to put the year you graduated, so don't stress too much about that. If you went to college, list what you went to college for.
Here's the other area where folks tend to fail. I'm going to dedicate an entire section to this below.
LISTING MY WORK EXPERIENCE
In general, nobody likes a multiple page resume unless you've got a damn good reason to have one. Some automated systems will flag them, most recruiters won't read past the first page, and to be frank, unless you're incredible at what you do, nobody cares about your full life story. So keep your work experience to one of these two things (whichever comes first):
- Your last three jobs
- Your last ten years worth of work
If you have an older job that's directly relevant to the industry but older than ten years or three jobs ago, you can consider listing it, but people will probably ask you why you've been out of the industry for so long. It's better to only list what you've done recently than to bore anybody with the detailed history of how you worked at a pizza joint in 1992.
When talking about what it is that you do, be proactive about your responsibilities. Like the 'skills' section above, there's a world of difference between 'Worked as a cashier' and 'Handled customer point-of-sale interactions and transactions'. Both of them describe the same job, but one of them actually lists what the job did, and the other just told you a position. You're welcome to 'spice up' your job descriptions, not by lying, but by sounding very official and professional about them. This is where most people contact me for help, as working in advertising has helped me learn to bullshit you into sounding amazing even if you're just mediocre. But this isn't a rare skill -- you can, and should do it too. Avoid lying, however, because a slight polishing of your job versus a lie about your job is a big deal.
I like to list four or five job functions under each job; as long as they sound professional and encompassing (i.e. as long as it seems like your job would actually fill a work day), you're OK with not overloading anybody.
You might be in a weird position in terms of setting up a resume. Here are some tips for people in special circumstances:
Homemaker/Stay-At-Home Parent/Out of the Workforce
Not as big a deal as you think, as long as you can interview well. Your resume should list your qualifications/skills first, and really lay into them. Job experience comes towards the bottom of the page, because you probably don't have a lot to work with, or if you do, it's pretty old. You can ignore the rule about the last three jobs or ten years; just list what you've got. Remember, list plenty of skills and qualifications to give reason why anybody should hire you, and you'll be OK. It also doesn't hurt to list any ways that you've been active or involved in your community.
Just Out of Jail
Omit from your resume, and don't give more information than you need to. If asked about the gap in time, say that you were dealing with some personal issues, and then shift the focus back to the amazing things you can do for the company or business. If pressed for information on your incarceration, don't talk about the crime or use any legal jargon; talk about what you learned, how it made you better, and how you can use your experience to help benefit other people.
Young Kid/First Job
A simple one-sheet with your name, contact information, and a list of skills is great. Most employers expect that young kids will need a first job, so they'll be a little more lenient on this one. Note, don't talk about video games on this one, I'm serious.
You've Been Fired (A Lot)
You weren't fired, your 'employment contract was ended' and you 'decided to pursue other challenges'.
WHAT IF I WAS SELF-EMPLOYED?
People screw this one up all the time, and this should be the easiest one of all. Being self-employed is difficult, and just writing 'I ran my own business and did the thing that I did' is a total waste of your experience. Instead, try these:
• Maintains all administrative and book-keeping functions for a small business
• Oversees scheduling and client support
• Executes all social media promotion and development, including brand management and promotional events
• Provides superior customer service, teamwork, and excellent communication to ensure overall satisfaction
If you're not listing bullet points like that as a small business owner or an independent person, you're totally missing out.
DATABASE OF SKILLS
OK, OK, so you're not good at listing your own skills. Here's a helpful list of skills that I've written which you can plagiarize for your own resume if necessary. If you're taking more than one of these, make sure you compare them to ensure you're not listing the same skill twice.
- Computer savvy with extensive experience in modern operating systems
- Proficient in the Microsoft Office Suite
- ___ words per minute typing speed
- Skilled in sales and group communication
- Excellent organization and time management
- Dedicated, hard working, and self-starting
- Able to rapidly learn complicated new tasks and skills
- Effective, professional, and friendly in all interactions and communications
- Quick learner and self-motivating worker
- Years of experience in task management and process oversight
- Conflict resolution and problem-solving skills
- Expertise in the organization and prioritization of necessary tasks
- Neat, clean, professional appearance
- Personal, friendly communicator
- Superior customer service and person to person skills
- Experienced manager in small and large group situations
- Excellent organization and time management
- Proficient knowledge of computer systems, including computing strategies for technical professionals
- Wide range of work experience to allow for a broader view of best business practices