Resumes: Getting Started

It's hard to get started on a resume. There are so many questions:

  • What should you include? What's relevant and what's fluff?
  • What should the resume look like?
  • How many pages? Is longer better?

There are some generic answers to these questions. For example, you will want to focus on your accomplishments rather than on a list of your past job titles and duties. And longer is generally not better (Mark Twain's perceptive quote: "I'm sorry this letter is so long. I didn't have time to make it short"). Take the time to craft your resume carefully instead of just including everything. Check out resume tips for some more suggestions.

Most of the answers to your question, however, will be job-specific. That's why we suggest that you look at the job-specific resume examples we've provided. And do your homework. Look at web sites, publications and job ads in your field to get an idea of the appropriate resume format, style, content and keywords. Using generic formats that can be applied to any kind of job will not grab the reader's attention.

When it is time to create a resume you can find a lot of help on and on the web sites that we recommend.

  • The first step in creating a resume is to decide whether you want to write a resume yourself or seek help from professional resume writers.
  • If you want to do it yourself, then you may want to begin with an assessment of your employability skills and to read about transferable skills and competencies.
  • The next step might be to take the resume tutorial.
  • After you are familiar with your own skill set and you have taken the tutorial, you may want to examine the many resume examples available within your specific area of interest. This will provide you with a clear idea of proper resume formats to use. There are hundreds of resume templates to choose from depending on your field.
  • Once you have narrowed the formatting down, read about invaluable resume tips that can help you get to the next phase -- the job interview.
  • The final stage is utilizing a resume distribution service to blast your resume out to all the recruiters seeking employees in your field.
  • The growth of online resume services has brought a dramatic change in the way resumes are constructed. Electronic and software scanning have now become widely used methods of screening resumes, eliminating the need for humans to do the job in many cases. Resumes must now emphasize keywords and industry-specific terms and acronyms. So no matter how you write your resume or for what job niche, chances are it will be e-scanned and e-distributed!
  • There are some tricks to the "e" part. And you will read here about those tricks, including how to format your e-resume for electronic transfer, how to make the most of keywords, what e-writing should look like, and how to create your own e-portfolio. But most of the time you will just read about resumes without the "e" -- researching, designing, formatting, writing, and distributing them. You can always add the "e,"and you'll be correct.
  • On this page you'll find a general discussion of writing a resume. But look around and click on the links to get just what you need, whether it's a resume for a specific job, sample cover letters, professional resume-writing companies, or a tutorial on resume writing. It's all here!

Here are the basics of writing a successful resume.


It's all about function versus chronology. In functional resumes, you group your skills into categories and then briefly list your past job titles at the bottom. This format is usually reserved for career changers who want to de-emphasize huge gaps of unemployment or a lack of direct experience. Recent college grads and others on a consistent career path usually opt for the chronological format. These resumes list your jobs (and duties for each) in reverse chronological order. If you're a regular college grad, we suggest the chronological format. Most employers expect to see that format from a jobseeker without much (or any) experience and it best highlights your education and relevant work experience.

Emphasize Accomplishments

When organizing a chronological resume, you should still include sections on your accomplishments, education, and skills to communicate what you have accomplished. Functional resumes should focus on accomplishments as well. HR representatives and employers take less than a minute to scan your resume, so showcase and organize items into several concise and relevant segments. If you just graduated from college and have not yet been employed, place your "Education" section first, directly below the letterhead. In addition to the basics--school name, degree, major, and graduation date--you can include relevant coursework that applies to a desired position, academic honors or awards, and your GPA. If you skated through college with anything over a 3.0, feel free to put it on your resume. Other categories might include "Relevant Work Experience," "Volunteer Experience," "Computer Skills," "Publications," "Activities and Honors," "Language Skills," and so on.


Along with effective organization, appearance can make or break your resume. When creating a super resume, keep these points in mind:

  • Fonts. Whether you e-mail, fax, or mail your resume to prospective employers, you should try to keep your font plain and easy to read. And select a reasonable size--anywhere between 9 and 12 points should be acceptable. We suggest using a sans serif font like Arial or Verdana, not Times New Roman.
  • Formatting. Just because you have Microsoft Word and all of its formatting capabilities, your resume doesn't have to look like a Caribbean vacation brochure. Myriad fonts, colors, and graphic embellishments don't really help, so use minimal and purposeful formatting. Simple bullets will best separate your duties and skills; use bolding and italics sparingly. Formatting should highlight your accomplishments, not draw attention away from them. Less, in this case, is definitely more.
  • Paper. Even if you don't snail-mail your resume to employers, you should have hard copies on hand to bring to interviews. These copies should be on tasteful resume-quality paper. White, off-white, cream, and gray are the easiest to read. Just like your socks, your cover letters, mailing envelopes, and resumes should all match.


Now that you know how to organize your resume and what it should look like, you need to know what to put in it. Click on action verbs to see a list.

  • Action words. When describing your prior job experience and duties, use active language. Instead of starting your sentence with a noun, start with an active, descriptive, impressive verb. For example: "Customer Service Representative. Assisted customers with product selection, trained and supervised 15 new employees, organized special promotional events." Don't think of this as a term paper--action verbs and flowery language required.
  • Numbers. That's right, we said numbers. Always include numbers, percentages, and dollar amounts in your job descriptions to back up your achievements. How many people did you supervise? How much money did you feed during your stint at the zoo? How much did party favor sales increase under your direction? This approach immediately highlights the kind of impact you've made
  • Length. Keep it to one page. No one wants to scan through two or more pages of your long-winded accomplishments and experience unless you have many years of experience.. If it doesn't all fit--which it won't, unless you're a recent college grad with no experience--cut it down to the most relevant and impressive items. You should tailor your resume to match the job description, so be sure to cut and paste accordingly.

And if your skills match what an employer is looking for, you'll be snatched up for an interview. From there, it's up to you: Show them you're as good as that pretty piece of paper says you are.