Writing a Super Resume
Express your qualifications and stand out from the crowd.
Argh! It's time to rewrite your resume. What may feel like the world's most tedious task--puffing yourself up and bragging about your accomplishments on paper--doesn't have to be so painful. Just remember one thing: Your resume should stand out from the crowd. Employers, especially those who have posted openings on large Web sites, receive hundreds of resumes for a single position. You must express your qualifications for the desired job in a concise, clear, and aesthetically appealing manner. Here are a few ways to get your resume to the top of the stack.
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 and it best highlights your education and relevant work experience.
When organizing a chronological resume, you should outline sections of your experience, education, and skills to communicate what you have accomplished. HR representatives and employers (a.k.a. impatient executives who could care less about your passionate interest in yodeling) take less than a minute to scan your resume, so showcase and organize items into several concise and relevant segments.
Just because you have Microsoft Word and all of its formatting capabilities, your resume doesn't have to look like a Caribbean vacation brochure.
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. These will come out much clearer in faxes.
- 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.
- 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 raise? How many wild bears 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. If it doesn't all fit--which it won't, unless you're a college grad with 15 years of professional 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.
Now it should be the John Travolta of resumes--gyrating its way across the employer's desk, leaving the rest behind like a stack of graceless wallflowers. 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.