What is a resume

What is a resume, and why do you need one when you are job searching? A resume is a written compilation of your education, work experience, credentials, and accomplishments. Most professional positions require applicants to submit a resume and cover letter as part of the application process.

In many cases, your resume is the first document a hiring manager will look at when reviewing your application, and therefore is a true “first impression.” Accordingly, it’s important to put time and effort into developing and maintaining an updated, accurate resume.

Whether you are writing your first resume, or you haven’t updated yours in a while and it needs refreshing, here is a step-by-step guide to writing a resume that will help you get the job you want.

Review the purpose of a resume

Think of a resume as “self-advertisement” that sums up your experience on one page. Your resume is one of the most important pieces of your job application. It gives the hiring manager an overview of the qualifications you have for the job for which you’re applying.

You should also familiarize yourself with the difference between a resume and a cover letter:

  • A resume is typically sent with a cover letter, which is a document that provides additional information on your skills and experience in letter form.
  • A resume is a concise, often bulleted summary, while a cover letter highlights and expands on certain traits or accomplishments that would be unique or ideal assets for the particular job.

Start doing a brain dump of your past experience

An effective resume lays out a summary of qualifications that will push the hiring manager or employer to move forward and invite you to interview for the position.

As well as details on skills, education, and work history, resumes can also have optional sections, such as an objectivesummary statementskills, or career highlights. Those sections can be added after you’ve compiled all the factual information you need to list on your resume.

For many people, it can be helpful to sit down with a pen and paper, or a blank Word document, and jot down their work history from start to finish. Of course, if you have been in the workforce for many years, this is not going to be time-efficient, so you may choose to focus on your most prominent and relevant positions.

Make a list of your experience

No matter your approach, your goal will be to produce a chronological list of experience that is relevant to the jobs you’re applying to. Although this should focus on professional work experience, you can also include awards or accolades, volunteer or community experience, post-grad coursework, and skills, as well as your college education, which can move to the bottom of your resume once you get your first job after college.

When you’re working on your brain dump, make sure to include the name of the company, its location, dates of employment, and several bullet points describing your role and responsibilities for each position you list. Although you may need to expand on the bullet points later on, you’ll need this information at the minimum.

Focus on achievements

When writing the descriptions for the jobs you’ve held, focus on what you accomplished in each position rather than what you did. Listing quantifiable achievements in a numerical manner (increased sales 20%, reduced expenses by 10%, for example) will help your resume stand out.

Be sure to match those accomplishments to the criteria the employer is seeking in the job posting.

What to leave off your resume

There are some things that don’t belong on a resume for a job. What you exclude is just as important as what you include. Ideally, your resume should reflect experience that is relevant to the job you are applying to, and typically no more than ten to fifteen years in the past. Since your resume should, if possible, be no longer than one or two pages, you may need to nix certain items.

For example, if you took a job and only stayed there for a month or so, you wouldn’t want to include that position. If you’ve been out of college for more than five years, it’s generally best to remove any internships you’ve had, assuming you have other professional work experience to fill the gap.

However, this is a case where you’ll want to use your common sense. If you went to college for marketing and had a marketing internship your senior year, then worked as a server for the next several years, you would want to include your marketing internship.

Ultimately, you want to try to strike a balance between including experience that is both timely and relevant.

Choose a resume style

There are several basic types of resumes used to apply for job openings. Before you spend time writing up all the details around each position you’ve had, you should decide what style of resume to use, as that can affect how you describe, organize, and list your experience, education, skills, qualifications, and other credentials for employment.

Your options include:

  • Chronological – The most common resume type, in which you list your work experience in reverse chronological order, from the most to the least recent.
  • Functional – A functional resume focuses on your skills and abilities rather than your work history.
  • Combination – This type of resume lists your skills and experience before your employment history.

Which resume type is right for you

Which resume type should you use for your job search? That depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. The goal of any resume is to show a hiring manager the applicant’s strengths, skills, and experience in as short a time as possible. According to one study, recruiters spend as little as six seconds reviewing a resume before moving on to the next, so it’s in your best interests to put your finest qualities and accomplishments in a prominent position on the page.

In addition, functional or combination resumes may also be useful if you’re trying to draw the reader’s attention away from something – namely, large gaps in your work history or detours into unrelated fields.

Start compiling your resume

Once you’ve decided on a resume type, it’s time to start writing your resume. You don’t have to start from scratch. First, review examples of the resume type you’ve selected. Then, choose a template which you can copy and paste into a document, and then fill in with your own work history.

Regardless of the type of resume you choose, aim to tailor your resume to the job you are applying to. While it’s perfectly acceptable to use a resume template, which you adapt to fit each job description, it’s a bad idea to send the same exact resume to multiple openings, even within the same field.

Your goal should be to write your resume with both robots and humans in mind. Many organizations use Applicant Tracking Systems to sort and vet resumes, before hiring managers ever take a look at them. This means that you could have the best experience and qualifications in a whole field of candidates, and a pretty decent resume besides, but your information will fall through the cracks if your resume doesn’t contain the right keywords. Good keywords will refer not only to your experience but to the job description in the posting as well.

Format your resume

Once you have written and organized your information according to the type of resume you have chosen, be sure to format it according to typical professional standards. You should use consistent spacing throughout, and evenly sized margins on all sides if possible. It’s generally best to stick to your word processor’s default settings, but in some cases, if you shrink the margins on the left, right, top and bottom, this can help buy more space to fit your resume on one page.

Although visual or infographic resumes have become trendy in some industries, it is always a safe bet to stick with traditional formatting: white page, black text, readable font. Choose a basic font such as Arial, Times New Roman, Calibri, Helvetica, or Georgia. Ideally, your font size should be no larger than 12 and no smaller than 10.5.

Even if you are only sending in copies digitally, it is a good idea to print your resume (as it’s possible that hiring managers may be doing so) to be sure it prints on a single page, and is easy to read in printed form. Reading over a printed copy of your resume will also help you ensure that there is plenty of white space on the page and it looks professional.

Proofread, proofread, and proofread again

Not even professional proofreaders can easily proofread their own work. Once you’ve made a typo, it’s hard to catch it yourself. For that reason, it’s a good idea to have one or two trusted friends take a look at your resume before you send it in for consideration. Use this resume proofreading checklist first, then ask someone else to give it a final review to be sure it’s perfect before you click send or upload to apply for a job.

Think of your resume as a living document

In the short term, you should tweak your resume based on each job you apply to. For example, if one position you’re applying to seems to weigh a certain responsibility or focus over another, you should be sure your resume conveys your expertise in this area.

At the same time, you should be updating your resume with your experience as it develops, adding any new skills you’ve learned, courses you’ve taken or awards you won.

It is much easier to update your resume periodically than all at once, so even when you’re employed, set a reminder to refresh your resume every three months, while the information is still fresh in your head. This will make your next job search much easier, should you decide to switch companies or careers in the future.

Top skills to include in a resume

Time management

Time management has always been important, but in 2020 we’ll be seeing even more jobs allowing for either part-time or full-time remote work. That means that your employers have to trust that you can manage your time and get your work done without anyone looking over your shoulder. In today’s age of smartphones, social media, and binge-worthy TV, you need to prove that you can stay on task and on target. 

Collaboration

Maybe you feel that you work best solo — and that’s OK. But in truth, today’s modern age tends to bundle multiple complicated technologies into almost every project, and you can’t always do it alone. What used to be a simple blog post now might need a video, user-experience design tweaks, search engine optimization, and social media marketing as well. You don’t have to do it all yourself, but you do need to be able to work with others effectively.

Emotional intelligence

The ability to stay in tune with your own emotions and the emotions of those around you is more valuable than ever, and is why it’s an important job skill for 2020. The days of “leave your problems at the door when you come to work” are gone. From acknowledging your own emotions to having empathy for the emotions of your co-workers and clients, emotional intelligence will help you be a “people person” without having to be an extrovert.

Creativity

In a world that is increasingly crowded with ideas, images, and technology, the ability to come up with a new angle is just plain amazing. Some people are naturally creative and new ideas sprout from their minds like it’s nothing. For most people, however, it’s not so easy. That doesn’t mean you can’t be creative; you just might need to work on it a little bit. 

Adaptability

Have you noticed that things are changing faster than ever? As technology evolves, we’re finding new ways to use it. That means the old “We’ve always done it this way!” attitude is nothing but dead weight on your career. You need to be adaptable to new technology, new collaborations, and new philosophies to succeed in 2020.

Adaptive thinking

Another way to think of this is “thinking outside of the box.” Adaptive thinking allows you to take the real-life situation at hand and find a solution to your problems. That may mean you don’t do things the way they’ve typically been done, but it may also mean you’ll get better results.

Service orientation

Increasingly, success has less to do with how aggressively you try to boost your own career than how much effort you put into the people around you. From your bosses to your direct reports, having a service-oriented mentality means you look to make those around you better. Think about it — who doesn’t want to work with (or for) a person like that?  

Cloud computing

Now we’re getting into some more direct skills that can help you really get an edge in 2020. The world is moving into the cloud, and we need people who understand it and can work with it. Even if you’re not a programmer or engineer, just having a solid understanding of the cloud, how it works, and best practices can keep you ahead of the game.

Knowledge of new social and digital media

Like it or not, digital media is running the show now. If you want to compete in the job market, you need to at least be cognizant of what’s out there, how it works, and what kind of audience it enjoys. We’re beyond just Facebook, Linkedin, and Twitter these days (but don’t neglect them!). While it may be comfortable to stick to what you know and ignore the newcomers, that mindset will leave you and your resume in the dust — especially as we enter the new decade.

Artificial intelligence

Like it or not, we’re in the AI age now. We not only want computers to do work for us, but we also want them to get smarter as they work. Just like cloud computing, you may not need to be a top-level expert, but a solid understanding of AI can give you a vital edge in a difficult job market.

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