As a small business owner, when an applicant piques my interest with a good cover letter, I still need to see an impressive resume before setting up an interview. Your resume acts as the first point of contact for you and a prospective employer. If you want prospective employers to contact you about a job, you need to have a resume that impresses. Your resume must demonstrate your achievements, accomplishments, work experience, and education.
It takes time to craft the perfect resume, but you can get a great head start when you use an online template. If you use an online template, or a Word template to craft your resume, make sure to eliminate any unnecessary information and proofread the final version of your resume carefully.
What Goes on a Resume
The sections and information that your resume should cover include:
- Contact Information. At the top of your resume, include your formal name, your nickname in parentheses if applicable, current address, permanent address, phone number, email address, website if applicable and relevant, and a fax number, if available. If you have a “fun” email address, like ILovetoParty@partytime.com, don’t use it in your resume. Instead, create a new email address that uses your first and last name.
- Objective. An objective helps explain your career goals, especially if you are just starting out in the workforce, changing careers, or applying for a specialized position. Avoid vague statements, such as “seeking a challenging position with room for improvement.” Instead, state your specific and immediate career goals or intended job title. Convey what you can offer a company, not what you want from a company.
- Education. If you have recently graduated, begin your resume by listing your educational achievements. Starting with your highest degree, list the university, location, degree, date of degree, major, minor, languages, and your GPA. You should also list any awards, scholarships, or internships that you received. If you have been in the workforce for several years, list this section below your work experience.
- Work Experience. List all of your previous jobs in reverse chronological order, stating your job title, name of the company, city, state, the years worked, and a description of your responsibilities and achievements. List any awards received with each position.
- Skills. In this global, fast-paced economy, you must remember to list your computer skills, languages, and relevant certifications.
- Additional Information. Additional and optional sections might include Professional Affiliations and Community Service.
Tips for Writing an Effective Resume
1. Keep Your Format Basic, Consistent, and Easy to Read
With dozens or hundreds of resumes crossing the desk of an employer, your resume needs to be logical, concise, and easy to read in order to help the hiring manager or recruiter find the important information as quickly as possible. You have 30 seconds at most to grab their attention, and to get the company to put your resume into the “interview” pile.
- Use clear titles or headings. Examine this article for a moment. Notice that it begins with an oversized title, followed by mid-sized subtitles, and that some words are in boldface font. I am trying to make it easy for you to navigate the page and to find the information you need. Do the same with your resume. Use this strategy to organize and separate the various sections. Use oversized titles and subtitles to highlight information that you want the recruiter or headhunter to immediately see when they begin reviewing your resume.
- Use bullet points instead of paragraphs for your descriptions. This makes it much easier to read when someone has only a few seconds to glance over your resume.
- Use a basic 10-12 point font that is easy to read, and more professional than a fancier font, like Times New Roman or Arial.
- If you send a paper resume, use the same font, bullet style, and paper on both your cover letter and resume.
2. Use Action Verbs
When describing your work experience, begin with strong action verbs that best describe your accomplishments, achievements, and responsibilities. List the most impressive and important descriptions first. Some action examples include “Exceeded annual sales plan by 10%” and “Increased annual gross margin by 5%.”
Avoid passive phrases such as “Was responsible for driving sales within my department,” focusing on specific results instead of general responsibilities. Also, avoid writing in the first person.
3. Tailor Your Resume
Create a master resume listing your job experience, education, and skills. As you prepare to apply for a specific job, remove irrelevant information, and highlight relevant skills and accomplishments for the position.
Spend 5 to 15 minutes prepping your resume for the precise position you want. Check the job listing for keywords or phrases that the employer needs. Your resume should clearly reflect the specific skills, key qualifications, and requirements listed in the job posting. For example, include details about your years of experience in the industry, languages, licenses, and certifications.
4. Show Quantifiable Results
Did you manage a large team or implement a large money-saving or money-making program? Employers care about actual results and outcomes, not just titles, qualities, and strengths.
Give specific examples of results that you personally created as a result of managing that team or implementing that program. For example, instead of saying, “Managed team of 35 call center individuals,” say, “Managed team of 35 call center individuals, which resulted in a 45% increase in sales during tenure.”
5. Use Relevant References
When asked for a list of references, use past supervisors, leaders of organizations, teachers, or previous business clients who can give the employer an idea of your work experience, reliability, and resourcefulness. Do not provide prospective employers with a list of friends.
Ask your references for permission before you give their contact information to prospective employers. If the company does not ask for a list of references, you do not need to include this information on your resume.
6. Do Not Assume Prospective Employers Recognize Acronyms
If you apply for a position in a new or different field, make your resume readable by clearly explaining industry-specific terms and phrases. The first time you write the phrase, spell it out and put the acronym in parentheses. From that point on, you may use the acronym in your resume. This helps to avoid any confusion, and ensures the hiring manager or recruiter understands the acronyms and their significance.
7. Use a One-Page Resume
If you have recently graduated or have less than five years’ work experience, you can fit all of your information on one page. Remember to keep your details succinct, concise, and specific to the position. A lengthy resume works against you, as recruiters and hiring managers have to quickly scan and read them.
Don’t sacrifice quality for brevity; if you must go to two pages in order to list your specific, relevant skills and abilities, don’t worry about keeping your resume to one page.
8. Triple Check Your Resume for Errors
Make sure your resume does not have any grammatical or spelling errors before you send it to prospective employers. Use spell check, but also enlist a few friends or family members to review your resume. Receiving a promising resume riddled with errors frustrates hiring managers and recruiters. The resume appears sloppy and hastily prepared.
9. Be Honest
Be honest about your skills, accomplishments, education, and job experiences. If you lie about your background, the prospective employer may find out. In this scenario, you won’t get the job, and you may tarnish your professional reputation.
10. Don’t Oversell Your Skills
In addition to honestly portraying your background, don’t embellish your work history or skills. Overselling your skills may get you an interview, but it will quickly become clear in follow-up interviews that you don’t have the background the company needs. In addition, you may end up in a job that you can’t do.
11. Don’t Undersell Your Skills
On the other hand, you shouldn’t undersell your skills, or trivialize your accomplishments. If your “excellent” leadership skills led to promotions, mention this in your resume. If you graduated first in your class or participated in a program for academic leaders, include pertinent details about the accomplishments.
12. Stay Focused
Keep your resume focused and on track. Don’t meander into too much detail about other interests unless they’re relevant, and don’t mention hobbies at all. Make sure your resume has focus and direction, and works as a cohesive whole.
In addition to staying on track, make sure your resume focuses on your related work history.
13. Include Relevant Job History
Include relevant information about your job history in your resume. Don’t include information about jobs you held as a teenager, and don’t include too much detail about jobs that do not relate to your current career path.
14. Don’t Make Excuses
If you lost a job, became unemployed, or had to take a job with less responsibilities, don’t make excuses or provide unnecessary explanations for this information. Save this information for a discussion with a recruiter over the phone or in person.
15. Provide Some Details About Past Employers
Assume that prospective employers and recruiters do not have familiarity with your past employers or their industries. Provide a brief capsule of information about each company where you have worked. For example, “CompanyName is a technology service provider offering website design and consulting services.”
16. Make It Easy for Prospective Employers to Find Your Resume
Make it easy for prospective employers and recruiters to find your resume by using keywords. When you save your resume to job websites like CareerBuilder and Monster.com, include keywords that detail specific skills so you show up in recruiters’ search results.
Instead of using “Experienced Nurse Loves Working with Kids,” use a keyword-focused title like “RN, Pediatric Registered Nurse, California RN License.” The string of keywords might look odd, but it almost guarantees that recruiters who need people with your unique skill-set will find you.
17. Include Social Media Links Only When Appropriate
If you apply for jobs related to website design, digital media, and related positions, you can include links to your pages on relevant social media websites. However, if you don’t work in fields related to the Internet, the links just clutter your resume and won’t seem relevant to hiring managers.
If you are currently seeking employment, you need to sell yourself with a resume that shows the company your unique qualifications. Customize your resume for the position you want, and make sure the resume has no mistakes or errors. Many other applicants want the same position, so your resume needs to rise to the top.
Include your resume as an attachment to the email you send to hiring managers, unless they stipulate that they cannot open attachments. If you have to copy and paste your resume into your cover letter email, send a test email to yourself first, to double-check the formatting. For more resume advice and mistakes to avoid, check out Top 21 Resume and & Cover Letter Mistakes.
What other tips do you have for writing a resume and impressing potential employers?