No matter how much time and effort you invest in writing it, a resume can't guarantee you a job. In fact, there are some who question just how much it can really accomplish when it's half way down a pile of 150 others. Nevertheless, since you've got to have one, your resume might as well be good.
Keep this general rule in mind: it is very likely that the individual in charge will look at your resume for no more than thirty seconds. So whatever you want to tell him, make sure that it can be digested quickly. If there's any detail that might conceivably not help catch his attention in a positive way, remove it.
In choosing what to write, think only about answering the question "what can I do for your company?" You future boss doesn't want to know how smart and talented you are. In fact, he's only interested in whether you are capable of making his professional life easier by making his company run smoother, cheaper and more efficiently. So tell him.
I actually have some limited experience in this area. On a number of occasions, I have participated in search committees seeking to fill administrative positions. Opening an envelope with copies of twelve resumes and trying to meaningfully take in the contents of each of them is a daunting task. I had considerably less than an hour with which to work (meaning each one had to be absorbed in about three minutes) and other members of the committee had even less.
So think for a moment about a hiring executive faced with hundreds of competing documents. Now how quickly do you want to communicate your message?
Something else to consider: many companies try to streamline their processing of resumes by scanning them into their computers and, often, feeding the files into programs that search for specific key words. In other words, it is possible that NO ONE will ever read your resume!
Ok. So it has to be brief and extremely focused. Let's get to work.
The first step. Create a database of every piece of information that could have an impact on your employment. Of course, you're not going include all this material, but you will need it in front of you to organize your thoughts. You will include (among other material) your name (spelled exactly the way you want it to be seen), contact information, education (including any special courses completed, scholarships, awards etc.), certificates, licenses, professional memberships, jobs you've done, volunteer work, references and hobbies.
You'll then carefully read through that database and think carefully about yourself, your assets and your ambitions. What would you enjoy doing? What can you do best? What are your limitations and needs? For which job, exactly, do you want to apply?
Next, identify all the skills you have acquired that could be usefully transferred to your new job (like teamwork, flexibility, communication skills, problem solving ability, initiative, creativity). Provide support, whenever possible, with concrete examples from your employment or other activities.
Identify, also, the attractive value you can offer an employer. Saying "I can remain cheerful and controlled while engaged in several demanding tasks " says more than just "I ran an office". "I enjoy completing complex tasks with a high degree of professionalism" communicates that you take pride in your work and that you strive for perfection. And it sure beats "I worked part time binding books". Offer examples where possible.
Choose "action verbs" (like "built", "initiated", "edited", "devised", or, "trained" rather than something more passive like "was involved in" or "I did...").
Repeat that word a few times and never let it out of your mind until you're finished the resume. Never, ever write "please consider me for any position you feel is appropriate" (after all, would YOU choose such a vague, general offer from among a group of applicants who are trying to solve your immediate problem?). You simply must convince the fellow doing the hiring that you were created for his opening and not expect him to take the time to figure out for you where you belong!
Your resume needs a paragraph stating your employment objective. Something like
I seek a position in field "x", working for a company of type "y" through which I can put my "z" skills to good use.
Here's an example:
I seek a position in the automobile rental industry, working for a growing, aggressive mid-sized company through which I can put my friendly nature and sales and marketing skills to good use.
Some people also include a summary paragraph in which they briefly sum up the skills and background that best suits them for that particular job. In any case, the contents of the objective and summary must reflect the requirements of the specific job for which you're applying.
Your resume simply must stand out and catch the eye of the tired, distracted executive who will try to read it. To accomplish that, it must be well organized with content that's easy to quickly scan and digest. One page is usually quite long enough, but two is the absolute maximum. Allowing nice, wide, white margins and good spaces between sections and neatly lining up items can lead eyes naturally from point to point.
Your sentences should be short and punchy, your powerful verbs active rather than passive.
Use only 8.5x11 paper (high quality white is probably best) and avoid fancy fonts or too many type sizes (although, it seems, you can use bold face type to emphasize key words).
And very, very important: no spelling or grammar mistakes. None. Spell check the document, then manually proof read it a few times, then give it to a friend or relative to proof read it again. Repeat.
There are two basic types of resume (we'll include a couple of sample resumes later):
- The chronological resume highlights your employment and educational background and, to a certain extent, deflects emphasis away from your skills and employment value. One creates a chronological resume by (below your contact info and objective paragraph) arranging your jobs by date in reverse chronological order (i.e., the latest job first) and then the same thing with your education. The all-important easy-to-scan left column is usually taken up with dates and your own accomplishments are somewhat buried among the less-noticeable details. This is the type of resume you might write if your career until now has followed a typical, "straight-line" path.
- The functional resume arranges things according to your skills and accomplishments (again, only after your contact info and objective paragraph). By listing titles reflecting what you've actually done in the left-column, and including employer information only in the smaller, indented text, you are successfully promoting yourself more than your previous jobs. So, rather than working with headings like "1999 - 2003" you're writing things like "project management" and "communications". The functional resume is the one most often recommended these days.
- You can also create a resume that's a combination of both styles. This can sometimes be the most effective in efficiently targeting both your skills and experience for the specific job you're after.
It is currently the generally accepted practice not to include any references in your resume. Rather, write "references available upon request". This way, when you actually do receive a request from an interested employer, you will have the chance to call your reference personally and brief him on the details of the job and which of your skills in particular you're emphasizing.
In any case, never offer a reference without first asking his permission.
Resumes should be accompanied by a cover letter. This letter should be no more than one page long (three to four paragraphs is usually perfect).
Using the same punchy, action-oriented language of your resume, you should communicate your knowledge of the company to which you're applying, your enthusiasm for specifically that position and your ability to help them.
Address the letter directly to the person in charge of the job search and ask for an interview. If you're able to, include some points that might be of personal and professional interest to the recipient. For instance, if the company you're approaching is a small electronics firm, you might briefly mention your experience and observations with some related gadget.
Resume related information is available in various forms from dozens (probably hundreds) of Internet sites, books and government publications. In my case, I must note that I've drawn most of the structure and ideas for this chapter from two sources:
"Focus on Resumes - A Guide to Marketing Yourself" is a pamphlet published by the Government of Canada (Human Resources Development Canada) and is copyright Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, 2004.
"Tips for Finding the Right Job" is a PDF file (available on the Internet at www.doleta.gov/uses/tip4jobs.pdf) produced by the United States Department of Labor: Employment and Training Administration (since then, I believe, the department has been renamed), 1996.