1. Right off the bat, understand that you should be tweaking your resume for every job you apply to, based on what that specific company is specifically looking for. No two listings are the same, and no two applications should be the same either.
2. What job are you trying to get? Is there a specific company you’d like to work for or position you want to hold? Start there. Before you ever even type your header, start with the requisite. Find three great openings that you think you’d enjoy and print out their respective descriptions and list of duties.
3. Look at your resume like a puzzle made of four large pieces: Personal Statement, Education, Work History, Achievements. Grab four different colored highlighters to represent each piece, then go through the job descriptions and see what they are looking for. A certain degree? Minimum in-field experience? Personal characteristics, like “team player” or “self-starter”? Now, after you’ve highlighted the sections, go through and ask yourself, “Do I embody this?” “Am I qualified?” “Is this a good fit for me and the company?” If you answered, “no” – start over, finding three listings that you think you’re qualified for, then ask yourself why you’re qualified. Therein lies your resume content (and verbiage for future interviews, so go ahead and take notes on this).
4. After this, I suggest you start creating your “Education” section first, because what is written here will vary the least in your versions. Put yourself in the best light possible – What was your GPA? Did you make the Dean’s list? Did you graduate Magna Cum Laude or receive any other accolades (especially those pertinent to your desired field). If so, list them in bold or italicized font. If your GPA is under a 3.5, don’t list it. If you graduated below the top 10% of your class, don’t list it. Remember that when employers are looking at your resume, they are focusing on the information you did provide rather than the information you didn’t. These facts are conversation starters for the interview process, and everything you volunteer should be an irrefutable positive. Realistically, most jobs do not care whether you graduated first in your class or dead last, so long as you’ve got the diploma – but if you excelled in academics, providing such information is a great way to highlight and reinforce character traits, as well as a tactic to detract from any shortcomings you might have in a different section. Once you have built the core, you can add information on any specific courses you have taken that pertain to the job you are applying to. Doing this is a good way to overcome hurdles from not having majored in a given field. In this section, you can also list relevant post-secondary trainings you have completed, whether as a subsection to your degree-seeking history, or as a separate section altogether. For instance, if you’re applying for a job that requires ongoing certification, it’s a good idea to list your CEU’s separately. In the alternative, if you are providing one to three courses or trainings you’ve taken, go ahead and group it with your degree-seeking history, as it could look sparse on it’s own.
5. Now, begin building your “Work History” piece, paying close attention to how the timeline reflects upon you. Were there lapses in your employment? Did you hold any of the listed positions for less than a year? If so, consider only listing the years you were employed (instead of including the months) or leaving certain positions out altogether (for instance, if you had more than one job at a certain period, but only worked at that second job for three months). When describing your duties, reflect back on the terminology provided in the requisite you are applying for. Feel free to use some of their phrasing or buzz words, almost line-by-line. In this instance, it isn’t plagiarism but checking boxes. You want to be as close as possible to the employee they’ve described, and more often than not, the person reading your resume took a hand in writing the job post. Trigger all those little similarity synapses for them – show them you’re what they are looking for. Remember that in holding any given position, you likely had a huge list of responsibilities, but not all of them will apply to the job you’re applying for. If needed, pull a requisite from your old job to jog your memory of all that hard work you put in. Then list these duties in order of what is most important for the job you are now applying for, rather than what was most important for your old position. And again, it is in your benefit to tweak these buzz words, application to application. What I’ve done in the past is highlight the “changeable” sections of each piece within a Word document and saved it as a master skeleton. Then, for each job I apply for, I create a new Word and PDF document, titling it specifically for that application. This way, if I go to apply to another job with a very similar requisite, I can instead build off of that prior resume and save myself some time.
6. Just like the other sections, your Achievement and/or Training section should be catered for each application, and should be weighted using a cross-consideration of how long ago you achieved this milestone versus how pertinent it is to the job your applying for. Graduated Valedictorian? That’s great! Unless, of course, you graduated in the seventies, in which you might want to consider listing your more recent achievements first. In my opinion, this is a great way to highlight your efficacy as an employee. Applying for a sales job? List figures illustrating how you exceeded your monthly quota. Applying as an associate attorney? List positive outcomes of cases you’ve worked on, and be prepared to answer questions about your individual role in those wins. This is also an opportunity to list awards you achieved (such as “Employee of the Month”) and other work related accomplishments (such as being appointed to a board or committees you’ve led). If you’re just starting out, group the section with your trainings or educational stats, so that it doesn’t appear sparse against your other puzzle pieces. Be creative if you need to – retitle the section to “Proficiencies and Accolades” and include softwares you’re versed in, WPM, or a brief list of personal characteristics relevant to the position.
7. For your Personal Statement, I suggest looking at it as an elevator pitch. This is the first thing the hiring manager is going to read and your want to make sure it’s not the last. It should be roughly three to five sentences long, and summarize your target industry and a summary of your qualifications. Briefly speaking: You’re looking for a job just like the one you’re applying for because you enjoy x, y, and z about it and because you’re qualified in these specific ways. Touch on problem solving skills, work ethic, and any major non-negotiobles that the requisite calls for (board certification, bilingual, etcetera). Your personal statement should summarize the job post and should also give them a snippet of long term career goals (hopefully with that company).
8. Frequently, friends have asked how long their resume should be, and in short my answer is no longer than it needs to be. Some people stick to a firm one-page rule but I don’t oblige by this. Because most jobs now request that you apply online, they generally are collecting all the data they need. For this reason, I upload or email a one page annotated resume which states that I’ll provide an extended version upon request. If I get an interview, I bring both versions. And because of my line of work, I bring writing samples, press releases, and a composite card of recent projects. Regardless of your field, it’s important to anticipate the questions and concerns of your potential employer and be ready to answer in a positive light, with data to back it up, if necessary.
9. Content wise, be sure there are no typos or grammatical errors. Read it backwards and pass it around to a few friends to double, triple, and quadruple check. Use a simple, legible font – but don’t be afraid to vary stylistically between bold, italicized, paragraphs and bullets; certain things should stand out more than others. When it’s done, print it out and look at it as a picture, making sure the document has a natural, cohesive flow – and if you’re decent at desktop publishing, try to emulate the company’s branding and colorscapes, while being mindful of margins and spacing.
10. Lastly, when in doubt, look at it from the company’s perspective. What are the characteristics and qualifications that they are looking for? Do they want someone who sent the same resume out to 500 monster.com openings, or do they want someone who sincerely wants to work for them? It does take time to make these adjustments; it can be arduous, and when you aren’t getting the responses you want, it’s easy to mass-apply with one-click application sites, but as someone who’s sifted through countless resumes, I can assure you, as with most things, it’s quality over quantity – so make sure all the wonderful parts of you shine through.