Resume Writing

So…you have to write a resume. Well, things could be worse. You could be one of the thousands of job-seekers every day who unwittingly submit inadequate, incomplete and poorly designed resumes that don’t give a clear or positive picture of who they are. Those documents, more often than not, go from the hand of the reader into the wastebasket in less than five seconds.

What is a Resume?

First, it is a "picture" of you. It tells an employer who you are: your background, skills, experiences, education, etc. Naturally, you want that picture to be accurate, flattering and persuasive.

It is also a reflection of you. If it looks messy, you look messy. If it is disorganized, you look disorganized.

Although it is important, it is only one of the many job-hunting tools you will need to develop. A good resume will not guarantee you a job, but a poor resume can certainly keep you from getting one.

Ideally, it is a shaped document, tailored to a particular position or field. It is not the complete history of everything you’ve ever done. Each item should be there for a reason, trying to anticipate what the reader (the employer!) wants to see.

How to Write a Resume

Step One: Brainstorm

Start by collecting the facts about you and putting them on paper. Write down anything you can think of that would show an employer what you have done and how you have done it. This can include full or part-time employment, summer jobs, work on school and church committees, volunteer experiences, etc. At this point you are looking for illustrations of your abilities and skills, so whether you were paid or not doesn’t matter. Put down everything; you can edit later.

Continue by outlining your education, including special classes, workshops, training programs, research projects, etc. Beyond that, list extra-curricular activities, sports, travel, knowledge of languages, technical abilities, computer skills, and any experience where you handled money.

Don’t hesitate to get help in this process from parents and friends; they may very well see or remember things you miss altogether.

Step Two: Self Assessment

Most of us need help in seeing clearly who we are and what we do well. We may have vague ideas that need clarifying and "fleshing" out. A variety of assessment tools are available in the Career and Life Planning Office that can be invaluable in just such a process. The computer program SIGI Plus, which systematically takes you through a self and job exploration process, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Strong Interest Inventory, are all tools to help you discover your skills, abilities, values, preferences, working style, etc. If you haven’t made use of these and other available resources, doing so will make writing your resume considerably easier.

Skills: One of the key things employers will be looking for in your resume is a sense of the skills you will bring to a job. You may feel you have very few right now, but that really isn’t true. Skills are often developed and utilized in unlikely places, or at least in places we tend to overlook. Although you may not have some of the specific skills common to a particular job, you probably have many transferable skills that make you a very good candidate for that job. Look at the list on page 6 and check all the skills that apply to you. Try using as many as you can to describe your jobs and activities.

For example, as a summer camp counselor you may have used teaching, planning, instructing, writing, supervising, resolving, etc. (And you thought you just herded a bunch of kids around!).

Qualities: Employers are also looking for qualities or attributes that make you a good prospective employee. Look on page 6 for a list of some of these. Although you don’t want to overuse them (these may be better utilized in your cover letter), there are ways to bring personal qualities out. For instance, one way of presenting a job might look like this:

WAITER
Joe’s Greasy Spoon, Los Angeles CA, Summer, 1993
Waited tables and helped in the kitchen.

But since you know the employer is not looking for a waiter, this is not going to communicate much useful information. An alternate approach might be:

WAITER
Joe’s Greasy Spoon, Los Angeles, CA Summer 1993
Waited tables serving interstate truckers in a fast-paced truck stop. Responded positively and calmly to any customer complaints. Worked 50 hours per week while simultaneously volunteering 20 hours per week with a community youth group.

You have now communicated ability to handle conflict, adaptability, interpersonal skills, self-confidence, and a willingness to do hard work.

Step Three: Organizing Your Resume

There are two basic resume formats with numerous variations of each depending on the nature and length of work experience.

A chronological resume (listing employment or activities from the most recent backwards) emphasizes employment history and is the first-choice in most instances. It tends to be the preferred format of employers and gives the clearest picture of what you have done and the time-frame involved. The following are items commonly included in a chronological resume:

Heading. Include your name, address, zip code and telephone with area code at the top of the page. If you are moving after graduation, add a second or permanent address and phone. Note: It is critical that the phone number you list is either answered by someone or has a message machine.

Career Objective. If you list a career objective, it should be brief, concise and address the current job only, not future career plans. Very general career objectives (such as "a challenging position that allows me to use my skills with people…") are not effective and usually just give off the message that you aren’t really sure what you want to do. The cover letter is often a good place to present a tailored job objective.

Education. Your educational information should be placed near or at the top of the page since, in most cases, it will be your most important qualification. Include your most recent degree and date, or expected date of completion. Usually, your high school and junior college data is not relevant (unless, for instance, you went to Bakersfield high school and Bakersfield Junior College and you plan to look for a job in Bakersfield). You might want to add specifically relevant classes, your GPA (if it is above 3.0 and you feel it would be to your advantage), special projects, research, scholarships, etc.

Experience. This can be titled "Work Experience," "Employment History," "Related Experience," "Professional Experience," or whatever describes your experience best. This category can include volunteer, intern, practicum experiences, full or part-time jobs.

Begin with your most recent work experience and work backwards, including only information from the last four years, unless it is directly related to the position you are applying for.

Use descriptive job titles, the name of the organization and the dates or times (e.g., summer) of employment. Reflect the scope, level, effect, accomplishments, results produced or things changed for the better. Banish "responsible for" or "duties included" from your resume vocabulary. Describe your experience using action verbs in the past tense (ending in "ed" not "ing"). Employers want to know what you did, not what you were supposed to do. Use short, staccato sentences and omit all personal pronouns (I, we…).

Personal Interests. Opinions vary about including these. See the answer to
question 4 on page 5 for more detailed information.

Activities, Honors, and Awards. This section would include college and/or community activities, offices held, sports, scholarships (only those based on merit, not financial need), and other related honors. Although this section is optional, you may find that your extracurricular activities are closely related to your job objective. This is your chance to include relevant information to the employer that would not be included in any other section. The actual title of this section should reflect the information it contains.

Special Skills. List any specialized skills that would enhance your chances for the job: e.g., language ability, computer skills (depending on the job and your experience, you may want to make this more prominent, perhaps in a separate category), technical knowledge/skills.

Community Service/Volunteer Work. Include here service/ministry involve- ment. Employers are looking for relevant experience: it does not have to be paid.

A functional resume is designed to outline and emphasize transferable skills relevant to the position for which you apply. This approach may be useful if your most recent position does not relate to the position you seek or if you have little or no directly related experience. Some potential headings you might use in a functional resume include:

  • Research Writing Interpersonal Skills
  • Program Planning Managerial Skills Leadership Ability
  • Communication Skills Supervision Promotion/Public Relations
  • Organization Skills Administrative Support Marketing and Sales
  • Budgeting Financial Planning Analysis/Problem Solving
  • Counseling Teaching Computer Skills
  • Technical Skills Project Development Customer Service

Step Four: Know Your Audience

What you include in your resume will depend largely on who you expect to be reading it. It is important for you to be flexible and not assume a "generic" resume will suffice for all occasions (see question 6 on page 5). Be prepared to tailor your resume to the needs of the employer you are seeking to inform. To do that will require some work on your part, in researching and knowing your target company or organization.

Employer research is essential in preparing a successful resume. You will need to have specific information about the kinds of entry-level jobs that are offered in your career field, the related work and educational experience required, specific job duties and opportunities for advancement. You should also try to determine what the employers’ expectations may be, their concept of the type of person they are looking for, and their particular selection criteria.

Step Five: Choose a Style

The most important considerations here are clarity and consistency. Know what you want to emphasize and use capitalizing, bold lettering, indentation, underlining, etc., in a consistent way that draws attention to the most important facts that you are trying to communicate. Remember, you probably have 20 or 30 seconds in which to make an impression, so be sure as you scan your resume, those elements you most want to get across, stand out clearly. Use underlining, capitalizing and bold face letters sparingly; if everything is emphasized, nothing is emphasized.

How your resume looks is extremely important. Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Choose high quality paper (8 1/2 x 11 inches), either white or off-white. Stay away from colored paper (which draws attention to itself rather than what is on the paper) and purchase extra paper and envelopes that match your resume. Of course, your resume should be without error (how distracting even one can be, like a fly on Mona Lisa’s nose!), and as professionally typed and reproduced as possible. In most cases, your resume should be one page.

We strongly recommend that you have your resume on a computer disk so that you can add, delete and change things as needed. In the present employment climate, change is the name of the game and your resume must be able to change with you.

Common Resume Questions

Do resumes have a strict format?

Resumes are somewhat like hair or clothing styles; certain things seem to go in and out of vogue. And it is important for you to know that employers do not always agree. In a recent survey, 69% of employers said that using bond (high quality) paper was not necessary and 60% said they liked to see the GPA on a resume. We still recommend you always use bond paper, but probably not include your GPA if it is below 3.0. There are many judgment calls you will have to make for which there are no strict rules.

What about using a resume writing service?

First, it is a waste of money; second, it actually keeps you from the very important self-appraisal that comes from working through your resume; and third, you may doubt it now, but you can do it yourself.

Can my resume be two pages?

The overall rule for a recent graduate is one page. However, if you have a lot of relevant experience and really need more space, and you are fairly sure the employer is interested in you and will read it, two is permissible. If your resume is going to compete with many others, keep it to one page. Remember, a resume is in a sense a "teaser" designed to interest employers in you and cause them to want to know more.

Should I list my hobbies and interests?

Opinions vary here with some saying that listing personal interests gives the interviewer something to talk about that will "break the ice" when starting the interview. However, our sense is that most employers are looking for directly relevant information and aren’t really interested in the fact that you like to ski, knit and play the guitar. However, if you are looking for a teaching position, everything you like to do is relevant since it could be utilized with your students. Also, employers with sales-oriented positions often like to see sports involvement, since it implies a competitive spirit, which they look for.

Should I include my references?

References, including title, name, address and phone, should be on a separate sheet (simply titled "References"). Generally, you would wait until they are asked for before you submit them. However, if you feel it would be advisable to include them, or if you feel the employer would either know or be impressed by your references, you may include them along with your resume.

Can I write a generic resume since I’m not sure what I want to do?

You can, but it is difficult since you cannot be sure what is really relevant. Again, the best resume is one focused to a particular position or field. If that is impossible, look to include in your experiences transferable skills that can be used in virtually any job. Some of those might be: budget management, supervising, public relations, coping with deadline pressure, public speaking, writing, organizing/managing, teaching/instructing.

Are there things I should not include?

Yes. Omit personal information that by law they are not allowed to use for hiring decisions: age, weight, marital status, children, religious preference, etc.