How to Write a Resume
This document contains information on how to write a resume.
- Writing Style
- Organizational Structure
- Categories of Information
- Enhance your Resume
- Do's and Don'ts
- Learn by Example
- Have Your Resume Critiqued
- Copying Your Resume
- Online and Scannable Resumes
- Positive/Action Word List
A resume is a summary of your personal, educational, and work experiences. It documents your qualifications for a position and serves as a marketing tool. The content and format of your resume should express your uniqueness as an individual.
A resume can be used when applying for a job, an education or training program, or a scholarship. This guide will focus on resumes used primarily for acquiring a job.
While it is true that there is no "correct" way to design a resume, there are certain traditions in resume writing that have become standard. The descriptions which follow are intended to help you create a resume that will serve your individual needs and represent your individual qualifications.
The style in which you choose to write your resume will give it a tone and personal flavor that can either enhance it or detract from it. Don't forget that a resume is a sales device and must present a positive image. Keep in mind that while a resume is an essential tool in your job search, it is not meant as a substitute for an interview (even though it usually precedes an interview).
Because a resume is a summary, you may (and most do) use incomplete sentences. Here are some examples:
Analyzed survey data...
Led small group recreation activities...
Some people feel that the resume should be action-oriented and reflect a somewhat assertive and confident person. Others are more comfortable with a neutral tone, showing qualifications and interests without much attention to assertiveness or salesmanship.
Most resumes are one to three pages in length. Your resume should be as long as necessary to present your qualifications concisely. One page resumes are most common for college students and other young adults entering the workforce. However, older workers with more experience may choose to have longer resumes.
The format you select should attract attention and create interest. Choose appropriate categories for your information and order them from most to least relevant according to your employment objective. Use capital letters, underlining, bold face, indentations, and white space to emphasize important information. However, once you've selected a format, be consistent within categories. The resume should be easy to follow and visually appealing.
There are two basic approaches to organizing a resume:
Chronological or General:
Lists, describes, and dates the details of each job and educational experience you have had separately. Listings under each category are placed in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent school or job. This approach is most appropriate if you have extensive uninterrupted work experience in the area in which you seek employment. It is also the most common approach.
Consists of selections from your total experience of only those parts which relate to the job you seek. Under each category you would list qualifications, skills, and experiences that logically support your employment objectives in functional areas such as management, research, writing, teaching, sales, human relations, etc. This approach is more difficult to implement but may be more effective in documenting the skills or functions you want to perform, especially if your background is varied.
As stated earlier, certain traditions in resume writing have become standard. Nowhere is this more evident than in the categories of information to be included in a resume. The following categories have come to be regarded as essential in resume writing:
Your name, full address (without abbreviations), and telephone number (with area code) should be the first items on your resume. If you are located at a temporary address, you may include it in addition to (or in place of) your permanent address, depending on the circumstances.
This should be your career objective stated as concisely as possible. It should be broad enough in scope to cover any suitable employment and interest a wide range of employers, yet be specific enough to give an element of sound career direction to your resume. If you are planning to seek employment in several different areas where the same objective would not be appropriate, consider writing a separate resume for each area. Another alternative would be to omit this category from your resume and relate this information through your cover letter. The problem with this approach is that cover letters and resumes often get separated, creating a void when it comes to comments about your job interests and objectives. Statements concerning your objectives should be consistently reinforced and supported through the other parts of your resume. Focus on one or more of the following:
- Position title
- Career area
- Kind of organization
- Specific population
- Skills you wish to use
Your highest level of education achieved should be listed first followed by all other schools you attended, degrees you earned, or training you received, in reverse chronological order. It is not necessary to include high school. However, if some items in your high school background show high honors or generally reinforce your career objectives, then those items should be included.
List the names of schools, the dates you attended or graduated, the degrees you earned, and your major/minor subject areas. This would be a good place to throw in honors, awards, Dean's list, grades, and other items which may enhance this section of your resume. The possibilities for expansion in this category are unlimited. You may decide to list selected courses you have taken as well as special projects you have done or activities in which you have participated. But be careful!!! If you have a long list of such activities, it might be wise to select only the most important ones and include the others in separate categories such as "Honors/Awards" or "Activities." Including too many activities here may take away from the focus on your degree and create unnecessary clutter and confusion.
This category reflects your contact with specific employers. It is permissible to include internships, volunteer work, summer jobs, special projects, or military experience under this category. If you have several work experiences that are very much related to your objectives, you may consider listing them under "Related Experience" and listing your other experiences under "Other Experience."
List position titles, names of organizations, locations (city and state), and dates and duties. Again, present the most relevant information first. Here are two different examples for presenting the same information:
1999-present - Holiday Inn, Tallahassee, Florida, Desk Clerk
Desk Clerk - Holiday Inn, Tallahassee, Florida, (1999-present)
Employers are mainly interested in the degree of responsibility you held and the skills you demonstrated. Try to outline your duties in such a way that they throw the best possible light on that particular job experience, while at the same time relating it to your overall professional objectives. For example:
Crew Member.- McDonald's, Tallahassee, Florida, (9/97 -
Managed operations and supervised fellow employees. Compiled production data. Maintained inventory. Assisted in training and evaluation of new employees.
Remember that any experience in the work world may be capable of demonstrating your dependability, resourcefulness, and responsibility. Choose whatever shows your qualifications and experience to your best advantage.
This section may contain birth date, place of birth, marital status, or other background information. This category can also be used to state your availability or willingness to relocate. Sources vary on what to include. Present only that information which works for you. Personal data should appear near the end of the resume. The argument for putting it near the bottom is that an employer may become prejudiced by the information presented. This is also a valid argument for omitting this category altogether. You should also remember that when and how you reveal a disability to a potential employer is entirely your choice.
List your references on a separate page. You should provide the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of three to five people who are familiar with your experience, skills, and knowledge. Include your name and contact information at the top of this page. Don't forget to ask each person you use as a reference if they are willing to provide a positive recommendation to a potential employer. And be sure to send a copy of your resume to each of your references so that they can use that information in their recommendation.
The categories listed above are the foundation of a good resume. But there are many more possibilities. If you have information you feel is important that does not fit any of these categories, create categories that fit your information. Some possible additional categories are: Background, Extra Curricular Activities, Certification, Professional Activities, Workshops/Seminars, Recitals/Art Shows, Memberships, Honors/Awards, Interests, Presentations, Publications, and Special Skills.
You are either still in school or ready for a professional job. You need to begin to build a resume, but have little or no jobs to place in work experience. Make volunteer work and work experience count. You can enhance your resume by volunteering at places that represent either the skills you want to display on a resume or at places that are in the field in which you want to find a career. If you are taking advantage of work experiences, be sure that they are not just money making, but something that you can use to build your resume.
Once you have built up your volunteer and work experience hours then you are ready to include them on your resume. Use the following tips to make that resume shine.
- Include your volunteer work under a heading such as "Work Experience" or "Business Experience" along with any paid work you have done.
- Make sure that the volunteer title you write best represents what you want your potential employer to read. Want you do doing your volunteer time is important to your resume. Rather than write "Volunteer" as the title, write a name that represents what you did.
- List the duties you perform. Make the descriptions accurate and professional. For example, "Responsible for exercising the special-needs dogs" is much more descriptive than "dog walker."
- Explain any skills you have learned while performing your volunteer or work experience. For example, you may have learned how to use a database or techniques for excellent customer service.
Before you begin the task of actually writing your rough draft, thoroughly familiarize yourself with the Do's and Don'ts outlined below. By following these guidelines, you should increase the probability of producing a readable and straightforward account of your unique qualifications. While most sources agree that a resume composed along these lines is more competitive and successful, remember that the focus should be on your needs and objectives. Use the hints which will help you write a resume that is most appropriate to your employment goals.
- Be Brief, Clear, and Concise: A resume stands a much better chance if it is easily readable, non-confusing, and well-organized.
- Be Consistent: Experiment with the arrangement of headlines, captions, indentations, blocks of text, the use of capitals, and underscoring. Then choose a readable layout that is appealing to the eye and stick with it. Make use of the white space surrounding the copy for emphasis.
- Be Positive: Begin statements or phrases with verbs that denote positive activity (e.g. Successfully introduced, Initiated, etc.). See the Positive/Action Word List below for suggestions. Avoid the use of the personal pronoun "I." Omit negative statements.
- Be Honest: It is in your best interest to accurately describe your past work duties and qualifications. Remember that an employer may ask interview questions based on the information you present in your resume.
- Be Careful: Double-check for typographical errors and mistakes in grammar, spelling, or punctuation. Do not hesitate to consult a dictionary. When in doubt, check it out. Errors in detail may suggest careless and shoddy workmanship.
- Be Neat: Type your resume. Then have it printed using a laser printer. Use lots of white space to avoid the cluttered look. Make sure you get a clear, unmarred copy.
- Do not state salary requirements.
- Do not give reasons for changing past employers.
- Do not place geographical limits on where you will work unless necessary.
- Do not expound on philosophy or values.
- Do not offer any negative information.
Ask friends and co-workers if you can have a copy of their resume to review. This will help you pull together the information presented here and give you some idea of how a finished resume should read and look. It will also help you become more aware of the wide variety of layout styles, writing techniques, and formats.
You may find that none of the samples you look at are appropriate for presenting your unique qualifications. Or you may discover that they all seem like the best way. Confused? Just pick and choose whatever is useful and consistent with your individual needs and objectives. Then create your own original resume. Remember, the focus should be on you, your needs, your objectives, and your qualifications.
You should always have several people critique your best draft copy. Ask trusted friends, family members, or perhaps even a blind services counselor to give you feedback. A counselor would be glad to review it with you. Even though you may have a visual disability, it is important to consider the sighted reader when formatting your resume. Sighted readers depend on visual cues such as indenting and changes in type size to organize and consume information. It may, therefore, be helpful to have both a person with a visual disability and a sighted person critique your resume and suggest changes.
Preparing the original:
To reproduce your resume, you will need a good, clean, high contrast original. To make the original, use a word processing or desktop publishing software package. If you do not have access to such software, resume preparation services are available. They are often listed in the yellow pages under "Resume Services." Your local Blind Services office, Workforce Development Center, or community library may also be able to assist you with preparing your resume.
If you prepare your own resume, creating a master copy on a laser printer will provide the best quality. You may then choose to take your master copy to a copy shop where high quality Xerox copies can be made. It is best to avoid paper stock that is colored or contains patterns such as marbling as these will not reproduce well if an employer chooses to make a copy your resume.
Resumes for Posting on the Internet:
The newest form of job search involves posting resumes on the Internet. This may or may not increase your chances of securing an interview. Here are a few recommendations to consider before posting your resume online:
- No line of text should be longer than 65 characters (including spaces).
- Pay close attention to your choice of words throughout your resume. Employers who search for online resumes typically use keyword search programs to find what they are looking for. If your resume does not include these keywords, it will not be found during a search. To select keywords, consider the specific skills and qualifications necessary for the kind of job you are seeking.
- Keep in mind that the information you place in your resume will be available to anyone who wants to see it. Avoid confidential information.
More and more employers are beginning to use technology to handle the large number of resumes they receive. This is done by a system that scans the resume into a computer. Employers can then search the resume for skills that match those necessary for a particular job. When constructing a scannable resume, remember the following tips:
- Specify the skills you have obtained with a declarative voice as opposed to a passive voice. For example, the passive phrase "responsible for training" should be reworded declaratively as "trained new employees."
- Use lots of white space to aid the computer in recognizing the information.
- Avoid using underlining, boldfacing, varied fonts, or other fancy formatting options. These can result in misread information and potentially could cost you an interview.
- Use words that everyone will be able to understand. Scanning programs may not recognize difficult words, and they may be overlooked.
- Do not fold or staple a resume that will be scanned. If you are concerned about whether a particular employer you're interested in scans resumes, you may wish to call in advance to check.