How to Write a Job-Winning Resume

One of the most important tools in a job seeker's arsenal — and possibly the one that is treated most casually by the job seeker — is the resume. How well could a carpenter perform with a broken hammer, or a surgeon with a faulty instrument? Likewise, landing the job thatís right for you will be far more difficult without a powerful, accurately targeted marketing tool.

Crafting an effective resume requires stepping back, making objective assessments of oneself, being organized, and writing well.

Where to Start

Before sitting down to write your resume, it is best to have a clear plan. As a result, it will be helpful to consider the following:

Find your direction

As you would for any journey, decide where you want to go. The more specific you can make this decision, the better. If you have been a widget-maker all your life and you wish to continue in this field, the decision is simple; if you want to switch to making thingamajigs, you will need to dig a little deeper and possibly do some in-depth personal assessments.

Once you have decided upon a goal, you have a resume target. This will guide you in selecting the details that match (as closely as possible) the requirements of the type of position you seek.

Uncover your qualifications and accomplishments

Identify the information you will be using including work history, education and/or training, certifications, accomplishments, strengths, etc. Keep in mind that your accomplishments and strengths help ensure you stand out from other candidates with similar skills; therefore, it is essential to draw out those most relevant to the position you are targeting so that you may showcase them in your summary and work history.

Many people, surprisingly enough, have difficulty recognizing their strengths and completely overlook some of the best accomplishments they have to offer. The trick to uncovering these key points involves looking at what you do (and/or have done) from the employer's point of view: How have your actions benefited the organization?

Everyone has accomplishments, yet often we are unaware of them. If you are particularly proud of something you have done, it is probably an accomplishment. Also, it can help to think in terms of challenge / action / result: What challenge existed? What action did you take? What was the result? If you can quantify the results — by using percentages, dollar amounts, or time frames, for instance — you will give your resume more authority and "punch" when an employer reviews it.

Consider the visual elements

Determine the design of your resume. If you generally submit a resume utilizing 8-point font and quarter-inch margins on all sides (a mistake often made by those who believe in the one-page myth), objectively assess the entire document. Will it stand out in a stack of resumes? Will your skills, strengths, and goals be quickly and easily identified?

White space can be used to your advantage. In fact, if you are at a mid-career level, a two-page resume is most common; and executives or those at highly experienced levels may find a two- or three-page resume is appropriate (depending upon your history and goals).

The idea is that you need not be concerned about keeping your resume to one page. It is more important that you present your most relevant qualifications and strengths in a clear and concise manner that maximizes the impact.

As You Craft...

Now that you have a plan, the next step involves crafting the resume; it is important to keep these fundamental strategies in mind:

The 15-second review

Employers are likely to spend only about 10-20 seconds on the initial pass. Your objective is to capture his/her attention while encouraging a more in-depth reading. This can be a valuable guide when deciding what to include in the summary and what to eliminate: Will it have enough impact to pass this rule?

The basic elements of an effective resume will include:

  • A clean, visually appealing appearance that invites tired eyes to read.
  • A dynamic and powerful summary of qualifications that targets the position requirements.
  • Accomplishments emphasized in the initial summary and/or work history.
  • Keywords and phrases appropriately placed throughout the document.
  • A strong, well-written work history that highlights the last 10-15 years; earlier positions may be included in condensed fashion unless the skills are particularly relevant to your current goals.
  • A section highlighting education, professional development (workshops, seminars, or other training that relates to your job goal), and other relevant certifications, publications, etc.
  • Depending on your level, field, and goals, a table or list of specific technical skills may prove beneficial.

Summary of qualifications

Think of this as the "headline" to the "advertisement" that will "sell" you to the employer. Select your top skills, abilities, and strengths while ensuring they pertain directly to the type of job you are pursuing.

While it is critical to align your qualifications with the type of positions you are pursuing, quality of the writing is important, too. Write concisely, and write well. Keep in mind that while the language should be strong, sentence fragments are standard practice for resumes; however, cover letters need to be complete sentences (i.e., in first-person narrative form).

Work history

If you have a resume that details every job you have held beginning in high school, it will be a relief to know you may be able to eliminate them and free up a great deal of space for important information. You want to include information that demonstrates your strengths and illustrates your track record utilizing skills relevant to your job target. Positions you have held during the last 10-15 years are considered the most important unless you are a Senior Executive and you need to show a more complete career track. Sometimes earlier positions can be included in a block of additional experience.

It is important to be concise and pointed. Back up the statements made in the summary of qualifications with information that demonstrates how you used your skills and how they benefited your previous employers. Here, too, it is vital to remember your target, choosing and arranging information so that it will highlight your most relevant abilities and background.

Education and Training

An overview of your education is typically reserved for the end of the document; however, if it directly relates to your job target, you may place it early in the resume following the opening skill summary. This can be especially helpful if, for instance, you have a degree in widget making even though your work history has been largely in thingamajigs.

Give brief information that includes the level (e.g., associates, bachelors, etc.), kind (e.g., arts, science, etc.), and area (i.e. major and/or concentration) of degree(s) that you possess as well as the awarding institution and location.

If you have attended seminars include these. If you have obtained certifications in your chosen field, or ones that show you could easily secure any required certifications, list them either before or after the continuing-education portion of this block. The relative importance of the certifications will determine their position; for instance, a technical certification will be more important for a job involving information technology than one involving hospitality services.

Finally — A Resume that Gets Noticed!

You are just about done, and you should have a much stronger resume document. Just a few additional points to consider:

  • Personal information — age, marital status, health, religion, and ethnicity should not be listed when seeking positions within the US. (When pursuing jobs in other countries -- particularly with non-US employers -- various personal data is often included, depending upon the country.)
  • References are rarely included because they are submitted at a later stage in the process when mutual interest has been established between you and the employer.
  • Often, particularly for a job you really want or need, there is no substitute for having a resume professionally prepared. Just knowing that writing specialists — who are highly trained and keep up with industry and job trends, and innovations in resume preparation — are preparing a powerful document for you can be a big boost of confidence, which allows you to wow interviewers. And you can't put a price on that.

Either way you do it, think positive and be confident as you enter your job search!

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