Writing a Resume

What is a resume?

The primary role of the resume is to act as your sales brochure, in other words something that will attract the reader’s attention. It should provide insight into your skills and capabilities while projecting your ability to solve a potential employer’s “problems”, better known in most organizations as challenges and opportunities. A resume therefore should help the employer determine your fit for job.

A secondary role of the resume is to provide the interviewer a guide to follow your progression of both educational background and work experience. Therefore, the resume should be orderly and clear as to what you have done and when.

A third use of the resume is for your use during an interview; it is recommended that you have a copy in front of you in a folio of some sort to refer to as you go through the discussion so that you stay on message.

If you build it (well), they will call!

The three key “c” words to keep in mind when building your sales brochure are clear, concise and consistent. Information in your resume should be easy to read, your document should be limited to one page while you are a college student and formatting should be the same throughout. As you progress through your career a two page resume becomes more appropriate to cover the experience that you amass. When applying to an academic institution, rules for writing a curriculum vitae (CV), different from resume rules, should be followed.

Resume Formatting

There are three basic resume formats that can be utilized. Reverse chronological is the most popular and widely used. This format simply records your experience from most recent backwards. Each job and/or internship should be listed with dates, responsibilities and contributions (more to follow).

Functional resumes focus on skill areas, usually 2–3, that you feel will highlight your strengths. Typically this format is used when changing careers or if the writer does not have a positive track record of work experience. College graduates usually avoid this format.

The third format is commonly called “hybrid” since it combines features of both of the above; a synopsis of your skills with a work history list following.

Online/Scannable Resumes

In the cyber world of job search, posting your resume on a job board or insuring that your resume is easily scanned into a data base requires a slightly different approach. Good guidelines to follow are to keep it simple, use nouns that will be appropriate for key word searches, use white space to differentiate text and keep your paper color light for scanning purposes.

Font type should be Ariel, Verdana, or Times Roman; the size needs to be 11 to 12 and capitalizations should be used sparingly. One caution regarding resume templates – don’t use them unless the job board specifically states that it will accept them! They may not translate to the receiver’s system in the manner that you intend.

What’s the message?

In any sales brochure, the selling organization has a message that they want to convey to you. You also have a message that you want to convey to a potential employer, and the resume is the first chance to do that in most cases - an opportunity you don’t want to miss!

The first point you want to make is who you are. Have you completed the online FOCUS assessment found on the SVC Career Development Web page? That is a great way to identify ways to describe your personality, values, interests, attributes, skills and knowledge which all define you as a person.

The next step is to identify your audience; who will read your resume and how? Have you researched the organization? Do you understand what their culture seems to be, what their goals are, how they operate and who are the key people for you to know? What are they seeking in an employee generally and specifically? Have you looked at the job description? Do you have the profile they are seeking? All of this should be understood before you tailor your resume for them.

Getting Started

The Header is the first item a reader will see so you need to pay some attention to it to ensure that all the pertinent contact information is there and easily read. With regard to your name – make it stand out with larger font size (16-20) and bold it. Your mailing address is next – where do you want responses to show up?

Your phone number should be the most accessible phone you have and the voice message must be professional. The quickest turn off for a caller is to hear an unprofessional greeting geared to your college buddies. The e-mail address should also be professional, as well; the one you set up for MySpace might not send the message you are trying to communicate. Also remember to remove the hyperlink for an online resume.

In my estimation, the next step in building a “sales brochure” is a Summary/Objective or profile briefly describing you. I relate this to a “radio commercial” which would introduce you to listeners quickly and with enough to leave them wanting more. Some career specialists do not recommend this as it can be conveyed in a cover letter, but I believe that re-stating who you are will not hurt your cause and if you are giving someone a copy of your resume without a cover letter, you’re “covered.” The length should be no more than 4-6 lines and include the elements I described above in “What’s the message?” as well as a specific statement regarding the position you want. Vague expressions of long-term goals miss the mark whereas a stated job objective leave the reader no doubt as to what you are seeking.

This “radio commercial” sets the theme of the resume; make sure you can back it up in the body of the resume with specific examples or statements. Stay on this message throughout the resume so that the reader is not confused after finishing their review.

For college students and recent graduates seeking their first professional position, Education is the most important piece of information now so lead with it! For graduates, your degree is most important so begin with it and follow with your major! Next list the name of your college and its location; if you are a current student, start with this and then indicate the year of graduation along with your major (and minor, if you have one).

Relevant coursework is important as it gives the reader further insight into your abilities. List only those courses that relate, not a laundry list of every course in your major or that you have taken during your college career.

For many college students, Experience, the next section in the resume is a daunting section as they may not believe they have a great deal to say here. Think in terms of any job/internship/volunteer experience that you have and define its relevancy to the position that you are seeking whether you developed directly related skills or transferable ones. Internships are a great way to build your resume and can be treated as job experience. Volunteer activities fall into the same category.

Begin with the organization’s name and place the dates – use month and year – on the same line at the right margin. Follow with location – city and state only. The next line should include a job title; if you were an intern, approximate a job title if you weren’t given one or simply state that you were one.

The following section should incorporate your responsibilities and how you met them; a 2-3 line statement will suffice, more is overkill. Always indicate that you successfully met these responsibilities.

Now we come to what I believe to be the most important section of the resume – the contribution or selling statements! This is where you separate yourself from the competition and indicate how you can help your future employer with the problems mentioned at the top of this document. They are feature and benefit statements that are tied to demonstrated accomplishments, relevant to the reader and that quantify and qualify your achievements. These statements should include the level of difficulty and responsibility as well as indicate recognition for excellence. Measurable results are great!

The final section of your resume deals with Activities/Awards/Honors. In this section, include any campus activities such as sports, student government, service-learning and other activities that you were involved in outside the classroom. Highlight leadership roles that you may have had and be sure to list the years you were involved. [Tip: It is more beneficial to stick with one or two activities throughout your college career than to join many different ones for brief time periods.]

If you feel that it would be beneficial to your resume to add a Professional Development and/or Technical Skills section to you document, remember to limit the information to things related to your goal/objective. Also, stay away from any items that may be controversial to the reader (you don’t know the reader’s biases). When listing technical skills, use formal titles for computer packages and spell correctly. Nothing lowers your credibility in the technical world as much as a misspelled software title.

References should be placed on a separate sheet using the same header as your resume with name, address, title, relationship and contact information listed for each person. References should not be included when sending your resume unless specifically requested. It is always advisable to take them to interviews in case you are asked for them at that time.

Click here to view a suggested format for your reverse chronological resume. Remember that the resume is your personal statement; any format you use should reflect you not someone else. Other formats mentioned above may be studied in numerous resume guides on the market today. Given the ability of the resume writer to customize his or her document, there are many ways to make your document reflect you.

Formatting Checklist

  • As a college grad, one page is preferable; if you need two for significant detail related to the position you are seeking, make sure you fill up the second page (1/2 page looks weak visually).
  • After establishing your career, two pages is appropriate in the for-profit world. In the nonprofit arena including academia, go beyond two pages to include those areas that a CV would entail.
  • Avoid resume templates from computer programs such as MS Word. They don’t translate to everybody else’s system as you might think. A good idea is to send your resume via e-mail to several friends to see how your resume does translate.
  • Use 10-12 point fonts and set up your margins at .5 or greater. Do not use all caps; be careful in your use of font types (Arial, Verdana, New times Roman are standard) and avoid italics, underlining or graphics.
  • Stay away from end-to-end justification but right justify dates and left justify content including titles. Indent bullets, limit each statement to two lines and be sure to use white space between each bullet/selling statement as a way to draw the reader’s attention.
  • Be consistent in your format; nothing distracts the reader from your message more than inconsistency in this area. This also is the rule for correct tense; avoid the first (“I”) and third person (“Ms. Smith is…”) and double check your usage of tense throughout your resume. It is easy to add a section to an existing resume and switch tenses.
  • Be careful with jargon; resumes are often read by someone who may be unfamiliar with the acronyms and slang that you may use every day. They will miss your message if they are unable to decipher. If you plan to use an abbreviation throughout your resume, spell it out the first time then put the acronym in parentheses.
  • The little stuff: Use the postal abbreviation for states; i.e., VT, NY, etc.; don’t put personal information on the resume, don’t include references in the body of your resume and use the same header for cover letters and reference page.

Sample Format (Click here to open sample.)