Professional and Technical Writing/Career/Resumes
What is a Résumé?
A résumé is a summary of your educational background, employment experience, and skills. It is a way to communicate your qualifications for a desired position to an employer. Your résumé is your tool to market yourself and the key to getting an interview. Essentially, you are creating your résumé as a pitching, selling, and branding tool of yourself to potential employers.
There is no "best way" to write a résumé. However, there are some general guidelines, such as clarity, accuracy and neatness, that should be followed. It is important to choose a résumé style and format that will work best for you and the job you are applying for. How do you decide what approach will be the best? Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help with the decision:
- What are the employer's needs and interests for the position for which I am applying?
- What are my strengths for the job and how can I emphasize them?
- How can I format and organize the content and graphics of my résumé to show what I have to offer?
There are three main types of résumés: Experiential, skills, and a combination of the two. What format to use is up to you. Each type emphasizes a different component of the résumé. Experiential résumés emphasize work experience, skills résumés emphasize skills and abilities, and combination résumés seek to find a balance between the two. When deciding what type of résumés to create, choose one that is common to your industry. Every industry uses different types of résumés according to what the industry standard is.
Experiential résumés list information in reverse chronological order. Résumés are organized under headings such as “Education,” “Work Experience,” and “Activities.” Most college students will choose to list education first, because students have limited work experience. The most recent degrees are listed first followed by previous degrees. The same format is followed under each heading. Skills gained from each job are listed under each job title, along with accomplishments and responsibilities. Experiential résumés are useful for establishing a work history and for showcasing accomplishments made at each career position. Experiential résumés are the most common type of résumé and are a simple way to detail responsibilities held at different jobs. The following link is an example of an experiential résumé: http://www.stpaulcareers.umn.edu/img/assets/14461/Env_Nat_Resources_Resume.pdf
A skills (or functional) résumé organizes information around types of skills and abilities. Headings may include “Computer Skills,” “Foreign Languages,” and “Leadership Experience.” A skills résumé will list the skill and then explain when and how that particular skill was used. Skills résumés are useful for several reasons.
- Avoids repeating the same information under each job title
- Emphasizes skills and abilities (a college graduate’s work history may be from only part-time work, and a skills résumé will merely mention these positions)
- Hides gaps in an applicant's work history
Anytime attention should be focused away from work experience, a skills résumé is recommended. Here is an example of a skills résumé: http://jobsearch.about.com/od/sampleresumes/l/bltransresume.htm
A combination résumé lists skills and abilities first, but also lists accomplishments and responsibilities under specific job titles and experiences. A combination résumé allows an applicant to highlight specific skills that may be desired by the employer while also emphasizing job experience. Combination résumés are useful for applicants with an extensive job history in a highly specialized field. For example, applicants in computer programming may want to highlight their computer language skills before detailing their computer programming experience.
Defining Résumé Objectives
When writing your résumé you must make decisions about such things as what to say, how to organize, how to design pages and so on. Think about your readers. What will they be looking for? How will they look for this information? How will they use it when they find it? What are their attitudes about your subject and what do you want their attitudes to be when they have finished reading? The following sections provide your general style when writing your résumé:
Personal Information: Include your name, address, and professional email address. Many employers like to see a home or cell phone number on the résumé as well. This gives them assurance that they can reach you at almost any time of the day and that they are speaking to the right person. Your name should stand out as the title of the résumé. This helps readers locate your résumé quickly when searching through a stack of applications. Regarding personal information, there are certain details that you do not want to put in your résumé. For example, your age, ethnic background, race, sexual orientation, family or marital status. It is not a good idea to put these on your résumé because an employer can see these as reason not to hire you. For example, if the job entails lots of traveling, they will not want someone who is married or with a family. In addition, even though it is illegal and unethical, some employers will not hire people of a certain race or gender, so it is best to leave these details out.
Whenever you’re listing your work responsibilities, write about your own most relevant experience 1st. Think about which areas of your current job are usually most transferable to the particular position you’re applying with regard to, and prioritize them upon your resume.
Career Objectives: Many people believe that they need to have an objective listed underneath their contact information; however, the truth is that objectives should not part of your résumé because they are limiting. For example, Mary writes as her objective, "To receive the internship offered as the new event planner assistant." What about after she receives the internship? Does she not want to go further in the company? Objectives are limiting because there is no way to encompass everything you would like to do and accomplish within one objective.
Education: Education should be included immediately after your identifying information unless you have had significant work experiences in the field for which you are applying. In that case, education should be placed at the end of the résumé. You should name the institute you attended, the degree you achieved or are working to achieve, and the graduation date or expected graduation. Provide information directly relevant to the employment such as advanced courses taken or achievements. Your GPA should be included only if it is above average. You should avoid adding anything about high school unless it is particularly impressive. Other facts to highlight about your education include study abroad programs, training programs, academic honors, or even classes outside your major to show your broad range of abilities.
Work Experience: Include information about your employment history within your résumé. For each job, include the company name, location, and specific dates employed. Be sure to spell out the months you worked at the company to make your résumé internationally accepted. For example, 1/10/2010 can mean different things in different places. A good example of a listed date is April, 5, 2010. In addition, employment should be listed in reverse chronological order. If applicable, advancements in the company or accomplishments should be included. You should also list some of the knowledge you gained from your work experience and some of the responsibilities you were given. When describing your work experience, make sure to use action verbs, not nouns. You should use strong verbs to show what you did at that job and avoid lifeless, uninteresting verbs. Lastly, you want to make sure the verbs are parallel
Achievements: Awards, recognitions, or other special circumstances should be included if they are outstanding and directly related to the job for which you are applying.
Volunteer Experience:Include information on present or former volunteering sites within your résumé. Information included should be the company name, location, and specific dates you volunteered.
Skills: Be sure to include any special skills that you have, such as being fluent in another language or being an expert in Microsoft applications. These skills can be what set you apart from the other applicants.
References: References are to be included at your own discretion, including "references available upon request" is appropriate. This gives the company power to ask your reference anything about you that they will answer. When choosing a reference or references, make sure that you can trust them to answer honestly and that they will not reveal any intrusive information. Be sure to ask them if they are willing to be a reference before giving their information to a potential employer.
Designing Your Résumé
Your résumé is the first step in obtaining an interview and potentially getting hired. A major question you want to ask yourself when creating your résumé is "How do I want the employer to see me?" You can create a résumé that is uniquely yours and that will stand apart from others by illustrating your personality within your résumé. In the text book Technical Communication they give a list of key visuals you should include in your résumé design that employers look for.
- Short, informative headings
- Bulleted lists
- Left, center, right tabs
- Variety of type sizes
- Different typefaces for headings than for text
- White space to separate sections
- 1" margins
- Having a visual balance
Just as companies market products, you must market yourself. Below are some helpful tips on how to design your résumé. These tips about visuals may help your résumé stand out from other candidates if properly done. You also must organize your information in a way that is accurate yet interesting to the employer. You do not want an employer to overlook your résumé because the type is too small or the graphics on the page are too distracting. Having a clean, crisp, and organized résumé design will enable your potential employer to easily read and find information, thus creating an esthetically pleasing experience.
Use Accomplishment Statements
Think in terms of the value you bring to the potential employer. All of the following examples have one thing in common - they all affect the profitability and productivity of a company.
- Increase productivity and quality...
- Improve service...
- Improve communications and information flow...
- Streamlined operations...
- Developed new administrative procedure that...
- Implemented a new program in...
- Reduced cost of...
- Increased sales...
Any time you can quantify your results you should. It gives your statements more power. You need to prove that you can contribute to the organization by adding value. Statements that are specific and show how you will add value will increase your chances of being selected for an interview.
Résumé Design Tips
Simplicity: Do not clutter the page with unnecessary information. Keep your headings short, informative, to-the-point, and clear of graphics. Résumés should be concise and easy to read to ensure that the potential employer can find the information they need quickly. Generally, people look at these for about 30 seconds, so you want them to have a solid idea of your qualifications in less time than that. However, while you may be tempted to use templates that can be found in programs such as Microsoft Word, do not use it! Employers receive many résumés and you want yours to stand out!
Eye Catching: It is important that the person reviewing your resume is interested. A person looks at a resume an average of 30 seconds. If they do not get interested, the resume is set down and forgotten. There are so many people looking for jobs, if your resume does not stand out you will just blend in with the crowd. So use descriptive words and make yourself look interesting.
Format: Typically, résumés should not be no longer than one page, unless stated otherwise. Also, remember to keep your 1" margins on all sides of the page. However, there are many different opinions on this. It is best to keep it to one page because that is what the majority of employers like; however, some people have no preference. It would be best to do some research about what company you are applying for looks for. DO NOT GO OVER TWO PAGES!
Tabs: Be sure to use tabs when aligning the elements of your résumé. Avoid using the spacebar to align different elements, such as dates and cities of employment. Many résumé templates include the dates worked, etc. in the right margin. Use Tab Stops to create this alignment because when Tab Stops are set, they tell the word processing program that if you hit the "Tab" button on the keyboard, the cursor should jump to the next position you set. Setting Tab Stops is different from just hitting the tab key, which will usually jump ahead 1/2 inch from where you were last typing. Tab Stops are making a specific place the cursor should stop at when you use the "Tab" button on the keyboard.
Consistency: Use the same formatting for similar sections on your résumé. Use line breaks, indents, and font variations to organize relevant information into sections. For example, you could use a different font for the headings. This will make your résumé more aesthetically pleasing. Make sure all headings are the same size and type (bold, italic, etc). The largest font of your résumé should be your name and should be no smaller than 18 point font. Headings the second largest, name of organizations third largest, and the smallest should be your bullet points.
Hierarchy: Create a system that uses different sizes of headings, subheading, and body text. It should follow a pyramid layout. For example:
Heading Subheading Body Text
Font: Be sure to use fonts that are easy to read. Do not try to make the font a creative piece of your résumé. It is important when sending a résumé as a Microsoft Word document or any other word processing software that you use common font styles such as Arial, Verdana, or Times New Roman. This is because the fonts may transfer improperly and be unreadable.
Paper: Choose a fine grade paper. There are many paper options, but remember white or slightly off white paper that is slightly thicker than traditional printer paper is the gold standard. Avoid using colored paper to avoid sending the wrong impression to your reader. Remember, your résumé is the first glimpse into who you are.
Branding: Create your own brand (your personal touch or signature if you will) through the paper type you choose, the envelope in which you enclose the necessary information, and how you format the résumé. Consistency is important with all contents of the résumé package, which may include your résumé, cover letter, referral letters (be sure to only enclose this when it is asked, you do not want to give out references information to just anybody), portfolio, and the job application itself. Consistency will create a lasting impression on the employer.
Verbs: When speaking of past tasks you held at a previous job, verbs should be in the past tense form. If you are speaking of job tasks you currently preform, use the present tense. Use action verbs! Use a thesaurus as a resource in order to not repeat verbs.
Templates: Many word processing applications have templates for résumés. Using these templates is acceptable, but may lack the branding discussed above. So try designing your own, before using a template. Some employers may prefer that all résumés are standardized. This allows employers to go through them quickly and look for specific qualifications.
Helpful design trick: To see how your potential employer will view your résumé, be sure to have your peers proofread and offer constructive criticism. Many universities have career offices and counselors who are able to help edit your résumé and give advice.
An electronic résumé has the se content as a traditional résumé; however, it has a different format, and it is intended to be sent via e-mail, copied and pasted into electronic forms, or posted online. Electronic résumés are becoming more popular in society today. This type of résumé should be in plain text format (ASCII text file) in order to be opened and read by most computers (PC's, Macintosh's, UNIX Workstations, and mainframe terminals). Most word processing software provides the option to convert the document into an ASCII file or some other type of text file. Find out how to create a plain-text version of your résumé.
The résumé should be saved as a Rich Text File (RTF) or converted into PDF if it is intended to be an attachment to an e-mail or if keeping the current format is important (unless there are specific directions from a prospective employer to use another format).
Since many employers use keyword searches to find qualified candidates, it is very important to use relevant words associated with particular job openings, industries, and professions, especially words that appear on the job announcement (NOT synonyms). In addition, action verbs like "managed" or "designed", which are recommended for use in traditional paper résumés, are not effective in electronic résumés because most applicant-tracking systems (ATS) keywords are NOUNS. Nouns indicate your accomplishments rather than verbs that focus on duties. It is better for you to use the noun version of these verbs like “management” instead of “managed, and "design" instead of "designed."
A Scannable résumé is formatted in a way that it can be easily scanned and stored electronically. Many employers use automated applicant-tracking systems that scan traditional résumés and store them in a database. This means that the first "person" to scan your résumé, is a computer. Then, employers search the database for candidates whose résumés contain specific keywords relevant to a particular position.
Tips on how to write a scannable résumé:
- First, ask the employer if your résumé will be scanned. Otherwise, enclose both a regular and scannable résumé.
- Make a list of keywords.
- Put your keywords in the form of nouns.
- It is fine to create a "keywords" section on your résumé for words that you cannot fit nicely into anywhere else in your résumé.
- Make sure everything is spelled correctly, computer programs do not always pick up misspelled words.
- Avoid the use of fancy text, italics, underlining, and other decorative designs. Stick to bold, caps, and bullets.
- Do NOT use staples. Mail your résumé.
- Make sure your name is on top of every page, on a line of its own.
- Scanners don't care how many pages your résumé is.
Submitted by E-mail
Résumés submitted by E-mail are used by more than one-third of human resource managers because they are convenient for employers to take a quick look at your résumé without having to waste their time in an interview right away. Employers may have different ways that they suggest e-mailing your résumé to them, but the common ones are to send it as an attachment or copy the résumé into the actual body of the e-mail. If you are sending it as an attachment, make sure to save the file as a PDF file. This way all of the formatting will remain intact, even if the person opening the e-mail is not running the same version of a software as you are. The employer can see the résumé exactly how you intended. If you are instructed to copy the résumé into the body of the e-mail, design your résumé the way you would for a scannable résumé. In both of these instances, make sure to include a subject line. A great subject for an e-mail résumé is, "Résumé- Full Name: Position applying for". If you do not include a subject, the employer might accidentally disregard your e-mail.
Web Page Résumé
A Web Résumé is created using HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) and displayed on a personal Web page. The Web résumé is preferred for people in professions where they benefit from multimedia and rich detail such as actors, graphic designers, photographers, dancers, etc. Keep your design simple and uncluttered. In addition, make sure there is a link to your e-mail address so it is easy for an employer to contact you. Lastly, keep security in mind, and make sure that the website is secure so no one can alter your résumé.
Tailoring Your Résumé
To tailor your résumé, you need to figure out what specific things to include or exclude. Of course you need to include your name, address, phone number and email at the top of the page. The objective is rare, but when you are applying for a specific job, this might be an option. Your education should always come before anything else. In your education section, you must include the name of your university, your major with an optional emphasis, and the year of your expected graduation. You should include your grade point average if it is high for your major.
You should also include every related job that you have worked at. For example, if you are applying to be a designer and have worked for a design company or department store, include it. On the other hand, if you are applying for a designer and have worked for a gas station, that would be one job that you want to leave out.
If you have attended any related classes about your hopeful job, that would be important information to include. You must always think about what the reader wants to hear. Awards and evidence of teamwork is always impressive. When you include rewards, you should put them in chronological order and the highest awards first. If you do not have any awards or leadership opportunities, you should think about including some interests that might help you build relationships with coworkers.
Some aspects you should exclude in your résumé are: gender, religion, race, age, national origin, and martial status. Lastly, you do not need to include your references. You can mention "references available upon request." That way, if your interviewer needs to know your references, they can simply ask you.
Helpful Résumé Tips
- Your name appears in the center at the top of the page
- Everything on your résumé supports your job objective, whether that objective is stated on your résumé or not.
- Achievements, rather than job descriptions, are stressed.
- Achievement statements start with action verbs and do not contain vague terms such as "responsible for"
- There are no paragraphs anywhere on the résumé. Use bulleted statements to make achievements quick and easy to read.
- Statements and sections are prioritized so the most impressive information comes first.
- Write out the word for all numbers ten and under. For example, ten instead of 10.
- Write out all acronyms to anything that the reader may not understand followed by the abbreviation in parentheses. Ex. Do not write CLA, write out College of Liberal Arts (CLA)
- When writing dates, spell out the month rather than writing it in number form, and be sure to write the year out in full. Ex. March 12, 2010
- Be as concise as possible while still including all the important information.
- Be sure to include keywords that might make the résumé stand out. Many employers will scan a pile of résumés for key words that fit what they are looking for before handing them off to the hiring manager for further consideration.
- Make sure all verb tense forms are correct. Use the past tense verb form for items completed in the past, and present tense verb form for tasks you currently still complete.
- Make sure to include your contact information on your résumé. Only send documents from a professional e-mail address. For example, email@example.com is an acceptable e-mail address. Nickname e-mail addresses such as, Babygurlzz98@hotmail.com is not acceptable for professional correspondence.
- Leave only one space in between sentences. Modern software puts the correct amount of space after a period.
- Cater your résumé to each company and employer to which you apply, so your résumé and cover lever feel individualized to the company.
- Include a PAR statement in your cover letter.
- Write using an inverted pyramid style, with the most important information at the beginning and the least important at the end.
- Keep the length to one page, unless applying for a senior executive position or otherwise stated.
- Ashira Prossack (Jan 26, 2019). "Tips To Write A Strong Resume". https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashiraprossack1/2019/01/26/resume-tips-5-ways/#3a1184fb2518.
- "chronological format resume template". May 5, 2019. https://resumesbot.com/chronological-resume-format/.
- Resumes. (2004). Undergraduate job search handbook. Minneapolis: Carlson School of Management.