How to Write a Resume

There’s more to writing a resume than just listing all of your jobs and schoolwork.  There’s an art to it.  You need to compose all of your qualifications in such a way that you’re truly selling yourself to your potential employer, by being concise, strong, and organized.

One of the most important things to remember when writing a resume is that your average employer isn’t spending much more than seven seconds deciding whether or not to call you for an interview.  They’re probably only skimming your resume, picking out key words and getting an impression of what you’ve accomplished.  With this in mind, you need to make sure that your strongest qualifications are placed front and center, concisely worded so that they catch the employer’s eye.(1)

An important part of making a strong impression is to emphasize “action words”.  These are verbs that imply a strong, active role in your work, including words like “achieved”, “created”, “led”, or “utilized”.  When describing you job experience, try to begin each of your bullet points with an action word, and avoid starting with weaker, more passive words like “was”, “got”, or “had”.(1)  See below for a partial list of appropriate action words.

Finally, the way you organize your resume is also going to play an important role in whether or not you get called in for an interview.  This isn’t just a matter of making the page look neat; it’s also a matter of deciding what to showcase most prominently.  For example, one of the decisions you’re going to have to make is whether to list your education before your job experience, or your job experience before your education.  Which one of these will impress your potential employer more?  Which one is more relevant to the position you are applying for?  Again, remember that you may only have seven seconds to win your reader over, so lead off with your strongest points.(1)

Step 1: The Header

Your header what appears at the top of your resume.  This is where you put your name and contact information so that your potential employer can easily identify where you are and how he or she can get in touch with you.  Print your name prominently, a bit larger than the rest of your text and probably either bold, underlined, or in all-caps (pick two of the three, but not all three).  Below this, list your mailing address, phone number, and your professional email address.(2)

Step 2: Education

Start with your most recent education and list your schools and degrees in reverse chronological order.  Include the name of the school, your majors and minors, and the year you received your degree (or the year you expect to receive your degree).(2)  In some cases, it may also be beneficial to list your GPA and relevant coursework.  If you’re a college graduate, don’t bother listing your high school.

Step 3: Work Experience

There are several ways to format your work experience, the two most widely accepted being the chronological format and the combination format.  The chronological format simply lists your work experience in reverse chronological order, with your most recent job at the top and your oldest job at the bottom.  A combination resume first organizes your experience into different fields before placing them in reverse chronological order.  A combination resume might, for example, have one heading for “leadership experience” and one for “marketing experience”, if these were categories that were relevant to your potential employer.  Chronological resumes are a good choice for students and other people who don’t have a lot of experience to list, while a combination resume is a good option for people who are more advanced in their careers.

In either format, structure your experience like so:

  • Write the company’s name on the first line, along with the location and the dates you worked in this job.
  • On the second line, write the title you held at this company.
  • Follow this information with several bullet points describing your role in this job and the accomplishments you achieved.  Start each bullet point with action words! (2)
  • Whenever you can, try to quantify your achievements.  This means using specific numbers, like saying “Raised $2,500” or “Increased sales by 50%”.(1)

Step 4: Interests

Here is where you list interests and activities that might help your potential employer to get a sense of what kind of a person you are.  Maybe you have some volunteer work that shows character, or maybe you’re an avid reader who is applying for a position with a book publisher.  Consider including a short description of each point, if you think it would be relevant to the job in question.

Step 5: Skills and Certifications

Do you have any special training or skills that might relate to the job?  List them here.  Important points might include:

  • Languages.  List any additional languages you speak, and identify your skill-level (basic, intermediate, advanced, or fluent).
  • Typing speed.
  • Technical skills.  Try to be specific if you can; list programs like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Photoshop, and other relevant software you have experience or training with.
  • Internet and social media skills.  Some companies may actually be interested to know that you are a successful blogger, that you have several thousand Twitter followers, or that you simply know how to use Facebook.
  • Special certification that might relate to the job.(2)

 

Step 6: Advanced Qualifications

In general, you’re going to want to keep your resume tight.  Try to shoot for one or two pages as much as you can.  If you have the luxury of being able to write out a more thorough resume, what is frequently referred to as a CV, you can make room for advanced qualifications.  If you’ve published articles or books, you might have a “Publications” list.  If you’ve spoken at a lot of seminars, you might have a “Presentations” section.  If you hold a lot of professional honors, you might list them in an “Awards” section.  These are all options you’ll probably look at later on in your career.

ACTION WORDS

What follows is a partial list of strong “action words”.  These words by no means represent all of the action words in the English language, but should serve to give you a good idea of the kind of language you should be using.  Consider these words, and try to use such words at the beginning of each of the bullet points in your resume.

 

Accelerated Expedited Promoted
Accomplished Fabricated Proposed
Achieved Facilitated Proved
Acted Followed Provided
Activated Formed Publicized
Adapted Formulated Published
Added Founded Purchased
Administered Gained Recommended
Advised Gathered Recorded
Advocated Generated Recruited
Analyzed Governed Redesigned
Arranged Guided Reduced
Assembled Handled Regulated
Assessed Headed Reinforced
Broadened Identified Renegotiated
Budgeted Impacted Reorganized
Built Implemented Reported
Calculated Improved Represented
Changed Increased Researched
Clarified Initiated Responded
Classified Inspected Resolved
Collaborated Installed Reviewed
Collected Instituted Revised
Compiled Instructed Revitalized
Completed Interviewed Rewrote
Composed Interpreted Scheduled
Conducted Introduced Screened
Conceived Invented Selected
Concluded Launched Served
Conserved Lectured Shaped
Constructed Led Simplified
Controlled Maintained Sold
Coordinated Managed Solved
Counseled Marketed Spearheaded
Created Mastered Standardized
Defined Maximized Steered
Delegated Mediated Streamlined
Delivered Merged Strengthened
Derived Minimized Structured
Demonstrated Modeled Studied
Designed Monitored Suggested
Determined Motivated Summarized
Developed Negotiated Supervised
Devised Operated Supported
Directed Optimized Surpassed
Discovered Orchestrated Surveyed
Documented Organized Taught
Earned Participated Tested
Edited Performed Trained
Enabled Planned Unified
Energized Predicted Updated
Enhanced Prepared Upgraded
Established Presented Utilized
Evaluated Prioritized Worked
Examined Processed Wrote
Executed Produced  
Expanded Programmed  

(1) http://www.extension.harvard.edu/hub/blog/extension-blog/how-write-great-resume-cover-letter
(2) http://careercenter.georgetown.edu/resumes-cover-letters/resume-formatting-tips/