Creating a Winning Resume: How to Rise to the Top of the Stack
Writing your resume seems like a simple task. You need to summarize your professional accomplishments, detailing your experience and unique skillset. But how you put that resume together and how you portray yourself in it can mean the difference between getting the job and ending up lost in a pile of applicants.
What Should a Resume Do?
Your resume details where you worked, what you did and what you learned along the way. It should also demonstrate what you can do for an employer and how you are a good fit for the job you're applying for. The objective of your resume is to stand out and make employers want to interview you.
Most employers will receive resumes from more people than they can possibly interview. They will screen the resumes looking for reasons to disqualify candidates from further consideration. That’s why attention to detail is so important. A resume may be disqualified for being too short, too long, too busy, too trendy, not results-oriented enough, sketchy in places, or because it has an error. Before you hit send, make sure your resume is the best possible reflection of you.
There are several styles of resumes to choose from. No matter which one you choose, make sure it makes sense for your industry and for the job you're applyikng for. The more customized a resume is to a specific job, the better chance it has of grabbing someone’s attention. Here are four types of resumes:
Chronological—The most common type of resume is the chronological resume. It lists your work experience in reverse chronological order, beginning with your most recent job. Emphasize your most recent job experience and accentuate a history of growth, increasing responsibility and promotion. Many employers prefer this type of resume because it provides a quick scan of an employee’s employment history, job titles, length of employment and level of responsibility. But this type of resume will not be the best approach if you are just starting your career, if you have changed careers several times, if your work history is spotty, or if your work experience is outside of your current job target.
Functional—A functional resume highlights your skills and strengths, whether from paid or unpaid positions. It is often used by career changers and individuals who lack experience in a particular field. Because it can downplay work lapses, demotions or job-hopping, many hiring managers regard it suspiciously. For some jobs at some companies this type of resume is ideal because it shows what you can do, not where you did it. It emphasizes skills acquired “in life” as opposed to just the work. However, it’s not the best resume to use if you want to demonstrate career growth or a pattern of employment history.
Targeted—A targeted resume is tailored to match the requirements of a specific job. It describes all pertinent experience and education related to the position being sought. Another type of targeted resume is one that highlights one’s capabilities and accomplishments across jobs, but also includes a chronological listing of employment. An advantage of this type of resume is that it draws attention to your skills and accomplishments, but also identifies specific positions and titles that relate to the job.
Combination—A combination resume uses aspects of both the chronological and the functional resumes. It typically begins by listing those significant skills, which are pertinent to obtaining the desired position. This is followed by a section that lists employers in reverse chronological order. However, in a combination resume, responsibilities and achievements are listed for each position. This resume is typically used by those who have at least 12 years in the workforce, demonstrable skills and a highly successful work track.
Regardless of the type of resume you prefer, most people will need several resumes tailored to different positions. And with more and more job seekers applying to jobs online, it is usually essential to create resumes in several different formats. Here are three resume format options:
Traditional—This type of paper resume is formatted in an aesthetically pleasing way with different fonts and formats, such as bullets, bolds, italics, etc. It is typically mailed or left with an employer after an interview.
Scannable—This type of paper resume has been stripped of any unusual fonts or formatting. It is straight text that will be fed into a scanner to create an electronic database listing. It is important in this resume to utilize a keyword list (a list of 20–30 of the phrases that best describe your skills and experience) at the top of your resume, as these will be the words a potential employer searches.
Electronic—This type of resume is sent by email or uploaded to a website. Some companies prefer no formatting, just straight unfettered text that can be easily scanned or added to a database. Most companies have the ability to create and read PDF files. Today, the preferred way to send a traditional resume is by email, as they can capture your original formatting, are easily printed and are fixed (can't be modified by the recipient).
Polishing vs. Patching
Resumes should be considered dynamic documents that are continually refined and polished. As your experiences, goals and the job market itself change, so should your resume. Many people make the mistake of creating a resume that they continually “patch” as time goes by. Most employers can tell when a resume has simply been “doctored up” for a new round of searches.
Although it’s not necessary to start from scratch each and every time you submit a resume, it’s a good idea to re-assess your resume approach every once in a while. Is there a better way to organize the information? Can you make the resume more targeted? Does your additional experience change the way you talk about your profession and responsibilities? Don’t just keep adding amendments to your resume. The more you do, the less readable and cohesive the document will become over time.
Elements of the Resume
The order in which you present the different elements of your resume depends on your background and their level of importance. List the most important information early in the resume, and list the least important information late in the resume. You determine the hierarchy based on your own history. Key elements include:
- Name, address, phone number and email address
- Professional qualifications or summary of qualifications
- Professional organizations or related extracurricular activities
- Awards, commendations, promotions
Resume Writing Tips
Use your resume to obtain an interview, not a job. You don’t need to go into detail about every accomplishment. Strive to be unambiguous, concise and always interesting. Make sure your resume is:
Skimmable—The average time spent on a resume is 20-40 seconds, so make your points quickly and clearly. Margins, spacing and plenty of white space will make your resume more attractive and easier to read.
Action-oriented—Action verbs such as “initiated,” “designed,” “managed,” etc. make it seem as if you are active and energetic in your career pursuits and accomplishments.
Consistent—When listing employment dates, use all month/year dates throughout. Be consistent with bolding, punctuation and format.
Achievement-based—Emphasize skills and accomplishments rather than common responsibilities. Anyone can list functional responsibilities on a resume. An employer will want to know what you learned and what the results of your efforts were.
Short and snappy—Keep your resume to no more than two pages, and write it in a clear, straightforward and succinct manner.
Finally, don’t include personal information such as age, sex, marital status, health, etc. Omit any mention of salary history or your reason for leaving a previous employer. If an employer asks for a salary history, include this information on another page or in your cover letter.