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Best Way to Write a Resume

Before you can get an interview, you have to apply for a job. And to do that, you’ll need a resume. Here’s how to write one that will get you that interview.

Yes, an interview – not a job. Remember: a resume, no matter how well written, will not get you a job.  Interviews get you jobs.  The purpose of your resume is to get you interviews.

What the Hiring Manager Wants to See In a Resume

As a hiring manager, the number one thing I’m looking for in a resume is not how pretty it looks, not how well you’re able to use font types and sizes, and certainly not how expensive the paper is that it’s written on.

Sure, your resume has to be neat, clean, and easy to read, but don’t spend a lot of time on the physical appearance. 

What the hiring manager wants most is one thing: how well do your specific skills and experience match the requirements of the job.  Everything else is of secondary importance. However, I also do expect that a resume won’t contain common mistakes.

It’s all About the Job

As a hiring manager, I don’t want to have to plow through your resume and guess what type of job you’re looking for. You should have already done your research and sent me a resume specifically targeted to the job I have open. 

The job posting almost always gives you much of what you need to know. It usually lists the experience and qualifications required.  Your resume needs to clearly and specifically demonstrate that you have those exact qualifications and experience.

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Yes, this means you must customize your resume for each opening to which you apply if you want to maximize your chances for an interview. 

Remember: A hiring manager (for example, me!) usually only looks at your resume for about 30 seconds or less. If you don’t grab me right away by clearly showing how your qualifications match my specific job, you won’t be further considered. The resumes I put aside for further consideration are the ones that demonstrate they contain the skills and experience that align closest with my opening.

The Two Resume Formats

There are two basic resume formats:

Chronological

Functional

Chronological

A chronological resume shows your previous employers in date order, starting with the most current one (because Hiring Managers want to read about your most recent experience first). The chronological format is what most Hiring Managers want to see and thus it is the one most commonly used.

This is the simplest format to write and use, and is the right choice for most people.

Functional

A functional resume lists your skill, accomplishments and education first, and then your job history at the very end. The only employment history details shown are the company and employment dates, with the most current job first. This is a good format if you’ve had many different jobs and want the reader to focus on your accomplishments and skills instead of the number of previous employers. This format should mostly be used for entry or lower-level jobs.

There is a third type of format – the Combination resume – that is a blend of the chronological and functional resume types. What it does is show your most important skills and accomplishments at the top, then using the traditional chronological format after that. As a Hiring Manager, I don’t recommend this format. It can be confusing and I by far prefer a straight chronological resume.

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Best Length for Your Resume

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received resumes that are three, four, even five pages long. This is not only unnecessary but frequently backfires because if you haven’t convinced me that you’re a viable candidate on the first page, I probably won’t read any further.

As a hiring manager, here’s my best advice on resume length.

If you’ve had three prior employers or less, keep your resume to one page. 

If you’ve had more than three employers, or your field requires detailed technical or engineering skills and you need space to prove you meet the requirements, it’s okay to have two pages – but no more. Your most important information should be on the first page. If you don’t sell me here, I won’t make it to the second page.

The bottom line is that if you haven’t sold me in two pages, you aren’t going to sell me at all. Most of my interest is in your last two or three employers anyway, so concentrate on this experience. Abbreviate the information for more than three employers in the past.

Sections to Include in Your Resume

There are four sections every resume must include

Name and contact information

In addition to your name and address, be sure to include a phone number where you can be reached during the daytime and a phone number where you can be reached at night. In today’s world, an email address is mandatory, so if you don’t have one you’ll need to obtain one.

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Summary Statement

A summary statement should appear at the top of your resume, after your name and contact information, and before any other information.

A summary statement is your chance to summarize accomplishments or experience that is directly related to the position for which you’re applying. Two or three bullets containing keywords relevant to the position can grab a hiring manager’s attention and better ensure your entire resume will be read. See the chronological resume sample for what a good summary statement looks like.

Experience and Employment Information

With a chronological resume, your experience will be included with each employer you list. 

With a functional resume, your experience and skills will appear first in one section, followed by your employment history in a separate section. Your skills should be categorized and listed as short, bulleted statements under each category. Your employment history should only list the company, job title, and dates.

Education

If education is a primary qualification for the job, you should list it upfront in your Summary Statement. Otherwise, education should be the last section of your resume.

List your degrees or other relevant education in reverse date order. Begin with the educational institution name, followed by location, degree/certification and emphasis. If your degree is within the last three years and you had a high-grade point average (3.5 or above), include it.

What Application Should You Use to Create Your Resume?

I’m going to make this easy. Create your resume in one of the three main word processing programs: Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and Apple Pages.

Virtually every company now allows you to submit your resume electronically and most require it. Any of these three programs will be accepted and all three will of course print well. You’ll need printed copies to bring to interviews, as well as job applications that still require a paper application (most fast-food restaurants and small independent companies fall into this category).

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General Resume Writing Tips

Here are some resume writing tips that apply regardless of which resume format you choose.

  • Make sure your resume contains the keywords that apply to the position for which you’re applying. By keywords, I mean the words or short phrases that might be used to find your qualifications in a resume database. What’s the best source for keywords? Why, the nouns and adjectives in the job description itself, of course. These are the words and phrases a keyword search will most likely look for.  Be sure to use synonyms for these words, also. Your goal is to give your resume the greatest likelihood of being found by an automated keyword search.
  • Never, ever tell even a small white lie on your resume. 
  • Do not include hobbies, what you enjoy doing in your spare time, likes/dislikes, etc. It wastes valuable space and you want your resume to be all about your qualifications and your accomplishments.
  • Do not list references in your resume or use the phrase “references available upon request.” Employers presume you have references and will ask when they want them.
  • Rather than using general statements about your qualifications and experience, state them in terms that most closely match the job for which you’re applying.
  • State your responsibilities in terms of accomplishments, not just a description of your duties. For example, instead of saying “designed a new accounts receivable procedure”, say “designed a new accounts receivable procedure that reduced overdue accounts by 30 percent”.
  • Use bullets liberally throughout your resume. They are much easier for the Hiring Manager to read. At least half – if not more – of your resume should be in the form of bullets.
  • Most people list computer skills at the end of the resume, which is fine if they are incidental to the job. But if computer skills are important in the job you’re applying for, list your computer skills at the top of your resume. 
  • Have someone else read your resume for 20 seconds and ask them if they could see your main qualifications in that time period.
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