Career Development Services

Resume Writing Guide

This discussion is designed as a workbook to help you produce the first draft of a resume. It focuses on the types of resumes most often used in business, private non-profit, and government agencies. While it does not specifically address the needs of persons seeking employment in very creative fields or higher education, most of the principles addressed here are applicable to the creative resume and to the curriculum vitae.

The main purpose of preparing a resume is to produce a marketing tool to help you get an interview for a job, an internship or graduate school admission. A resume also can be useful in your networking efforts and is sometimes required to apply for membership in professional associations. Additionally, the preliminary self-evaluation that you do will help you prepare for the interview process.

Step One; Doing First-Things First

The first step in producing an effective resume is to assess thoroughly your professional abilities, technical skills, personal attributes, experience, and accomplishments. Do not neglect this step or minimize its importance. Before you begin to write your resume, take stock of what you have to offer prospective employers.

One way to start is by making lists for each of the following categories:

What are my major transferable skills/abilities?
(Read "Life Skills"; e.g.: organizational ability, analytical ability, time management skills, leadership ability, interpersonal communication, etc.)
What special, technical, or field-specific business skills do I have?
(E.g.: bilingual, word-processing, spreadsheet, data base management, programming languages, clerical, cash handling, customer service, sales, etc.)
What are some of my more important personal attributes and how do they relate to the world-of-work?
(E.g.: Ability to remain calm under pressure helps me work effectively in high stress situations)
Make a list of the places and situations in which you have exercised the preceding abilities, skills, and attributes.
(E.g.: Part-time jobs, internships, volunteer activities, clubs & organizations, research projects, sports, etc.)
Finally, make a list of your accomplishments.
(Some of these accomplishments will be used to tell prospective employers how you made a difference in each organization or in your personal development. Strive for at least three accomplishments for each organization or situation you listed in the preceding step.)

Writing out specific answers (What did I do, Where did I do it, How did I do it and What were the results?) to the list of questions above may help you in this process.

Generate A List Of Accomplishments

Think about the problems you've faced, the solutions you've devised and ask yourself:

  • What did I do? / How did I do it?/ Of what events am I most proud?
  • Did I do something faster, better, cheaper than it had been done before?
  • Did I increase membership, participation, or sales?
  • Did I save my organization any money or eliminate waste?
  • Did I identify and/or help solve any problems?
  • Did I institute any new methods, systems, or procedures?
  • Did I suggest a new service, product, or project?
  • Did I re-organize or improve an existing system?
  • Did I refine the nature of an existing task?
  • Did I maintain a consistently high level of performance?
  • Did I demonstrate leadership skills and/or did I exhibit good team player skills? Did I reach out for more work or more responsibility?
  • Did I achieve results with little or no supervision?
  • Did I accomplish something others thought could not be done?
  • Di md oI tiva otte hers?
  • Did I coordinate any event or project?
  • Did I train another person? What were the results?
  • Did I tutor anyone? Did their grades improve?
  • If I didn't improve the organization, did I improve my skills?

Now Quantify The Results You Uncovered Through The Above Exercise:

Compare: "Organized business fraternity philanthropic events."

to: "Organized business fraternity philanthropic events; resulted in contributions of over $4,000.00."

Compare: "Served food."

to: "Developed tact and diplomacy in dealing with customers in a fast-paced environment."

Compare: "Responsible for typing and filing."

to: "Commended for efficiency and accuracy in completing office duties."

Step Two; Deciding What To Ephasize

Identifying your primary career objective helps you decide which skills and experiences to emphasize and which ones to omit when composing your resume. Some of you have already identified your career/job objective. Those of you who have not done so, may want to contact the counseling center for assistance with this process.

Ideally, each resume you produce will be tailored to fit the specific job that you are applying for. In circumstance where precise tailoring is not possible, construct your resume so that it is targeted towards your primary career/job objective. You can then use your cover letter to call attention to or add job-specific skills.

  • My primary career objective is
  • The principal abilities, skills, attributes, and experience that employers in this field look for are

Step Three; Pulling it All Together

The next step is to put all this information together in an attractive format that focuses on the job that you are trying to get, looks professional; can be easily read, documents your key skills & qualifications and stresses accomplishments & results. These features of a good resume are known as the Five Key Principles of Resume Writing.

Five Key Principles of Resume Writing

  1. Tailor Your Resume
  2. Look Professional
  3. Be Easily Read
  4. Document Skills and Experience
  5. Stress Accomplishments

Use the informaation about yourself and the information that you have discovered about the job or opportunity to build a resume that is specifically tailored to fit the job for which you are applying.

A Professional image is achieved by making sure your resume is attractively arranged on high quality paper, using standard fonts. Your resume must contain no misspellings or typographic errors and it must be logically organized so that your most important skills and accomplishments stand out. Use a positive tone that conveys confidence. Avoid negative statements or explanation of problems.

"Easily Read" means, "Easily Scanned." Most managers tell us they spend no more than 20 to 30 seconds scanning a resume during the initial screening process. During those few seconds, they decide whether to reject the applicant or too place her resume in a (small) stack that will be evaluated in greater detail. Your first challenge is to make it into that short stack.

You do this by making suree your resume is brief and easily scanned. Unless you are working in a very technical field and have many years of experience, limit your resume length to one page --two at the most.

Consider uusing a "bullet" format; listing one task or accomplishment per line. Begin each bullet with an action verb and write in phrases - not complete sentences. Express one thought per line and one line per thought. The table below contains a few sample action verbs to get you started. You will probably think of many others once you begin composing your resume.

Sample Action Words

  • Achieved
  • Adapted
  • Advised
  • Analyzed
  • Assisted
  • Authored
  • Built
  • Completed
  • Controlled
  • Convinced
  • Coordinated
  • Counseled
  • Created
  • Decided
  • Delivered
  • Designed
  • Developed
  • Directed
  • Employed
  • Equipped
  • Established
  • Evaluated
  • Expanded
  • Generated
  • Guided
  • Handled
  • Implemented
  • Improved
  • Increased
  • Initiated
  • Led
  • Maintained
  • Managed
  • Operate
  • Organized
  • Performed
  • Persuaded
  • Planned
  • Processed
  • Produced
  • Reduced
  • Researched
  • Served
  • Sold
  • Supervised
  • Taught
  • Trained
  • Wrote

You may also increase "scan-ability" by using bold type to emphasize key points, but use it sparingly. To avoid shifts or changes in formatting that often occurs when files are printed on different printers, save your final version in Portable Document Format (PDF) whenever you are going to send a resume by electronic means.

Use computer screening programs to your advantage: Computerized screening systems work by conducting a series of "Key word" searches and identifying the resumes with the most matches for screening by a human resource person or department manager. You can use this to your advantage by conducting as thorough research as possible to identify the skills, experience and terminologythe employer is looking for. Many times the ad or position description will list the specific requirements the employer wants. By modifying your terminology to fit that used by the employer, you will increase your chances of making it through the computer screening successfully.

Focus on accomplishments and results by minimizing job descriptions and listings of responsibilities. Your responsibilities are not nearly as important as what you did with those responsibilities. Let your job or position title tell them what your duties were; use your bullets to tell them how you made a difference in each position. Speaking of position titles, you do not have to use your precise payroll title; use titles that are descriptive of your responsibilities. For example: "Accounting Clerk Intern" is much more descriptive than "Intern".

OK, ready to write? Not so fast! You have one more decision to make before you start typing your resume. What format are you going to use? There is no magic or prescribed format, you may construct your resume in any format that is consistent with the key principles discussed above and that portrays your skills and experience at a glance. There are three basic formats in general use today: chronological, functional and combination. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Lets look briefly at each of these three types:

The Chronological Format

This is the most commonly used type and is therefore the type that most employers are used to seeing. It emphasizes the positions that you have held and the experiences that you have had. Strictly speaking, we probably should call this a "Reverse Chronological" resume because your current or most recent position is generally listed first and then previous positions follow in reverse chronological order.

Figure 1 is a template that describes the various components of a resume using the chronological resume format (PDF). Figure 2 shows an example of a chronological resume (PDF). You do not have to use all the categories that are depicted -- omit the ones that you do not need or cannot use effectively. In Figure 3 (Targeted Section Chronological Resume) (PDF), note how the writer has "targeted" a specific section of her resume to emphasize her writing experience.

Resume Template # 4
Figure 4: example of the functional resume format

The Functional Format

The use of the functional format is best limited to circumstances that require you to avoid emphasizing your employment record. You might choose this format if you have no work experience, have significant gaps in your employment record, have a pattern of short term jobs (subsequent to graduation from college), or have held several positions in which you have exercised the same skills. It is also often used by persons who are making a drastic career change and who want to emphasize their transferable skills. In the functional resume format, you emphasize your skills rather than the positions you have held.

Figure 4 shows an example of the functional resume format (PDF).

The Combination Format

Resume Template # 5
Figure 5: example of a combination resume

As the name implies, the combination format is a combination of the functional and chronological formats. The combination resume is formed by adding a listing of employers and positions held to the functional resume. This shows the potential employer where you have gained the skills you are highlighting. If you have a stable employment record, it is important to include it because it helps remove some of the suspicions that often rise in the mind of employers reading functional resumes.

Figure 5 contains an example of a combination resume (PDF).

Step Four; Putting It On Paper

You know what employers are looking for. You know what your skills and accomplishments are and how they relate to the world of work, and you have selected the general format you are going to use. Now, lets get started. Regardless of the format you have chosen, the following information should be included in your resume in some form:

Heading

At the top of the page you should list your name, address and telephone number, and e-mail address. List your day-time phone number. If you do not have ready access to a phone during the day, list your residence number. Make sure some responsible person is there to take a message for you or invest in a message machine (Warning: Keep your messages business like!) or answering service.

Objective

Your resume does not have to contain an objective. If you decide to use one, state it clearly and succinctly. Avoid the use of lengthy, meaningless objective statements such as, "A challenging and rewarding assignment in a dynamic company that will use my exceptional managerial skills". If you decide to use an objective statement, I recommend you produce at least one version without it to use at career fairs, etc.

Qualifications Summary

Most recent graduates probably will not use this section or may title it "Field Specific Skills" (E.G.: “Business Skills”, or “Marketing Skills”). It is generally used only by people who have several years of experience and/or technical skills that they want to bring to prospective employers attention at the beginning of the resume. The key word here is "Summary". You do not need to provide details or tell where you gained the special skill--that should be apparent in your experience section.

Education

For many recent graduates this may be the first line of your resume. List education before experience when education is your strength, and experience first when it is your greatest strength. This principle of leading with your strengths should be used throughout your resume. You can even use this principle within sections to decide which order you are going to list things. For example: If your degree is directly related to the type of work you are pursuing, list your degree first and University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo second. If it is not, then graduating from UH Hilo is your strength so list University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo first. If your major is not related to your work, but you have coursework that is, you may want to include a subsection that begins, "Relevant courses: . . .". Include your Grade Point Average if it is 3.0 or above.

Activities and/or Honors

Recent graduates and continuing students also should include academic honors (Dean's List, honor societies, scholarships). You may list honors separately or as a subheading under education. University activities that display evidence of leadership, initiative, community involvement or the use of special skills may be listed in an "Activities" section or may be listed in your experience section. Use the method of organization which best presents your greatest skills and achievements first.

Experience

(Remember that experience is not limited to paid experience.) You have several choices as to how you will portray your experience. You may list it in reverse chronological order including part-time jobs, internships, and organizational positions all in one section. You may create special sections, e.g.: "Marketing Experience" and "Related Experience", and arrange the positions in reverse chronological order within each section. Alternatively, you may decide to use a functional resume and detail your experience under the skills you decide to emphasize.

Other Information

You may want to highlight other achievements or skills that are not easily incorporated into the other sections. This may include such things as licenses, credentials, publications, etc. Simply create an appropriate heading and insert it in your resume so that it gets the attention it merits.

References

You do not generally list your references on your resume. Instead, type them on a separate sheet of paper and take them to the interview with you. If space permits, you may include a line at the end of your resume that says, "References available upon request".

Do not include

Usually you do not include personal information such as ethnicity, age, marital status, religion, sports, hobbies etc. Note that we used the word "usually". If your research indicates some element of personal information may increase your chances of getting an interview then by all means use it.

Step Five; Preparing A Cover Letter

Cover Letters

In most cases, a cover letter should accompany each resume or application that you submit for professional positions. Cover letters let you draw attention to particular experiences or skills mentioned in your resume. A cover letter gains you an additional 8 to 10 seconds of attention to capture the employers interest – use them wisely.

Goals & Objectives

The goal of your cover letter is to quickly & clearly:

  • Point out your skills, knowledge and track record as they relate to the position.
  • Explain how your qualifications can make a difference in the employers organization
  • Persuade the reader to read your resume with positive expectations.

Guidelines

  • Research organizations to which you are applying to learn what they are looking for.
  • Target your message and relate your skills and experience to a specific job in a specific organization
  • Spotlight your accomplishments and measurable results and relate them to the employers business
  • Whenever possible, send your letter to a specific person {by name}. Ideally the letter should be addressed to the person who is likely to make employment decisions.
  • Use the same paper, heading and font that you used for your resume and print your letter using a laser printer for better quality.

Template & Sample

Figure 6 contains a cover letter template (PDF) and Figure 7 contains a sample cover letter (PDF).

See also

Yate, Martin (2003). Cover Letters that Knock ‘em Dead, 5th Ed. Avon, MA: Adams Media Corporation – Available in the Career Center.

Step Six; Get Your Resume & Cover Letters Critiqued

Before you begin distribution: Come to Career Development Services to have your resume & cover letter critiqued by a Career Counselor. You also should have your preliminary version of your resume critiqued by several managerial level persons from your target industry before distributing it.