Every job search is inherently discouraging. Whether someone has 2 years of work experience or 20, the search for a job will run into disappointments, primarily because of the intense competition in the job market. There simply are more qualified applicants for every job that is advertised, resulting in discouragement when it minimizes the chance to be noticed as a potential candidate. However, a well-written resume can help the job applicant get noticed for the relevant skills and qualifications, thereby maximizing the chances of being called for an interview.
Writing a solid resume requires that a person choose the best format to describe work experience associated with the skills related for a job or chosen career path, and that the resume address four fundamental objectives: (1) identification of work accomplishments, (2) quantification of work performance, (3) concise narrative of previous job roles, and (4) the connection between experience and a targeted job and industry. Before discussing the details of these objectives, an overview of resume formatting is needed.
The traditional resume format starts with the heading of Work Experience, which follows a chronological sequence of employment history beginning with the most current job and ending with the first job held. This chronological sequence is a standard for all resumes, regardless of format, and should not be altered. The other headings in a traditional format are Education and Skills/Activities. When listing education, be sure to include the most recent credential completed first followed by any previous credentials. If a person completed a bachelor’s degree, there is no need to list a high school diploma on the resume.
It is appropriate for individuals with less than two years of work experience to include GPAs next to the academic diploma or degree obtained. When reviewing resumes that show more than two years of work experience, employers are less concerned or impressed with GPAs and more interested in assessing actual work history and job performance. However, if a person graduated with honors, it is acceptable to identify educational attainment with the appropriate distinction such as cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude.
When deciding what to list under Skills/Activities, only include computer skills, language skills, or other work-related skills specific to your profession. For activities, it is wise to refer only to volunteer involvement, trade group, or professional association affiliations and to avoid references to religious affiliation or personal interests like cross-country skiing, guitar playing, etc.
Other guidelines regarding the resume format to keep in mind are as follows: use bullets to separate your duties and tasks when describing each of your jobs; use font size of 11 or 12 with the exception of your name, which can be set at 14 font but not larger; and do not use the heading References Upon Request. This is an unnecessary use of space on a resume. It is now a common hiring practice to request and check references of candidates who are likely to be offered a position. Last, it is okay to have a two-page resume. A general rule of thumb is to allow two-page resumes for people who have three or more years of work experience.
The objectives mentioned earlier are paramount to a well-written resume regardless of how brief or seasoned your employment history. The first objective is to highlight accomplishments. This can be done by identifying general tasks associated with each job while being specific on some of the results of the job performance. In other words, in describing a job task, try to explain how, by doing that task, a positive result was accomplished. See how Example B improves upon Example A below:
Created an Access database to track travel expenses for sales team.
Created an Access database to track travel expenses for sales team, resulting in cost savings.
The second objective is to quantify a task or output whenever possible. Adding relevant and factual data, whether it is percentages or raw numbers, shows the level of complexity related to a job and amplifies your accomplishments. The recruiter who is seeking a results-oriented person for a sales position is likely to respond positively to the resume that makes references to data supporting the percentage of revenue increase or number of accounts brought in by the candidate in current or previous roles. Quantification also helps the recruiter understand the complexity of job performance, which may otherwise be interpreted as mundane. For example, there is a difference between managing a staff of 3 people and managing of staff of 30. Using Example B from above, notice the difference when a simple data set is included.
Created an Access database to track travel expenses for a 12-person sales team, resulting in a year-end cost savings of 20%.
The third objective is to provide a concise narrative of job tasks that highlights technical skills and demonstrates relevant personal abilities. Too many resumes simply list duties associated with a job that consequently comes across as one-dimensional and uninspired. In describing jobs, provide explanations of the tasks and the context of how and why these tasks were performed. Notice the dynamic tone in the examples below when compared to how they were written before.
Used software tools for data analysis. Assisted manager with consulting assignments.
Used SAS software tools for data analysis of infant mortality rates for a sociology class project on teen pregnancy.
Supported branch manager on complex consulting projects by monitoring budget expenses and reviewing project progress reports.
Finally, for the fourth objective, a resume should be written so that it links work experience with a target function and industry. Beyond determining a candidate’s qualifications to perform a job, employers are also looking for a candidate whose experience is relevant to the industry or the culture of the company. Therefore, it would be helpful to identify work and academic accomplishments, and include in the resume, the ones that are most aligned or valued by the industry and relevant to the targeted function. Also, appropriate industry-related jargon and buzzwords should be included sparingly in the narrative of a resume, especially when describing an accomplishment.
The resume is the most important tool in the job search. Before an employer decides to interview an applicant, a judgment is made on a person’s qualifications and abilities solely on the quality of the resume. It is imperative that a resume reflect the factual documentation of the applicant’s employment history while communicating how value was contributed to past employers and why these accomplishments are relevant to the job being sought.
The four objectives outlined in this entry are timeless points of reference when revising a resume throughout various career progressions. But the most important resume tip of all is to proofread. Employers will rarely be inclined to interview a person whose resume has spelling and grammatical errors no matter how well all four objectives are addressed.
- Betrus, M. and Block, J. A. 1997. 101 Best Resumes. New York: McGraw Hill.
- Chabon-Berger, T. 2001. Quick Study: Resumes & Interviews. Boca Raton, FL: Bar Charts.
- Ryan, R. 1997. Winning Resumes. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons
- Yate, M. 2002. Resumes That Knock ‘Em Dead. Avon, MA: Adams Media.