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How to write a resume

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Writing a Resume, Tips and Orientation

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Step 1: Gathering Information

In order to write an effective resume, you need to understand why you are writing a resume. In general, if you are applying for a specific job, you need to tailor your resume to meet the requirements of the position. So, grab the job description! It contains valuable information for you to use in your resume.

If you are trying to write an initial resume without a specific job in mind, think about the type of job you want and what will be important skills or experiences you need to include.

Create a Mega-Data File
Make a list of all items that could be important to your resume. Gather information or write notes about previous work experiences, job descriptions, performance reviews, previous resumes, transcripts from educational programs, papers you have written, presentations you have delivered, volunteer programs, certifications, licenses, curriculum you created, awards, honors...whatever you feel is relevant to your work. If in doubt, include it. We tend to forget the things we have done, so think of things that will help you remember. If you are just out of school, you might want to think about extracurricular experiences, volunteer work, internships, etc.

This mega-file is an important step in managing your career. Continue to add to it as you take on new jobs, attend classes, etc. This will make it much easier in the future!

Step 2: Deciding What to Include

This may vary from job to job, so keep your mega-data file accessible. In order to clarify what is relevant to a particular job, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I do best?
  • What skills have I developed?
  • What work experience have I found satisfying?
  • If I am looking at a specific job description, what skills and experiences are identified?
  • What is important about my education? (This usually includes degrees and perhaps specific courses.)
  • Are there unique experiences or talents I want to share?

Take time to answer these questions thoughtfully. Doing so will make the task of creating a resume easier. Then organize your materials to answer these questions. There may be some overlap, and that's okay.

Step 3: Choosing a Format

There are two basic formats that are found when writing a resume: a skills-based resume and a reverse chronological resume. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes certain characteristics of each are combined to create a combination resume. Depending on the job for which you are applying, you may choose one format or the other. It is good to try both styles to see which one presents the most powerful image.

Which Format is Best for You?

  Reverse Chronological Skills-based Combination
What it is Begin with your most recent position and work backwards, typically focusing on the last 10 - 15 years of experience Summarizes your professional skills and minimizes your work history Utilizes the best of the reverse chronological and skills-based styles
When to use it

When seeking a position in the same field

Your career path has shown steady progress and increasing responsibilities

You can demonstrate measurable results from your work

You've held impressive job titles and/or have worked for big-name employers

Your work history has no gaps

You are changing careers and utilizing your transferable skills

You have been employed by the same company for a long time

You have held several jobs that are dissimilar OR very similar in nature

You are a new graduate with limited work history, but DO have relevant coursework or training

Your work history contains gaps in employment

Each position you have had involved a different job

You want to highlight internships or volunteer positions that are related to your field of interest

Significant skills are highlighted and supported by your employment history


Calls attention to employment gaps

Skills may be difficult to spot if they are buried in job descriptions

Employers are used to viewing reverse chronological resumes. Be clear about why this is the best format for you!

May be more difficult to write

Be sure your format supports your objective and is arranged in a logical, easy-to-follow manner

Step 4: Sections of a Resume

All resumes typically contain sections that highlight education and work experience. Often a profile or summary of qualifications section is used to provide the reader with an overview of your competencies. Also, many people find it helpful to begin a resume with an objective so that the reader has a reference point by which to understand your strengths and experience. Additionally, some people include a section to highlight community or professional involvement, and presentations or publications. Tailor your resume to bring out your strengths!

  • Typical Resume Sections
  • Contact Information
  • Profile or Summary of Qualifications
  • Education
  • Skills (if a skills-based format is used)
  • Work Experience (two basic layouts, depending if you are using a skills-based or reverse chronological format)
  • Optional Sections
  • Objectives
  • Technical Skills/Programming*
  • Community Involvement
  • Professional involvement
  • Awards
  • Publications/Presentations*

*If these sections are extensive, you may want to create a supplement page to your resume

Length of a Resume
Resumes are typically one or two pages in length. If you are in the initial stages of writing your resume, don't be too concerned about the length. It will be important for you to review your resume, edit unnecessary information, and ask others to critique it.

Step 5: Write a Resume Draft

Now that you know the sections to include in a resume, it's your turn to put it all together.

First, decide what your objective is in writing a resume. Identify the type of job you want (try to be specific) and then choose the style of resume you will first write, either the reverse chronological, skills-based, or combination resume.

Next, think about the sections you plan to include in your resume. Make a list and then outline what you will include under each section. If you have job descriptions, transcripts, awards, etc. available, organize them into the sections you are using.

Begin by writing the easiest section! Many people begin with the Contact Information and then the Education section. These two are relatively easy to write. Under education, look for classes, projects, or major papers that relate to the job you are targeting. Include these under the degree you earned. If you have additional certifications or training, be sure to include them.

Continue writing section by section until you have a rough draft.

Step 6: Critique Your Resume

Evaluate the Content
Does the resume present your strengths upfront? Does the order of information make sense? Are keywords from the job description included in the resume? Have you quantified your accomplishments to give the reader a sense of the magnitude of your responsibilities? Does the information feel complete and present a clear picture of what you have to offer? Besides reading it yourself, ask two or three trusted colleagues or friends to critique it.

Use Power Words and Action Verbs
Make every word work for you! By using Power Words and Action Verbs in your resume, you create a sense of enthusiasm and a "can do" attitude. When critiquing your resume, see if you get this sense. If not, how can you improve it? See the list of Power Words to assist you in creating effective descriptions.

Is Your Resume Focused?
Whether or not you have used an objective, your resume needs to be targeted towards supporting your reason for writing a resume. Is there information that is redundant, out of place, or irrelevant? Sometimes we are particularly proud of an achievement, but if we look at it objectively, it doesn't relate to what we are trying to do. Let go of the emotional ties and only include acheivements that are relevant.

Does the Format Highlight Your Strengths?
Is a reverse chronological format better for you than a skills-based resume? Sometimes you may use a combination of both. Are there sections you could add to strengthen your resume?

Where Are There Gaps in My Resume?
If a job description is available, compare the requirements and duties to what you have highlighted in your resume. What is missing? Do not assume that the reader of the resume will assume anything. If you can document what they are requiring, do so. For example, if they ask for experience with Microsoft Excel, do not state "experience with various office software packages." Make it easy for the reader to see you are qualified.

Length of Resume
If your resume feels too long, keep in mind that the average employer spends about 35-40 seconds scanning a resume. It is important to eliminate any extraneous words that could distract a reader. A good exercise is to review your resume and circle the 5 points you think are the most likely to help you land the job you want. Now look at the parts of the resume you haven't circled. Is there anything you could omit or shorten?

If your resume is too short, you may not be giving yourself enough credit for the experiences and training you have had. Review the materials you gathered for the "mega-approach." What else could support your targeted resume? Ask yourself, "How did I improve the various places I have worked?" If you have job performance reviews and job descriptions available from previous positions, look through them to remind yourself of your accomplishments. If your work experience is limited, consider emphasizing your coursework, activities or volunteer experiences that demonstrate skills such as teamwork, punctuality, accuracy or leadership.

Are the headings used for specific sections appropriate?
Just because someone else has used the heading title "Work History" on his or her resume doesn't mean that it is the best title for you to use. Perhaps "Professional Experience" or "Relevant Experience" is more descriptive of your experiences. Section headings do stand out in the reader's mind, so make them work for you.

The current trend in resumes is to leave off the phrase "References available upon request." This is assumed to be true, so there is no need to include it.



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