Resume Writing 101--Eight Great Basics for Success

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I spend a lot of time working with clients who want to reinvent themselves, change jobs or industries, or just reenergize dull, boring resumes.  I am surprised (though I shouldn’t be after all this time) at the number of resumes that don’t have the basic components or break some of the obvious rules of good writing. 


      For instance, I worked with a client whose original resume was six pages long! From the length alone, an employer would know this person doesn’t know the first thing about resumes—two pages, three max.  He could also surmise the applicant isn’t able to discern what is important (has to include everything).  Five pages of jobs is a red flag.  Is she a job hopper, or no one wants to keep her around very long.  Here are some resume basics you can use to review your resume or write a new one.

     1.  Formatting – keep it simple, with sufficient white space.  If you need half-inch margins all around to make everything fit on one page, you’ve said too much.  All the fancy indents, underlines and bolding won’t download well, so either do without or create a separate resume file in text-only (.txt) format for email attachments or downloads.

      2.  Contact information – I like it at the top, with name, address, phone number (cell is best), fax number if you have one, email address, and LinkedIn address.  LinkedIn is becoming THE place for employers to review prospective employees, so make it easy for them to find you.

      3.  Two pages, three max.  There is a difference between a resume and a CV (curriculum vitae.)  If you are a professional (doctor, lawyer, symphony conductor, journalist, writer, etc.) and your published works or every orchestra you’ve conducted is standard in your profession, the CV is a lengthier, more inclusive document.  Most job seekers only need to give job history for the last 10 years or so, education, related training, awards/recognition and special interests.  As a former HR Director, I rarely read anything over two pages, especially in an email or download.

      4.  A summary statement.  This is a three-sentence condensed version of your entire resume.  It’s the teaser—the hook that compels a hiring manager to read more.  Ditch the “Objective Statement.”  If it doesn’t exactly match the job, you won’t go any further in the hiring process.  An exciting summary statement lets the reader make his own decision.

      5.  Dates – Yes, you need them for your job history.  I was always suspicious if they weren’t there.  What is she trying to hide?   The hiring manager is going to ask for them anyway, so don’t waste his time getting information that should be there in the first place.  No graduation dates are necessary, since they can reveal your age range.

      6.  Job responsibilities.  For each job listed, you need a short, one or two sentence description of your highest level duties and/or those that are most applicable to the job.  You don’t have to include you made copies and cleaned out the break room refrigerator every other week (unless that’s part of the new job description).

      7.  Accomplishment statements.  This is the biggest basic item missing from most resumes.  If it was part of your job description to manage projects or budgets, it’s a job responsibility and it belongs in # six above.  Accomplishments are quantifiable, extraordinary things you did that saved the company money, time, won an award, turned things around, secured a big client, made you a member of the company’s Million Dollar Roundtable, or something of that caliber.  They are measured in percentages, dollar amounts, client recommendations, etc.  This is the “WOW” factor that sets you apart from all the other candidates that just showed up and did their jobs (# six above).

      8.  Technical/computer skills.  Be specific.  Don’t just say Microsoft Office.  Make a list of all the software programs you worked with on your jobs, unless they are obsolete.  Do you know CAD or SAP?  If you are a programmer, list all the languages you have used.  Think about the types of technical and computer-based programs or software that are hot in your industry and list those as well.

Review your resume to see if you’ve got the basics covered.  If not, that may be the reason the phone isn’t ringing.  What other things are important on a resume?  Share these in the Comments section below.


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  • Mary Nestor-Harper, SPHR
    Mary Nestor-Harper, SPHR
    Hi Robert,Glad you found the article helpful.  Good luck on your job search.
  • Robert D
    Robert D
    I really enjoyed reading the above information, it will become very useful when I decide to update my resume.Thank you.

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