What Is a Resume?
As a first step in creating a resume, examine what a resume is and consider what it can and cannot do. The word “resume” describes a one- or two-page summary of your skills, training, and employ- ment history. Although resumes traditionally have been submitted on paper, they are increasingly sent in electronic form over the Internet. Whatever a resume’s form, the idea is to highlight specific
parts of your past that demonstrate that you can do a particular job well.
A resume presents you to prospective employers who, based on their response to the resume, may or may not grant you an interview. Along with the application form, the resume is the tool employers use most to screen job seekers.
Do You Really Need a Resume?
So, a resume is clearly a tool to use in getting a job, right? The answer to this is both yes and no.
Some People Say You Don’t Need a Resume.
For a variety of reasons, many career professionals suggest that resumes aren’t needed at all. Some of these reasons make a lot of sense.
- Resumes aren’t good job search tools. It’s true: Resumes don’t do a good job of getting you an interview. Other methods (such as networking) are much more effective. When you use your resume in the traditional way, it’s more likely to get you screened out than screened in.
- Some jobs don’t require resumes. Employers seeking to fill office, managerial, professional, and technical positions often want the details of your experience provided in a resume. But for many jobs, particularly some entry-level, trade, or unskilled positions, resumes typically aren’t required. Often, completing an application—either on paper or at an application kiosk at the front of the store—is all that’s required.
- Some job search methods don’t require resumes. Many people get jobs without using a resume at all. In most cases, these people get interviews because they are known to the employer or are referred by someone the employer knows. In these situations, a resume might help; but the employer might not even ask for it.
- Some resume experts call a resume by another name. Many other names are used in place of the word “resume,” including “professional profile,” “curriculum vitae or CV,” “employment proposal,” and other terms. One resume book author, for example, advises you not to use a resume. Instead, he advises you to use a “qualifications brief.” In all their forms, however, they are really various types of resumes.
Some Good Reasons to Have a Resume
Although there are some legitimate arguments for why a resume isn’t all that important, the reality is that most job seekers need to have a resume. In my opinion, there are several good reasons why.
• Employers usually ask for resumes. If an employer asks for a resume, why make excuses? If you can’t provide a resume, there are plenty of other applicants who can and will. This alone is rea- son enough to have one. • Resumes help structure your communications. A good resume requires you to clarify your job objective; select related skills, edu- cation, work, or other experiences; and list accomplishments—and present all this in a short format. Doing this is an essential step in your job search, even if you don’t give the resume to anyone. If you’ve put some effort into writing your resume, you’ll find that you’re much better prepared to speak about yourself in networking situations and interviews. • If you use it properly, a resume can be an effective job search tool. A well-done resume presents details of your experiences effi- ciently so that an employer can refer to them as needed. You can also use it as a tool to present the skills you have to support your job objective and to present details that are often not solicited in a preliminary interview. In other words, the resume helps you tell the employer what you want them to know about you, and often provides the employer with a starting point for interview discus- sions.
Everyone Thinks They’re a Resume Expert
A resume is one of those things that almost everyone seems to know more about than you do. If you were to show your resume to any three people, you would probably get three different opinions on how to improve it. And they would probably contradict one another.
One person might tell you that you really should have only a one- page resume (“And how come no references are listed?”). Another will tell you that you should list all your hobbies plus your spelling-bee victory from the sixth grade. The third may tell you that your resume is boring and that you should hand print it in red ink on a brown paper bag to get attention.
Few experts agree on the best way to prepare your resume. Even then, the advice differs depending on your particular situation. This means that you will have to become your own expert and make some deci- sions on how to present your qualifications.
Although the example of the brown-bag resume is a bit extreme, some pro- fessions (such as arts and design) allow for a bit more creativity in present- ing your qualifications. Part 3 gives some examples of creative resumes that aren’t too far out in left field.
Resume Basics—for Print and Electronic Formats
I’ve developed some basic guidelines for you to consider as you devel- op your resume. Although these aren’t hard-and-fast rules, they are based on many years of experience and common sense.
Many of these guidelines assume a traditional, printed-on-paper for- mat rather than a resume submitted electronically (you can read more on resumes for the Internet and other electronic uses in chapter 4).
But you will likely need a paper resume and an electronic resume, and this advice will help in either case.
Length: Make Every Word Count
Opinions differ on length, but one to two pages are usually enough. If you are seeking a managerial, professional, or technical position and have at least 10 years of experience, two pages is the norm. In most cases, a busy hiring manager will not read all of a resume that is lon- ger than two or three pages. Shorter resumes are often more difficult to write than longer ones; but when you do them properly, they can pay off.
If you can’t get everything on one page without crowding, you are bet- ter off going onto a second page. Just be sure that you fill at least two- thirds of the second page. You can use a bigger point size, narrower margins, and more spacing between sections to expand your text to fill the second page.
Surveys have consistently shown that most employers and recruiters read resumes in only 10 to 30 seconds. That’s all! The more unnecessary words you include in your resume, the more likely it is that the important information won’t get read at all. So, keep your resume short and concise.
Write a long rough draft and then edit, edit, edit. If a word or phrase does not support your job objective, consider dropping it. Force your- self to shorten your resume to include only those words that build a case for why you should get an interview. You can start by putting down too much information to make sure you’re not leaving anything out or shortchanging yourself. But then you need to boil it all down to the essential information.
I am amazed how often an otherwise good resume has typographical, grammatical, or punctuation errors. Employers who notice will not think highly of you and your lack of attention to detail.
Even if you are good at proofreading, find someone else who is good at proofreading and ask this person to review your resume—carefully. If possible, wait at least a day (or longer, if you can) before reading your draft again to approach it with fresh eyes. A day’s delay will allow you to notice what your resume says, rather than what you think it says.
An old proofreading trick is to read your resume backwards, starting from the end. You will notice misspelled words better when you’re not distracted by the way the sentence flows.
Then, after you’ve read your resume, read it again to make sure you catch the errors. Then go over it again. Remember that spell-check can find misspelled words, but it won’t find words that you’ve used incor- rectly (such as “manger” instead of “manager”).
Use Action Words and Stress Accomplishments
Most resumes are boring. So don’t simply list what your duties were; emphasize what you got done! Employers want to know what you can do for them—how you can help them solve their problems, reach their goals, save money, make money, and edge out the competition. If you tell them only your basic past duties, you aren’t distinguishing yourself from other job seekers. All resumes can start to sound alike.
But, if you highlight accomplishments, you will set yourself apart from your competition by showing employers how you can add value. Like an interview, your resume is no place to be humble. If you don’t communicate what you can do, who will?
Make sure that you mention specific skills you have to do the job, as well as any accomplishments and credentials. Even a resume put together quickly can include some of these elements.
The list entitled “Use Action Words and Phrases” in chapter 2 gives ideas on how to word your accomplishments, as do the sample resumes in part 3 and throughout the book.
Write It Yourself
Although I expect you to use ideas and even words or phrases you like from the sample resumes in this book, it is most important that your resume represent you and not someone else. Present your own skills and experience, and support them with your own accomplishments.
If you do not have good written communication skills, get help from someone who does, such as a professional resume writer. Just make sure that you are familiar with what’s in your resume and that it sounds like you wrote it.
Make It Look Good
Your resume’s overall appearance will affect an employer’s opinion of you. In a matter of seconds, the employer will form either a positive or a negative opinion. Is your resume well laid out? Is it crisp and profes- sional looking? Is it easy to read?
Photocopy and Print with Quality
Almost all printed resumes are produced on high-quality laser printers with word-processing software such as Microsoft Word. If you don’t have a computer and printer that can produce high-quality print, have someone else print it for you. Your resume must be of the highest qual- ity, so don’t even consider using an old printer that does not produce excellent print.
When you’re satisfied with your resume, you may want to print larger quantities than one-by-one on your computer printer. In that case, consider having a print shop make good-quality photocopies of your resume from a laser-printed original or your word-processing file. Most quick-print shops, including the national chains such as FedEx Office and PIP Printing, will do the word processing and printing for a mod- est fee, or you can pay an hourly rental fee to do it yourself on their equipment. Ask to see samples of their work and fees—and be willing to go to a few places to get the quality you want.
Don’t print too many copies of your resume at one time. Start with about 25 because you’ll probably want to customize it for different jobs. You might be tempted to make hundreds of copies to do a large mailing, but resist that
temptation. Mass mailings are usually not an effective job search method. It’s better to target your resume to each specific position and employer you are interested in.
Use Good Paper
Never print your resume on cheap, thin paper like that typically used for photocopies. Papers come in different qualities, and employers can see the difference. Papers that include cotton fibers have a richer texture and feel that is appropriate for a professional-looking resume. Most stationery and office-supply stores carry better papers, as do quick-print shops.
Although most resumes are printed on white, off-white, bone, or ivory colored paper, you can also use other very light colors in shades of tan or gray, but I do not recommend red, pink, or green tints. Also avoid heavily textured, dark papers; they will not produce clean photocopies and will not allow the text to show up well if your printed resume is scanned into a company’s database.
Once you’ve selected your paper, get matching envelopes. You may also find matching Monarch-size papers and envelopes. This smaller- sized paper (7¼ × 10½ inches), when folded once, makes for an inex- pensive and perfectly acceptable thank-you note.
Don’t Waste Valuable Time Fretting Over Your Resume
Making contacts and getting interviews is far more important than having a “perfect” resume. So your task is to create a simple but acceptable resume quickly—then use it in an active job search. You can create a better resume later. For now, use your simple one to get started on your job search without delay.
Three Types of Resumes
To keep this simple, I’m going to discuss only three types of resumes. There are other, more specialized types, but these are generally the most common and useful types:
• Chronological • Skills • Combination
The Chronological Resume
The word “chronology” refers to a sequence of events in time, and the primary feature of this type of resume is the listing of jobs you’ve held from the most recent to the least recent. This is the simplest of resumes and can be an effective format if you use it properly. Many employers prefer it to other formats. Chapter 2 shows you how to cre- ate this basic type of resume.
The Skills, or Functional, Resume
Instead of listing your experience under each job, this resume style clusters your experiences under major skill areas. For example, if you are strong in “communication skills,” you could list a variety of work and other experiences under that heading. You would also include list- ings for several of your other major skill areas.
This format makes little sense, of course, unless your job objective requires these skills. So you must first determine the skills that are most important in the job and set up your skill categories to match.
A skills resume is often more difficult to write than a simple chrono- logical resume. Also, most employers do not favor this type of resume because they think the candidate is trying to hide something. But if you have limited paid work experience, are changing careers, or have not worked for a while, a skills resume may be a superior way to pres- ent your strengths and avoid displaying your weaknesses.
Combination and Creative Resumes
You can combine elements of the chronological and skills formats in various ways to improve the clarity or presentation of your resume. You can start the resume with skills categories and end with a list- ing of your jobs and the dates you worked there. This is often a good compromise.
There are also creative formats that defy categorization but that are clever and have worked for some people. I’ve seen resumes laid out like newsletters; unusual paper colors, sizes, and shapes; resumes with tasteful drawings and borders; and lots of other ideas. Some of these resumes were well done and well received; others were not.
WEIRD RESUME FORMATS
For your entertainment, here are some resume formats and presenta- tions that I have seen or know of. Please, if you ever credit me for this list, be sure to mention that I thought many of these were bad ideas. But, then again, some of them did work.
• A cluster of helium-filled balloons, each with a copy of the same resume attached and a note saying, “Please hire me!”
• A small gift bag containing a handwritten resume and a stuffed bear. The bear was holding the candidate’s JIST Card (which you will learn about in chapter 3).
• A box of candy with a resume inside.
• A 24-x-24-inch box, shipped overnight, with a balloon and con- fetti inside. As the recipient opened the box, the balloon floated up and spread confetti around. This, of course, was intended to surprise and delight. But these days people are more likely to be frightened by an unexpected package from a stranger.
• And, yes, I really have seen a resume handwritten on a melon that was painted white.
I could keep going, but I don’t want to encourage these types of resumes. They certainly get attention, and some people insist that they helped them land jobs. Such resumes might even make some sense in certain creative jobs such as marketing, graphic design, or sales—or in creative industries and organizations. But, for most situations, my advice is to stick to less outrageous approaches.
Your Resume Is Only as Good as How You Use It
You’ve probably gotten the message loud and clear that the way you use your resume is more important than how it’s written. That is why I suggest that you focus on actively getting interviews right away instead of sitting at home working on your resume. As you have time later, you can develop an improved one.
Resumes Don’t Get Jobs
Contrary to the advice of many people who write resume books, writ- ing a “dynamite” or “perfect” (or whatever) resume will rarely get you the job you want. That will happen only following an interview, with just a few odd exceptions. So the task in the job search is to get inter- views and to do well in them. Sending out lots of resumes to people you don’t know—and most other traditional resume advice—is a waste of your time.
Tips on the Right Way to Find a Job
If you are particularly anxious to get on with your job search with- out delay, here are some basic tips on getting a good job that I have learned over many years.
• Know your skills and their value. If you don’t know what you are good at and what difference you can make to an employer, how can you expect anyone else to figure it out? One employer survey found that about 80 percent of those who made it to the interview did not do a good job presenting the skills they had to do the job. If you don’t know your skills and accomplishments and how they relate to a particular job, you can’t write a good resume or perform well in an interview, and are unlikely to get a good job. • Have a clear job objective. If you don’t know where you want to go, it will be most difficult to get there. You can write a resume without having a job objective, but it won’t be a good one. Part 2 helps you find jobs that are a good fit for you. • Know where and how to look. Because three out of four jobs are not advertised, you will have to use other job search techniques to find them. Part 5 provides additional information on the tech- niques I recommend you use in your search for a job. • Spend at least 30 to 40 hours a week looking if you’re unem- ployed and about 10 to 15 hours a week if you’re currently employed. Most job seekers spend far less time than this. As a result, they take much longer to find a new job than necessary. So, if you want to get a better job in less time, plan on spending more time on your job search. • Get two interviews a day. It sounds impossible, but this can be done once you redefine what counts as an interview. Part 5 helps you do this and get those two interviews a day. Compare getting two interviews a day to the average job seeker’s activity level of four or five interviews a month, and you see how it can make a big difference. • Present yourself well in interviews. You are unlikely to get a job offer if you don’t do well in this critical situation. I’ve reviewed the research on what it takes to do well in an interview and found, happily, that you can improve your interview performance rela- tively easily. Knowing what skills you have and being able to sup- port them with examples is a good start. Part 2 includes a chapter on identifying your key skills and helps to prepare you for inter- views—as well as for writing a superior resume. • Follow up on all contacts. Following up can make a big differ- ence in the results you get in your search for a new job. Parts 4 and 5 have tips for sending thank-you notes to anyone who helps you along the way.
No one should ever say that looking for a job is easy. But you can take steps to make the process a bit easier and shorter than it typically is. Getting your resume together is something that hangs many people up for entirely too long.