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How do I write a good resume?

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General TipsEdit

Did you ever have a job? Did you work for anyone for any length of time to make any money? Have you volunteered anywhere for a cause? A resume or CV (curriculum vitae) is a brief document that serves as a snapshot of your career to date for a prospective employer. He or she is usually using resumes as a quick scan to weed out those that do not meet certain job-specific criteria. If your resume makes the first cut, it will be scanned more thoroughly. A good resume that does it's job well will get you a phone call or email. Once first contact has been made, the resume will serve as a record that the employer can continue to refer to throughout the hiring process.

Be sure to mention anything you've done, such as research papers written in grad school, or volunteer work, if it pertains to your particular industry. For example, if you are applying to be a research biologist assistant, mention that high-level project you've worked on. If you're applying at a non-profit animal rescue organization, mention your volunteer time at the local Humane Society.

If you're applying to an entry level job, be sure to mention your school and your academic achievements and any related extracurricular activities such as Model United Nations or Debate Team. If you are farther along in your career and have gone back to school to get an Associate degree or Professional Certificate, be sure to list it. Getting through school at any time in your life shows determination and staying power. List your achievements, your awards, and any features and publications you've written or contributed to. You may also mention your GPA (if it is very good) and any languages you speak or read fluently. List hobbies only if they might interest the reader. In general, your resume should be kept brief and relate directly to the position to which you are applying, so when in doubt, leave it out.

The old adage "Keep your resume to a page or less" doesn't really apply in the digital age. Most resumes will be read or scanned for keywords by a software application first. It's more important that you meet exactly the top two to four criteria. If you keep it targeted, it should not exceed four or five pages unless you have an extensive list of publications.

A good way to start is just with a blank sheet of paper. List all the data about you that you can think of. Work with a friend, and have him or her help you highlight or circle those things that are most important about you. Many people will make multiple resumes, each weighted toward a particular job or industry, so keep the list - you can use it again and again to customize future resumes.

Now that you have some idea what a resume is for, and how long to make it, here are some suggestions about how to list the information in order.

First section: Summary Edit

This is probably the most dangerous line in your resume. I've seen resumes where the "Summary" is omitted, and in my opinion, I didn't really miss it. The object here is to write what you want to do and how you want to contribute to the company. The person reading the resume (if there is a person) will be trying to match What You Want with What The Company Wants. So, if you're very clear that what you want and how you can contribute match specifically what the employer is looking for, chances are you'll have a sound traditional Summary line.

Summary: A recent community college graduate with strong writing and research skills, looking for work in an academic library setting while attending law school.

You can also use the Summary section as a golden opportunity to create more hits on keywords if you know your resume might be scanned by a computer, as opposed to being read by a human. Here's a good example of a Summary section that has gotten me work in the past because of the words I included. (A list like this doesn't have to be at the beginning, nor does it need to be titled "Summary" necessarily)

"SUMMARY Communicate effectively and tactfully by phone, email, and in person. Databases and hard copy filing systems, reference checking, resume and phone screening, scheduling, preparing meeting materials, writing reference and interview questions, writing correspondence and marketing copy, preparing moderately complex presentations with charts/tables, copy editing, typing 60 wpm, posting to websites, internet research, social networking, Word, Excel, Outlook, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Powerpoint, InDesign, Premiere Pro"

If you're unclear or unsure, leave it out. This rule goes for everything else on your resume. You don't want to give them any reason to put your resume into the "maybe" or "no" pile.

Second section: Experience Edit

This should be chronological, listed with the most recent position held first.

Here is an example of how you can organize each position you've held.

"Marketing/Communications Assistant at CAD Solutions, Inc. June 1992 – September 1995 (3 years 4 months)

  • Maintained contact with database of 2,000 customers via email, phone, and mailings.
  • Offered initial technical support to CAD software end users, referred users to specialized technical support staff when necessary.
  • Supported 12 software developers (office management, basic HR functions, etc.)
  • Layout company collateral (brochures, product sheets, packaging)
  • Wrote, edited, and prepared copy for printing.
  • Coordinated trade show reservations and vendor contracts.
  • Marketed product and distributed collateral at trade shows.
  • Office manager and sole administrative assistant reporting to VP, responsible in VP’s absence."

Keep each bullet point short. Tell what you contributed, not what you did. Quantify if possible. So don't say "I answered the phone, handled the mail, and answered 50 emails per day" - instead say "Maintained contact with database of 2,000 customers via email, phone, and mailings.

Use the terminology of your industry, but if you're applying to an organization outside your industry, spell it out. So in the section above I used CAD, but if I were applying for a different type of non-CAD job I'd say "Computer Aided Design". If you're not sure they'll know what it is, mention it both ways in different places, so that a software application will pick up one or the other.


Third section: Education Edit

This should be chronological, listed with the most recent education completed first.

For example,

"University of California at Santa Cruz Extension, Human Resources Management Certificate, 3.9 GPA, March 2008

University of California at Santa Barbara, Bachelor of Arts, 3.4 GPA, June 1992"

Last section: References Edit

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