24 Preparing Your Resume

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Your resume is a one or two page summary of you your education, skills, employment experience, and career objective(s). It is not a biography just a quick way to identify and describe you to potential employers. Most importantly, its real purpose is to sell you to the company you want to work for. It must set you apart from all the other applicants (those competitors) out there.

So, as you sit down to formulate your resume, remember you're trying to present the pertinent information in a format and manner that will convince an executive to grant you an interview, the prelude to any job offer. (If you feel you need more help in resume preparation, or even in the entire job search area, we recommend Your First Resume by Ronald W. Fry.)

An Overview of Resume Preparation


  • Know what you're doing your resume is a personal billboard of accomplishments. It must communicate your specific worth to a prospective employer.

  • Your language should be action oriented, full of "doing" type words. And less is better than more. Be concise and direct; don't worry about complete sentences.

  • Be persuasive. In those sections that allow you the freedom to do so, don't hesitate to communicate your worth in the strongest language. This does not mean a long list of self congratulatory superlatives; it does mean truthful claims about your abilities and the evidence (educational, experiential) that supports them.

  • Don't be cheap or gaudy. Don't hesitate to spend the few extra dollars necessary to present a professional looking resume. Do avoid outlandish (and generally ineffective) gimmicks like over sized or brightly colored paper.

  • Find an editor. Every good writer needs one, and you are writing your resume. At the very least, it will offer you a second set of eyes proofreading for embarrassing typos. But if you are fortunate enough to have a professional in the field a recruiter or personnel executive critique a draft, grab the opportunity.

  • If you're the next Michaelangelo, so multi talented that you can easily qualify for jobs in different career areas, don't hesitate to prepare two or more completely different resumes. This will enable you to change the emphasis on your education and skills according to the specific career objective on each resume, a necessary alteration that will correctly target each one.

  • Choose the proper format. There are only three we recommend chronological, functional and combination. It's important you use the one that's right for you.
The Records You Need

The resume writing process begins with the assembly and organization of all the personal, educational and employment data from which you will choose the pieces that actually end up on paper. If this information is properly organized, writing your resume will be a relatively easy task, a simple process of just shifting data from one format (record keeping sheets) to another (the resume format you'll use later in this chapter, including a fill in the blanks form).

As you will soon see, there is a lot of information you'll need to keep track of. In order to avoid a fevered search for important information, take the time right now to designate a single location in which to store all your records. My recommendation is either a filing cabinet or an expandable pocket portfolio. The latter is less expensive, yet it will still enable you to sort your records into an unlimited number of more manageable categories.

Losing important report cards, citations, letters, etc., is easy to do if your life's history is scattered throughout your room or, even worse, your house! While copies of many of these items may be obtainable, why put yourself through all that extra work? Making good organization a habit will ensure that all the records you need to prepare your resume will be right where you need them when you need them.

For each of the categories summarized below, designate a separate file drawer or, at the very least, file folder in which pertinent records can be kept. Your own notes are important, but keeping actual report cards, award citations, letters, etc. is even more so. Here's what your record keeping system should include:

Transcripts (Including GPA and Class Rank Information)

Transcripts are your school's official record of your academic history, usually available, on request, from your high school's guidance office or college registrar's office.

Your college may charge you for copies and "on request" doesn't mean "whenever you want" you may have to wait some time for your request to be processed (so don't wait until the last minute!).

Your school calculated GPA (Grade Point Average) is on the transcript. Most schools calculate this by multiplying the credit hours assigned to each course times a numerical grade equivalent (e.g., "A" = 4.0, "B" = 3.0, etc.), then dividing by total credits/courses taken. Class rank is simply a listing of GPAs, from highest to lowest.

Employment Records

Details on every part time or full time job you've held, including:

Each employer's name, address and telephone number

Name of supervisor

Exact dates worked

Approximate numbers of hours per week

Specific duties and responsibilities

Specific skills utilized

Accomplishments, honors

Copies of awards, letters of recommendation

Volunteer Activities

Just because you weren't paid for a specific job stuffing envelopes for the local Republican candidate, running a car wash to raise money for the homeless, manning a drug hotline doesn't mean that it wasn't significant or that you shouldn't include it on your resume. So keep the same detailed notes on these volunteer activities as you have on the jobs you've held:
  • Each organization's name, address and telephone number

  • Name of supervisor

  • Exact dates worked

  • Approximate numbers of hours per week

  • Specific duties and responsibilities

  • Specific skills utilized

  • Accomplishments, honors

  • Copies of awards, letters of recommendation
Extracurricular Activities

List all sports, clubs or other activities in which you've participated, either inside or outside school. For each, you should include:
  • Name of activity/club/group

  • Office(s) held

  • Purpose of club/activity

  • Specific duties/responsibilities

  • Achievements, accomplishments, awards
Honors and Awards

Even if some of these honors are previously listed, the following specific data on every honor or award you receive should be kept in your awards folder:
  • Award name

  • Date and from whom received

  • What it was for

  • Any pertinent details
Military Records

Complete military history, if pertinent, including:
  • Dates of service

  • Final rank awarded

  • Duties and responsibilities

  • All citations and awards

  • Details on specific training and/or special schooling

  • Skills developed

  • Specific accomplishments
Creating Your First Resume

There are a lot of options about what to include or leave out. In general, we suggest you always include the following data:
  • Your name, address and telephone number

  • Pertinent educational history (grades, class rank, activities, etc.)

  • Pertinent work history

  • Academic honors

  • Memberships in organizations

  • Military service history (if applicable)
You have the option of including the following:
  • Your career objective

  • Personal data

  • Hobbies

  • Summary of qualifications
And you should never include the following:
  • Photographs or illustrations (of yourself or anything else) unless they are required by your profession e.g., actors' composites

  • Why you left past jobs

  • References

  • Salary history or present salary objectives/requirements (if salary history is requested in an ad, include it in your cover letter)

  • Feelings about travel or relocation
Special note: There is definitely a school of thought that discourages any mention of personal data marital status, health, etc.on a resume. While I am not vehemently opposed to including such information, I am not convinced it is particularly necessary, either.

As far as hobbies go, I would only include such information if it were in some way pertinent to the job/career you're targeting. Your love of reading is pertinent if, for example, you are applying for a part-time job at a library. But including details on the joys of "hiking, long walks with my dog and Isaac Asimov short stories'' is rarely correct.

Maximizing Form and Substance

Your resume should be limited to a single page if possible, two at most. When you're laying out the resume, try to leave a reasonable amount of "white space"-generous margins all around and spacing between entries. It should be typed or printed (not Xeroxed) on 8 1/2" x 11" white, cream or ivory stock. The ink should be black or, at most, a royal blue.

Don't scrimp on the paper quality-use the best bond you can afford. And since printing 100 or even 200 copies will cost little more than 50, if you do decide to print your resume, overestimate your needs, and opt for the highest quantity you think you may need. Prices at various "quick print" shops are not exorbitant; the quality look printing affords will leave the right impression.

Use Power Words For Impact

Be brief. Use phraseology rather than complete sentences. Your resume is a summary of your talents, not a term paper. Choose your words carefully and use "power words" whenever possible. "Organized" is more powerful than "put together;" "supervised" better than "oversaw;" "formulated" better than "thought up."

Strong words like these can make the most mundane clerical work sound like a series of responsible, professional positions. And, of course, they will tend to make your resume stand out. Here's a starter list of words that you may want to use in your resume:

Choose The Right Format

There is not a lot of mystery here-your background will generally lead you to the right format. For an entry-level job applicant with limited work experience, the chronological format, which organizes your educational and employment history by date (most recent first) is the obvious choice.

For older or more experienced applicants, either the functional-which emphasizes the duties and responsibilities of all your jobs over the course of your career-or combination-halfway between chronological and functional-may be more suitable. While I have tended to emphasize the chronological format in this chapter, one of the other two may well be the right one for you.

Here's What To Avoid

In case we didn't stress them enough, here are some reminders of what to avoid:
  • Be brief and to the point-Two pages if absolutely necessary, one page if at all possible. Never longer!

  • Don't be fancy. Multi-colored paper and all-italic type won't impress employers, just make your resume harder to read (and easier to discard). Use plain white or ivory paper, blue or black ink and an easy-to-read standard typeface.

  • Forget rules about sentences. Say what you need to say in the fewest words possible; use phrases, not drawn-out sentences.

  • Stick to the facts. Don't talk about your dog, vacation, etc.

  • Resumes should never be blind. A cover letter should always accompany a resume and that letter should always be directed to a specific person.

  • Almost doesn't count. Your resume must be perfect-proofread everything as many times as necessary to catch any misspellings, grammatical errors, strange hyphenations or typos.

  • This is your sales tool. Your resume is, in many cases, as close to you as an employer will ever get. Make sure it includes the information necessary to sell yourself the way you want to be sold!

  • Spend the money for good printing. Soiled, tattered or poorly reproduced copies speak poorly of your own self-image. Spend the money and take the time to make sure your resume is the best presentation you've ever made.

  • Help the reader, by organizing your resume in a clear-cut manner so key points are easily gleaned.
On the following pages, I've included a "fill-in-the-blanks" resume form so you can construct your own resume, plus a couple of samples of well-constructed student resumes.

WORK EXPERIENCE Include job title, name of business, address and phone number, dates of employment, supervisor's name and title, your major responsibilities, accomplishments and any awards won. Include volunteer experience in this category. List your experiences with the most recent dates first, even if you later decide not to use a chronological format

REFERENCES Though you should not include references in your resume, you do need to prepare a separate list of at least three people who know you fairly well and will, you believe, recommend you highly to prospective employers. For each, include job title, company name, address and telephone number. Before you include anyone on this list, make sure you have their permission to use their name as a reference and confirm what they intend to say about you to a potential employer.

Have you been asked in an ad to amplify your qualifications for a job, provide a salary history and college transcripts? Then that (minimally) is your objective in writing. Limit yourself to following instructions and do a little personal selling-but very little. Including everything asked for and a simple, adequate cover letter is better than writing a "knock-'em, sock-'em" letter and omitting your salary history.

If, however, you are on a networking search, the objective of your letter is to seek out contacts who will refer you for possible informational or job interviews. In this case, getting a name and address-a referral-is your stated purpose for writing. You have to be specific and ask for this action.

You will no doubt follow up with a phone call, but be certain the letter conveys what you are after. Being vague or oblique won't help you. You are after a definite yes or no when it comes to contact assistance. The recipient of your letter should know this. As they say in the world of selling, at some point you have to ask for the order.

Who?

Using the proper "tone" in a letter is as important as the content-you wouldn't write a letter to your television repairman using the same words and style you would employ in a letter to the director of personnel of a major company. Properly addressing the person or persons you are writing is as important as what you say to them.

Some hints to utilize: the recipient's job title and level, his or her hiring clout (if they are just a pass along conduit, save your selling for the next step up the ladder), the kind of person they are (based on your knowledge of their area of involvement).

For example, it pays to sound technical with technical people-in other words, use the kinds of words and language which they use on the job. If you have had the opportunity to speak with them, it will be easy for you. If not, and you have formed some opinions as to their types then use these as the basis of the language you employ. The cardinal rule is to say it in words you think the recipient will be comfortable hearing, not in the words you might otherwise personally choose.

What?

What do you have to offer that company? What do you have to contribute to the job, process or work situation that is unique and/or of particular benefit to the recipient of your letter?

For example, if you were applying for a sales position and recently ranked number one in a summer sales job, then conveying this benefit is logical and desirable. It is a factor you may have left off your resume. Even if it was listed in your skills/accomplishment section of the resume, you can underscore and call attention to it in your letter. Repetition, when it is properly focused, can be a good thing.

Which?

Of all the opening sentences you can compose, which will immediately get the reader's attention? If your opening sentence is dynamic, you are already fifty percent of the way to your end objective-having your entire letter read. Don't slide into it. Know the point you are trying to make and come right to it.
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