How to Write a Professionally Prepared Résumé

A résumé is NOT your entire life history or a shopping list of every job you ever had, every little Java/JEE task you performed at your job or a “one size fits all application”.— Java/jee Resume Companion

Like a product brochure in which you are the product, your résumé must answer the employer’s question “What can you do for me?”

Think clarity, brevity, and accuracy when developing a résumé to impress the recruitment officers. It should summarize your education, work experience, past achievements, and interests, as well as highlight your skills in a positive manner.

A resume (résumé) is a document that briefly summarizes your skills, education, work experience, achievements, professional memberships, and other relevant information to convince your prospective employer of your suitability to the job opening/organization.

Your résumé is the core of your job application and your first chance to “sell yourself” to the organization. Think of it as an advertisement of you. Your résumé should convince your prospective employer that your skills, abilities, and experience are transferable to the advertised role and make you a more competitive candidate for the position.

The résumé helps the organization to discern right away whether or not you are an appropriate candidate for their firm, and what sets you apart from other applicants.

Structure of a Professionally Prepared Résumé

A résumé is an essential marketing tool in your job search and career progression but unfortunately only few people are trained to write a professionally prepared résumé. Matias (2005, 2006) suggests that how a résumé is structured, organized, and written reflects one’s personal characteristics.

Decision makers don’t have time to read each résumé from cover to cover. Candidates then should always concentrate on what they have to offer and not attempt to represent themselves as something they are not, regardless of what the agency says they want.

Various acceptable styles and formats of résumé exists. However, because the résumé represents the professionalism of the applicant and recruiters use it to summarize an applicant’s qualifications, it must be professionally prepared, make an impression, and quickly capture the reader’s attention.

The following are general guidelines for résumé preparation:

1.  Research the employer and the job before writing your résumé.

There are two kinds of résumé: generic and targeted (job-specific).

A generic résumé contains your contact information, work experience, and educational background. You can post a generic résumé on your social-media site and hand it to prospects as you encounter them.

A targeted résumé, by contrast, is aimed at one prospective employer and is the product of serious research into that organization. It shows how your capabilities, experience, and education match up with the job requirements as well as the mission and values of the organization. If you really want the job you’ve researched, you send a targeted résumé.

  • To draft a targeted résumé, study the job description carefully.
  • List the job requirements and sketch in your relevant skills and experiences next to each requirement.
  • Do not send a “one size fits all” generic résumé to your targeted employer.
  • If you already have a generic résumé, rewrite it to target specifically the needs and requirements of the job you’re applying for.

2.  Choose a résumé format that emphasizes your skills and abilities. If possible, limit résumés to one page.

Useful résumé templates are available on the Internet and in your word processing program. Choose a templates that gives a clean and open impression. Avoid templates that include flashy graphics, multiple boxes and borders, unusual fonts, or large contrasts in font size or style.

There are two common résumé formats: the chronological (traditional) format and the functional format. We recommend that you use the functional format. See figure below for a contrastive view of these two formats.

A functional résumé uses your skills and abilities as subheadings so that your skills and abilities are immediately visible to readers.

Functional resume format

A chronological format résumé often uses the dates of employment as headings. The dates can demonstrate the continuity in your work history, but they fail to emphasize your skills and abilities. Even if you decide to use a chronological format, add boldface and other emphasis techniques to help make the résumé more effective.

Chronological résumé format

3.  Prepare a detailed working list of all positions, activities, or other experiences that can validate your skills and abilities.

This list is merely a preliminary source of information. Later, you can choose and refine items to emphasize in your résumé. Positions are only the beginning. Especially if you have limited job history, you need to consider any non-job activities or experiences:

  • Have you been active in a local club—maybe even served as an officer?
  • Do you sew and tailor your own clothes?
  • Do you make routine repairs on automobiles?
  • Can you speak, read, or write a foreign language?
  • Are you an amateur photographer?
  • With which computer programs are you experienced?

In each of these activities, you will have used or developed skills. These skills will be highlights in your résumé.

4.  For each job, activity, or experience you decide to include in your résumé, list accomplishments or skills using an action verb and specifics.

This write-up of accomplishments or skills is where you really begin to sell yourself. Remember to target your list to the specific job you are applying for. As an example of how to develop skill descriptions, assume that you were the treasurer for a local sports club. You could initially list this fact as follows:

  • Treasurer, Loma Linda Sports Club,

Unfortunately, the title of the position and the name of the club are not really informative. So, to beef up the preceding information, you should add specifics, especially numbers, if they apply:

  • √ Collected and kept account records for over 100 members.
  • √ Prepared the club’s 2009—2010 annual budget ($300,000).
  • √ Handled payments and prepared financial reports for monthly meetings.

NOTE 1: The preceding three phrases begin with an action verb—that is, a verb that suggests actions or accomplishments. Phrases of this sort are both more forceful and shorter than a full-sentence narrative. You can also use three phrases in a displayed list in your résumé.

  • not this As club treasurer, I worked to prepare the club’s annual budget for 2009—2010, which was roughly $300,000.
  • nor this In 2009—2010 I was responsible for planning and preparing the annual club budget, which provided roughly $300,000.

Both of the preceding are wordy, and they each bury kepoints in the middle of the sentence.

NOTE 2: Most phrases on résumés will begin with the past-tense verb, but if you are still performing the task or you still hold the job, then use a present-tense verb:

  • √ Collect and record dues for over 1,000 members.
  • √ Prepare the club’s annual budget ($300,000).

5.  List job information and education as accurately as possible, and include specifics.

Both your list of jobs and your list of educational credential should be complete and accurate. Usually, you should explain any obvious gaps or other unusual information.

Lying or omitting information would be grounds for dismissal later if your employer discovers the problem. Observe the following:

  • √ Director, Sale Operations, Argent Consulting, Vancouver, BC 2006—present
  • √ Sales Manager, QuadB Software, Toronto, ON 2005—2006
  • √ Client Partner, Haxton Sokol Consulting, Chicago, IL 2001—2005

When appropriate (considering the job you are applying for), add specific skills or accomplishments:

  • √ B.S. (2005), Business Administration, University of Maryland—(Emphasis: International Financial Markets and Exchange Rates). London Internship, Spring 2006, Barclays Bank.
  • √ I.I.M. (2011), World Commerce Law, University of Bern (CH). Thesis compared legal requirements for drug approvals in Europe, Japan, and the United States.

Be specific about your accomplishments and skills, including numbers and dates:

  • √ Boosted leads in fiscal 2010 from 30 to 238 and divisional revenues from $6.2 million to $12.4 million.
  • √ Created, in one year, a proactive marketing program that increased positive media coverage 650%.
  • √ Led cross functional team that cut costs 50% by implementing preconfigured hosting solutions.
  • √ Earned green belt certification in Six Sigma quality improvement process and applied it to reduce cycle time 20% within 3 months.

6.  Omit references from your résumé, but prepare a separate list of references for submission when requested.

Most résumés nowadays don’t list references. Even mentioning in a résumé the availability of references is now unnecessary. Every employer assumes that applicants are prepared to provide references when requested.

Always ask references for permission to use their names. Sometimes, a person would rather not be listed. The person might not know enough about you or might feel that he or she can’t be positive about your skills.

Usually, the list of references includes one or more recent job supervisiors, as well as perhaps one non-job reference who can talk about your character.

7.  Review your résumé a final time before submitting it to verify the completeness and accuracy of the information and to avoid inappropriate information.

A final review is an essential step when a single error or unintentional omission in your résumé may eliminate you from consideration for a job. If possible, ask one or more friends to review your résumé, both for content and for mere mechanics (spelling, punctuation, and consistency). Someone else’s eyes will see your errors more readily than your eyes would.

  1. One priority is to check all company names, personal references, and numbers to verify that you have names correctly spelled, any titles accurately listed, and current contact information. Make sure your contact information is for telephones and internet connections that will not embarrass you if accessed.
  2. A second priority is to avoid mentioning information that is now illegal. Do not provide any information about your race, age, sex, religion, ethnic background, or family situation—as it provides potential objectionable information to an employer. You should also not mention your physical condition unless you have a problem that would limit your ability to perform a certain.

The best way to handle topics that you should avoid is to remove some specifics from your application. If your age might be a decision factor, you might choose not to list the graduation dates for your academic degrees. If you need to mention a church activity, do so without mentioning the name of the denomination:

  • this Social Chair for Church Adult Forum (over 100 active members) 2006–2009. Planned monthly socials and three annual spring weekend retreats.
  • not this Social Chair for the Presbyterian Adult Forum (over 100 active members) 2006–2009. Planned monthly socials and three annual spring weekend retreats.

8.  Attach a cover letter when you submit a résumé.

The cover letter is your best opportunity to tailor and personalize your application.

In your cover letter, you introduce yourself and your résumé, tell why you’re applying for the job, and ask for an interview. Many employers are more interested in your cover letter than your résumé because it tells them why you’re applying and gives insight into your personality.

Don’t submit an offhand or “one size fits all” cover letter. You must target your cover letter to the specific needs and values of the prospective employer. Study the job description and list the requirements. Study the mission, vision, and values statements of the organization to get a feeling for the culture.

Ideally, your cover letter is a one-page proposal to fill an important business need that you’ve identified in your research about the job. The following is a basic format to follow.

  • √ Start by summing up the problem or opportunity your prospect faces and how you plan to help solve it. Use numbers that are meaningful to the prospect.
  • √ Give evidence that you can solve the problem and, if applicable, that you have solved it in the past. Evidence includes work and educational accomplishments that would lead your prospect to conclude that you’re right for the challenge.

  • √ Provide contact information and request a meeting.

Let the job requirements govern the form of your letter. For example, if the job posting mentioned attributes such as “attention to detail,” “hard working,” and “team player,” you might use these three phrases in your letter as headings in the body of the letter.

If, for example, you are addressing the “team player” requirement, you might have a brief paragraph like this one:

Team Player
  • I work well with people and can coordinate activities effectively. My job as a retail clothing buyer (at Meyers Clothing) required me to work closely with retail sales clerks, with management, and with the financial planners. My last performance review at Meyers rated my team skills as excellent.

In a cover letter, you might also include personal details that would set your application apart from the dozens of other applications. Here, for example, is a possible closing with a personal comment:

  • In our phone conversation, you mentioned that Ajax employees set their own working hours. My current job—at Hoffmann’s Condiments—allows us to work flexible hours. I usually get in by 6:45 a.m. so that I can be home by late afternoon for quality time with my family.

    Ajax sounds like a great place to work. Please call me at (555) 445-3396 (my cell) if you would like me to come in for an interview.

Most organizations now accept soft (electronic) copies of your résumé and cover letter when you apply for a job, but it’s a good idea to send hard copies as well. Print these documents on high-quality paper—not ordinary copy paper.

Fox (2005-2006) and Hackett (2005-2006) suggest additional general strategies for résumé preparation:

  • Strive to be concise and clear. The purpose of the résumé is to get an interview, not a job, so it is not necessary to go into detail about each accomplishment.
  • Use bulleted sentences rather than lengthy paragraphs. A résumé is typically reviewed in just 15 to 30 seconds. Bullets make it easier for someone to quickly scan a résumé and still absorb it.
  • Use action words such as developed, created, or supervised.
  • Lead with your strengths. Put those strong points first where they are more likely to be read (i.e., your top skills and experience should be prioritized in the first or upper most section of your résumé, well organized with the following sections: Achievements, Skills, Employment history and Education).
  • Leave white space. Use a font size no smaller than 10 point. Limit the length of your résumé to one or two pages.
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  • References
    • FranklinCovey Style Guide: For Business and Technical Communication Resumes (Pg 274–277) By Stephen R. Covey.
    • Leadership Roles and Management Functions in Nursing: Theory and Application Résumé Preparation (Pg 254-255) By Bessie L. Marquis, Carol Jorgensen Huston.

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