Interview committees receive hundreds of job applications for a single position often with only a resume to help guide them to the best candidates. For this reason it is so important that your resume stands out, in a good way. It’s true that you may be qualified for the position but if you don't know how to write a resume then the committee may never know that. Let’s break down the five basic principles of a resume to help get you noticed by the next search committee.
What is a Resume?
A resume is essentially an organized—and pretty—collection of evidence showing that you are qualified for a position; don’t ever forget that. Certainly it can be described as an official list of your professional accomplishments but always remember your audience, the search committee, and write your resume with them in mind.
Why They Matter
As mentioned above, your resume is the only thing standing between you and the perfect position, truly. Surely you have the relevant experience, but unless you can convince the search committee to read through your resume in order to know this then you are just another application to them. A resume can get you an interview and an interview is where you can expand on the details.
How to Write a Resume
Principle 1: Questions to Keep in Mind While Writing
As you are writing your resume, or perfecting your current one, you want to be sure to answer any questions the reader might have.
Questions You Want Answered
What are you trying to convey in this document? Are you trying to demonstrate that you are experienced, passionate, creative, or loyal? What do you want your reader to think upon reading it? Or even upon first glance?
Questions the Interviewer Wants Answered
Always keep in mind what the interviewer is searching for in a resume. They first want to confirm that you meet the minimum qualifications and then search for interesting details second. Which details are they searching for? Be sure to address these queries throughout your resume, as well.
Principle 2: Mind the Technicalities
Nothing is more frustrating for an interviewer than to have to strain your eyes in order to quickly gather information from text. Here are some helpful resume layout tips that make the search a bit easier for the interviewer.
Choose the Right Format
There are three widely accepted (and expected) formats for resumes: reverse chronological format, functional format, and hybrid format. Choose the format that best highlights your relevant skills and experience.
Font and Font Size
The traditional Times New Roman is actually full of sharp edges and corners that make reading it tough on the eyes. Use Arial or Calibri instead in a font size 11 or 12.
One-inch margins on the perimeter and 1.5 or 2 point line spacing are standard margin sizes. Try not to deviate too far from these numbers in order to keep your resume looking clean and professional.
Make it Fun to Look at
In the same spirit as making your resume a breeze to read for the interviewer you might also consider making it fun to look at, as well. Design a quick and clean logo for yourself to include in the header for a fresh and distinguishable look. Add some clean lines to make the sections easier to read.
Principle 3: Cover the Main Points
In any quick Internet search on how to write a resume you will likely find that an “objective” section must be included in the resume. However, according to many professionals this is not necessarily true anymore. Generally it can be assumed that your objective is to get the job and that is evidenced by submitting your application, so leave the objective section out.
Summary of Qualifications
Instead of the objective statement, you should write a short summary of qualifications where you emphasize your strengths and why you would be a good fit for the position.
Quickly list the basic information in a section devoted to education. Start with the most recent education at the top and be sure to include the school name and location, and the degree or certificate earned. You can exclude dates to help keep your age out of the picture.
In clearly formatted sections list only your relevant work experience, starting with your most recent position at the top. Only include the essential information along with one or two bullets outlining your duties in that position. Be sure that each bullet point directly addresses the skills required for the position that you are applying for.
Related Experience (Volunteer, Clubs, Student Government Involvement, Etc.)
This section helps demonstrate your qualifications for the hopeful position that maybe your work history fails to show. Keep this section strictly relevant, though, as too much information can be unprofessional and distracting.
Technical Qualifications (Exams/ Certifications/ Licenses)
If you have any relevant technical qualifications then you can create a section to address this. List only the relevant details here and keep your text to a minimum.
Don't include a list of your references in your resume. Interviewers will generally tell you if they are going to need your references. This allows you to remind your references that they may be contacted soon. It is also helpful if you give your references the details of the position for which you are applying so that they can highlight relevant skills that you have.
Principle 4: Action Verbs, Resume Robots and Impact
There are certain words and verb tenses that can help make your resume more attractive to the reader. Be mindful of these things as you write your resume.
Rather than dully listing your experience and duties, which is likely to bore the reader, opt for action verbs and power words. Instead of simply listing the duties of your previous position try saying something like, “managed the committee” or “implemented the current program.” Search your resume for possibilities to upgrade your descriptions with a few strategically placed action verbs.
Some positions will even filter applications through something like a resume robot. The program first erases all of the careful formatting that you used in order to search for keywords that most closely match the details of the position. This added to the number of years of experience you have gives you an overall score that either sends your resume to the committee or sends it to cyber-trash.
Your resume needs to make an impact. Therefore, only include relevant information and phrase your experience and accomplishments in a way that will reach out to the reader. In other words, make your resume compelling. See this article from Scott Shane Holt: Resume Rescue - Make Sure Your Employment History Is More Interesting Than History Class
Principle 5: Exclude These Things …
Irrelevant Work Experience
Short, sweet and to the point, that’s the theme. They don’t need to know that you scooped ice cream for $8.50 an hour that one time in high school.
Marital status, age, religion and sexuality are all personal details that should remain confidential so feel free to leave them out of your resume.
Third Person Voice
Never write your resume in the third person, only write in the first person. You are the author of your resume as well as the subject and your interviewer knows this as well.
Remember that quirky email address you made a few years ago that has somehow turned into your primary way of contacting people via the Internet? Well, best leave that off of your resume and create a more professional one, instead. Try keeping it simple like [email protected].
Give It a Second (and Third) Glance and Then Go!
Once you have settled on the most compelling resume you could create don’t stop there. Come back to it later or the next day and read it again with fresh eyes and a rested mind. Do this several times and even periodically after that to always be sure that your resume is relevant to the present day as well as the position for which you are applying. If you follow these five basic principles on how to write a resume then you will get your resume one step closer to the hands of the interviewer.