When you are applying for most types of work, employers will expect you to have a resume, a one or two page summary of your qualifications. A resume is one of the components of your career portfolio. The purpose of a resume is to draw an employer's attention to your most significant skills and accomplishments. It is a marketing tool designed to get you invited for an interview. It should be short, visually appealing, and easy to read.
Many books have been written about how to write an effective resume. Unfortunately, the advice given is not always the same. Different authors sometimes have different opinions about how a resume should look and the information it should contain. For example, many authors emphasize the need for a "job objective" statement at the beginning of your resume that describes the type of work that you want and your strongest qualification(s) for it. Leaving it out, they say, could imply that you don't know what you want. Authors argue that you don't need a job objective statement because your goal is obvious or can be stated in a covering letter.
In the end, you have to use your own judgment about what will market your skills most effectively for the type of work that you want. If you are uncertain, write a draft resume, then show it to people who work in your target industry, and an employment counselor or two. Ask them to suggest improvements and accept their comments without argument. Chances are, you will get a variety of opinions. Then make up your own mind!
Writing a resume is a process of gathering information together, choosing the information that is most relevant to your objective, selecting a resume format, putting a draft resume together, and editing your draft until it is as impressive as you can make it.
The first step is to gather facts about your employment and education history, and do some work on identifying your skills and accomplishments. Create a "fact sheet" by listing the following facts about your employment and education history:
- The names, addresses, and telephone numbers of former employers, dates of employment, and names of supervisors.
- Job titles, descriptions of duties, a list of your skills and situations in which you have demonstrated those skills.
- The names and addresses of education/training institutions you have attended, the programs you completed, major areas of study or training, and any awards or recognitions you received.
- Volunteer experience, hobbies, other activities and memberships that show you have knowledge or experience related to the type of work you want, or show that you have positive characteristics such as positive initiative.
- The names, addresses, and telephone numbers of your references. Whenever possible, your references should be people who have supervised your work.
Click here for more information on references.
The second step is to determine your objective and to isolate the information that is the most related to achieving that objective. Example: Say you're applying for a job as a supervisor. The obvious objective would be to get that position. In order to do that however, you must decide what skills, training, and experience the employer is looking for. You then tailor your resume to highlight all your skills, etc. that fit in that profile.
The third step is to choose a resume format. These are basically four types of resume formats to choose from:
- Chronological: This resume lists past work experience in chronological order from most recent to last recent.
- Functional: Functional resumes are used to lists skills. They omit references to past employment or simply list past employers with no description of key responsibilities carried out. Frequently no dates are supplied.
- Combination: This type lists both skills and employed history
- Electronic: Electronic resumes are ones that list key words in noun form in an uncluttered format so that they can be "read" by electric scanners.
Each resume format has advantages and disadvantages. Purely functional resumes may be appropriate in some circumstances, but studies consistently show that most employers view them with suspicion. For this reason, only chronological, combination, and electronic resumes will be further discussed.
- Most widely used.
- Logical flow makes it easy to read.
- Highlights a steady employment record.
- Emphasizes growth and development in employment history.
- Easier to prepare.
- Exposes drawbacks such as employment gaps, job changes, and lack of related experience or career progress.
- Highlights most recent employment, not skills.
- Suitable for the job candidate with no paid employment background or for an individual who has been out of the job market for an extended period.
- This format is not appealing to most Canadian employers. They want to see employment background, including dates and key duties in sufficient detail, so that they can assess its relevance for them.
- Highlights most relevant skills and accomplishments
- Minimizes drawbacks such as a gap in employment and a lack of directly related experience.
- It can be confusing if it is not well written.
- Downplays experience with specific employers
- Harder to prepare.
- Your resume will be retrieved from the employer database for any position in which your qualifications match the requirements put out by the employer.
- Need to rewrite resume and change its format.
The forth step in preparing a resume is to write a draft. The following tips summarize commonly accepted advice.
- Keep it simple and clear - One page, two at most.
- Emphasize your accomplishments and achievements. Wherever possible, describe how your work benefited your former employers.
- Avoid the word pronoun "I" and inexpressive words such as "I was responsible for..." or "My duties involved...". Use "action" words to describe your work.
Click here for a list of action words.
- Be honest. Don't exaggerate yourself or misrepresent yourself - most employers check information. On the other hand, don't sell yourself short by being humble or modest.
- Type your resume on good quality, white or off-white, standard business size bond. As to the clean, professional look of your resume by using wide margins and listing things in point form to create lots of "White Space" on the page. Use boldface type and/or underlining to highlight information
- Make sure there are no errors in spelling, grammar, or typing.
- List a telephone number where you can be reached during the day. Or, list two telephone numbers, one where messages can be lest during the day and an evening number.
- Don't sign or date your resume, or put the title "resume" at the top.
The fifth step is to edit, edit, edit. Then edit some more until your skills are represented as concisely and dynamically as possible. Use a minimum number of words, but avoid using abbreviations.
Before you prepare the final copy, ask as many people as possible to give you feedback on the final draft. You need to find out if your resume gives a clear and appealing picture of your best qualifications.
When you have a resume drafted, ask yourself (and the people you show your drafts to) the following questions:
- Is it attractive and easy to read?
- Do the key points and headings stand out?
- Is it concise (no unnecessary words or sentences)?
- Is all the information relevant and positive?
- Does every statement emphasize a skill or ability?
- Does every item begin with an action verb?
- Are there any spelling or grammar errors?
Once you have completed these five steps you are ready top begin the distribution of your resume. You have several options for delivering a resume and cover letter to your employer. It can be hand delivered, mailed, faxed, or e-mailed. When e-mailing, it is probably safest to send it as part of the e-mail message or in a text attachment only, although you will sacrifice all formatting. Or you can send it as an attachment file (check first if your program is compatible with the employer's). In all cases, follow up with the employer to make sure your resume was received. You can also send a hard, clean copy in regular mail after you have faxed or e-mailed your resume. It doesn't hurt for you to be reviewed more then once, or by different people, and the hard copy will make better photocopies for a review panel.
Remember to keep a copy of your resume for future reference. When you have found work, update your portfolio and resume regularly so that you won't forget about some of your accomplishments.
Your choice of whom to name as a reference is very important. Most employers check references, especially when they are seriously considering hiring someone.
Many employers like to see the names, position titles, addresses, and telephone numbers of three to five references listed on a resume; however, listing references on your resume has two potential disadvantages.
- Listing the references may make your resume look too long.
- Your references may not appreciate getting a lot of calls if you distribute your resume to many different employers
An alternative to listing your references on your resume is to have a typed list ready for employers who ask for them. Remember to put your name on it too if your references are listed on a separate sheet.
Always ask your references for permission to use their names. Tell them about the type of work you will be applying for and describe the skills you want to emphasize. Ask them directly if they feel comfortable recommending you directly for work. If they don't feel comfortable about it, they won't be able to give you a strong recommendation and it may be better to go with someone else It's always a good idea to give your references a copy of your resume and point out how your qualifications apply to your objective. The better informed your your references are, the better prepared they are to answer your questions when employers call them.