Write a resume
Many, many books have been written on the subject of resume writing. These are more or less useful depending on the match between your goals and those assumed by each author. It's not enough to say, "I want a job." What kind of job do you want? And what are you willing to do to get it?
- Folder of notepaper or notebook
- Comfortable pen
- Microsoft Word
- Web browser
You may not want a notebook with bound-in pages. Rather, consider a looseleaf binder, so you can add or remove pages. An ordinary folder full of plain paper -- the same you load into your printer -- may be fine. You'll be doing a lot of writing, so choose a pen you like. At this time (2008), there is really no alternative to Word; employers expect it. You'll want to be online for both research and submissions.
Who are you?
You need to decide who you are in order to settle on a resume strategy. Don't assume that you are like everyone else. Take notepaper and answer these questions:
- What experience do I have in my chosen field of work?
- In school, dropout, or recent grad, little or no work experience
- A few years' (2-5) experience in your field
- Many years' experience in your field
- Changing fields or going back to work
- Retiree or semi-retiree; may be seeking part-time work
- What kind of work do I seek?
- Blue collar (labor, trades)
- Pink collar (admin, clerical, sales)
- Gray collar (technical, engineering)
- White collar (professional, managerial)
- Government (including quasi-governmental)
- How honest am I?
- This question is very difficult to answer honestly, even to oneself. We all feel that we're honest but obviously some of us are more so than others. Before going further, ask yourself exactly how far you are willing to stretch, bend, or trash the truth.
- Every jobseeker must wrestle with the morality of dishonesty. Every job hunting guide warns against lying. Crudely dishonest resumes will very likely lead to disaster, at the least dismissal. Yet the truth is that few resumes are completely honest, few employers check facts rigorously, and jobs often go to those who "improve" themselves on paper. There is no point in lying stupidly, so don't do that.
List the facts
Make notes that cover all of your work and school time in detail. If you're older, this may be a pretty big job. You need to have all the details available for the job application anyway, even if you don't put them all in your resume.
- For each job:
- Starting and ending dates
- Company name, address, and phone number
- Supervisor's name and title
- Your job title and pay rate
- True reason why you left
- For each school:
- Starting and ending dates
- School name, address, and phone number
- Major, degree or certificate earned
Empty your mind for a moment and write freely about yourself. Tell what you have done that makes you stand out. Forget, for the time being, whether this seems to have anything to do with your chosen field of work. Nobody ever need see your notes; don't hold back. Did you complete a project before time and under budget? Did you take on an extracurricular activity? Are you the best arm wrestler on the block? Whatever it is, write it down.
Write the bald version
It may now be time to switch to Word. Type up your career in reverse chronological order -- whatever you are doing now or did last comes first, followed by successively older items, with the oldest last in the list.
Now go back and insert items from your brag list. Try to find something positive to say about each job you worked. If you're switching careers or returning to work after a long absence, you may have trouble here. Try to look at the time from another angle. If you were a homemaker, you may have excelled at administrative and organizational tasks. If you spent a year bumming around Europe, you may have gained fluency in several languages. Think about it.
Choose a format
Check out sample resumes. There are literally thousands available for you to see on the web, not to mention in books. Do your homework; look over a couple dozen. You are competing with people who have read hundreds.
There are essentially two classes of resume format:
- Chronological: This emphasizes the reverse chronology that you have already written up. This works best for blue and gray collar workers and those who have a solid work history.
- Functional: This puts experience and accomplishments up front. It's not possible to avoid the chronology but this goes further down the page and is kept short. This works best for some pink collar workers and those who have gaps in work or are changing careers.
Note that government positions typically require a chronological format. Federal resume requirements are so strict that at this point, your best bet may be to turn over your resume to a professional writing service that has specific experience in this area.
At this point, you should be writing entirely in plain text. By "format", we mean the order in which you write things -- the overall organization of the document. Do not use any sort of bold, italic, or other text formatting. Save your Word file in plain text only.
Take a humility pill. Realize that most employers have very little interest in you as a human being. Ruthlessly cut away anything that does not profile you as a better worker for the position you seek.
Optimize your language to present yourself in the best possible light. You must confront your limits on honesty here. It's probably stupid to invent jobs you never had but if you ever told somebody what to do on the job, you may want to say you have supervisory experience. There is no point at all in holding back here; maximize.
Use action words, like "completed" and "surpassed". Try to state specific, quantifiable achievements, such as "Reduced overhead costs by 15%". You may need to think past the scope of your own job to see the end result; for instance, "Assisted department to exceed quota".
Proofread. Proofread. Proofread again. Especially for anything beyond entry-level work, you cannot afford the slightest error in spelling, grammar, or punctuation. Beware of common usage traps such as "to", "two", and "too"; or "there" and "their".
Circulate for comment
If you have friends, make them all read your draft resume. Print it out double-spaced and hand them red pens to make corrections. Depending on your friends and your social skills, you may do well to stand over them and insist they make changes; otherwise, you will get a lot of drafts returned with nothing but the comment, "looks great". Stress that you will not be satisfied until they demolish your writing completely. It does you no harm at all and a great amount of good.
If you are a weak writer generally, you may do well to get professional help at this point. You certainly want to pass it by someone you absolutely trust when it comes to proper English.
Incorporate changes that seem wise and ignore the rest.
You must struggle to put your draft aside, preferably for at least a week. Think about anything else meanwhile. When you take it up again, try to see it as a stranger would. Is this strong and professional? Does it leave any room for doubt?
Cut any remaining negatives. This is a resume, not a biography. You may well want to avoid out-and-out lies but you do not have to include all the truth -- you can't, in any case; there's no room. Include only the best.
Up to now, you have worked in plain text only. This is smart, since sometimes that is exactly how your resume will be seen. This is the electronic age; many employers will never see a paper copy. Before going further, adjust lines and paragraphs so that your resume works in plain text. Save this file as a plain text only (.txt) document.
Now, add a discreet amount of text formatting. Generally, you'll want to bold the first line of each job (date and company name). You might bold your name. Avoid going too far in this direction but make the paper attractive. Save this file as a Word (.doc) document.
Some employers want plain text, others want Word; still others prefer Adobe Acrobat. You should be able to convert your Word file to an Acrobat (.pdf) file; do this.
If you have the technical skill required, you may also want to produce an equivalent HTML format resume. You can always try the Save As Web Page feature in Word -- but beware that this creates generally poor quality code.
Upload all of your files -- somewhere. Best is at the root of your own domain, a domain with a name you can read easily over the phone. Free hosts are second-best, since they may require lengthy and confusing URLs to be read or written.
- Do be sure to include your name, cell phone, and email address. There is no point looking for a job unless you carry your cell phone with you at all times. Avoid funky and cute email addresses; get one that says "business".
- Do print clean paper copies of your resume on good-quality white paper. Kinko's is not a perfect service but you can generally walk in, download the Acrobat file, and have the clerk print from it directly at low cost. You will not always use the paper copies but when you want them, you'll make a good impression.
- Do begin with a clear statement of your objective, headed by your desired job title.
- If possible, do create alternate versions of your resume. You may do well to have a version tailored specifically to each prospective employer. In this case, alter your objective to match the job description.
- Do submit your resume electronically. Random or indiscriminate submissions may not do any good but these days, employers generally prefer "soft copy".
- Do pay attention to what each employer demands. Some say to paste your plain text resume into the body of your email; some say to attach it as a Word document. Absent specific instructions, the best way may be to email a link to your resume, where you uploaded it. Not everyone wants attachments.
- Do introduce your resume -- by snailmail, with a covering letter; by email, with a couple of covering paragraphs. It's fine to write these up ahead of time but you must tailor them to the individual employer.
- Don't include info about hobbies, let alone religious or political affiliations, unless you are certain these will bear directly on your work.
- Don't include a photo, unless you are applying for an acting position, in which case you want to submit a standard 8x10 glossy black and white headshot only.
- Don't be cute. This includes crazy fonts, white-on-black text, graphics of any kind, and wacky statements. Be normal; employers frighten easily.
- Don't exceed two pages; for anyone with less than 10 years' work experience, one is enough. Remember that the goal is to summarize your career, not to tell it in detail. Pick out the best and leave the rest. Nobody will read past the second page anyway and simply having a third will be cause for rejection.
- Don't use "resume paper"; equally, don't use cheap paper. You want good, heavy, white paper only.
- Don't use your own (or an office) printer unless it's very good. There is a world of difference between "best quality" from an inkjet or tired laser printer; and the crisp typography you get from a high-end machine at a print shop.
- Don't send out your resume without some sort of covering letter or covering paragraphs. Nobody likes impersonal submissions.
You may be tempted to employ a professional resume writer; there are certainly thousands of them. Some work cheap, some charge hundreds of dollars.
Trouble is, if you can tell the difference between a good resume and a bad one, you may as well write your own. If you can't tell the difference, how will you decide who to hire or if you've got your money's worth?
No matter how difficult, unpleasant, or time-consuming you think it will be, it's probably better for you to learn to do this yourself.
No resume will get you a job. You should probably not even expect one to get you an interview except by default. Put yourself in the employer's shoes:
- You have advertised for one foobar operator and now you have 200 resumes waiting your attention. Half of them are completely unsuitable; they are from desperate people who have never even seen a foobar. You go through your email inbox at top speed, quickly deleting anything that does not say "foobar"; you also delete anything that catches your eye and offends you in the slightest. You go through the stack of paper resumes and immediately trash anything on funky paper or with poor printing; again, if it doesn't say "foobar", preferably in the first few lines, it goes.
- Now you go through the submissions a second time. You are looking for the one resume that exactly matches your requirement for a foobar operator. Anything that seems to head in a different direction goes straight to the trash. You are hoping to cut down the stack to only a small handful that you must actually read to decide who to call for an interview.
This is a process of elimination. As a worker, your first goal is not to be noticed. You do not want to give the employer -- more likely in the first pass, an underpaid secretary -- any excuse to chuck your resume toward the trash can. You want your exceptional qualities to surface only on the third pass -- the first reading.
Experts agree that this first "reading" lasts anywhere from 30 to 60 seconds -- no more. If you don't get put on the short stack in that time, you're not going to make it. So whatever best foot you have, put it forward.
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