So, you’ve found that job posting that looks a little too good to be true. You want to put your best foot forward, but you haven’t even gotten your resume in order. Sound familiar?
Since your resume is your potential employer’s first impression of you, resume writing is a serious task — one that can’t be started without getting your life together first.
Here’s what you should do before you start writing your resume:
1. Introspection is key
Before you even set pen to paper (or really, in this day and age, boot up your laptop), you first have to decide what it is you’re aiming for. This applies to both new job seekers and to those who simply wish to embark on a new phase of their career. Do you have a goal in mind for what you want to do with your life or where you want your career to go?
If you need some help discovering your career path, check out these approaches:
● Search your soul: Set some time aside to ask yourself important questions about where you would like your career to go. Brainstorm what you enjoy doing, think through your priorities, or ask yourself questions like where you would like to see yourself in ten years. The conclusions you arrive at will be instrumental in helping you find your way.
● Take a test: If you’re interested to see if there are any options that you haven’t previously considered, there are plenty of free career tests online, such as Sokanu’s Career Test or the O*NET Interest Profiler, which is created by the U.S. Department of Labor. In these tests, you answer a set of questions and see if your interests or personality are suited for a certain career path. After that, you can research your results and see if it’s what you want.
● Talk to a professional: If you feel that talking to an unbiased professional would benefit you, seeking guidance from a career counselor may be a good move. A career counselor’s job is to guide you through your career choices. He or she may first find out more about you and your interests, and then give you suggestions based on what he or she knows about you and her expertise on the salaries and skills required for various fields. Though this option costs between $75.00 to over $1,200.00 per hour-long session, some colleges offer free counseling to alumni, so be sure to explore your options thoroughly.
Once you decide on your path, it will be easier to see what assets you have that will take you where you wish to go.
2. Gather your information
If you already have a dream job in mind, great! The next step is figuring out what an employer in that field is looking for in an ideal candidate and preparing accordingly. According to this article by Workopolis, only 2% of job seekers make it to the interview, with a well-crafted application being what elevates you to the top 2% of contenders. Therefore, having a resume that provides a lot of targeted information clearly and concisely is one of the best ways to make the strongest impression possible.
To create a competitive resume, be sure to take a stroll down memory lane and compile these important tidbits:
● Relevant previous work experience, including specific dates of employment.
● Pertinent certifications, licenses and awards, honors, and activities.
● A list of your publications.
● Your GPA, but only include this if it’s above a 3.0.
Once you get all this information together, you can use it to build the case that you are exactly what your would-be employer is looking for.
3. Ready your portfolio, website, and/or LinkedIn profile
Whether it’s a hard copy binder or online, a portfolio is a collection of your best work that your potential employer can peruse to determine if you have the skills they are looking for. It’s a valuable tool, providing incontrovertible evidence that you’re the real deal, and not overselling yourself. Depending on the industry you’re hoping to enter, particularly if it’s arts related, a portfolio may even be required.
A personal website often serves the same purpose as an online portfolio, with more biographical information in the form of an “About” section, and some additional features, such as a blog and contact page. Having a personal website greatly increases your visibility, and is known to impress would-be employers when he or she Googles you. So, if you have one, make sure that it’s up-to-date before including it on your resume.
Finally, in this age of social media, your LinkedIn profile is quickly becoming a must-have on your resume. Therefore, an important step to preparing your resume is optimizing your LinkedIn. Although the information on both your resume and LinkedIn profile may seem similar, make sure that it’s not identical. Think of your LinkedIn as an additional opportunity to showcase yourself, so don’t waste it!
4. Brainstorm your skills
Now that you have your past accomplishments laid out in front of you, it’s time to analyze the concrete skills that led to your success.
For first time job seekers :
If this is your first-ever resume, start by thinking about your achievements from school or other endeavors. If you’re a student, were you on the executive board for a club? If you’re a stay-at-home mother, did you run a fundraiser? Maybe you can even leverage your travels by emphasizing the skills you gained. Even if these are not “jobs” per se, they require certain skills to pull off, skills that you can put on your resume.
For job seekers who have gone through the grind before :
If this isn’t your first job, that means you must have some work experience you can glean skills from. If your previous job is similar to the one you’re seeking, then this part should be fairly easy because you already know the skills necessary for success.
However, if your next job is in a completely new field, identifying and convincingly presenting transferable skills between jobs will be your most critical and difficult task. Nevertheless, doing so will make you a much stronger candidate.
Don’t forget soft skills!
When assembling your list of skills, in addition to the more technical hard skills, such as typing or operating certain machinery, don’t forget to work in soft skills that may not be so obvious at first, such as people skills or leadership skills. If you can show that you are a well-rounded individual with the appropriate skills, it will convince your would-be employer that this job is right up your alley and that you are the best person for the job.
5. Check in with your references
This tip is a matter of courtesy. Although a list of references is not customarily part of the resume, it’s a resource that should be available upon request. Therefore, before crafting your resume, it may also be a good idea to take a moment and ponder who would make an appropriate reference.
Before you list names and contact info of your references, however, you should remember to make sure that the people you’re volunteering are okay with your potential employer contacting them. Not only are you showing your references that you respect them and don’t come off entitled to their good reviews, but asking for their permission ensures that your references aren’t taken by surprise when they are contacted by your would-be employer. After all, you want your reference to be prepared when the call comes!
To make sure that you get the best possible recommendation, your reference should know what you are applying for and you should remind them of what you did while working under him or her. If possible, provide a template highlighting what you would most like the reference to emphasize. Even if you are the best job candidate, if your potential employer can sense that your references are caught off guard or don’t really know who you are or what you did, that reflects badly on you. You come off as disrespectful and unorganized, two strikes against you that will turn off any would-be employers.
6. Determine what format works best for you
Resumes usually fall under one of three formats: reverse chronological, functional, or a combination of both. Each of these formats has their own advantages and disadvantages. You should choose accordingly, depending on which format presents your character and professional background in the most positive light.
Here’s a quick explanation of the differences between the three formats:
● Reverse chronological : With this format, since your work experience is listed in reverse chronological order, would-be employers can easily discern upward mobility with your roles and responsibilities, making you a highly attractive candidate. However, despite being the most common format, it puts applicants who have a work gap or who don’t have as much work experience at a disadvantage, since your experience is front and center.
● Functional: Since functional resumes lead with the skills section and gloss over your past jobs, it’s good for applicants who would like to conceal a gap in their work experience, such as a stay-at-home mother returning to the workforce. Since functional resumes aren’t as common, hiring managers sometimes interpret it as a red flag, so be sure to back up your resume with a compelling cover letter and be ready to field questions about it in the interview.
● Combination: Another format that puts the skills section first, this format is ideal for applicants who are going for a very technical job or one who might be seeking to switch fields. After all, this format emphasizes your skills, which may be transferrable, and draws attention away from your work experience, which may not directly correlate with the job you’re applying for. A mix of both of the preceding ones, this format could be the perfect fit for your career path. However, since this format still has your work history in it, it is unable to conceal work gaps, so if you have any, you should choose a different format.
Before you start writing, make sure you take a good look at your career up until now and choose the format that will best showcase it.
7. It’s all in the words
Word choice for your resume is also of critical importance. For one, most companies now run resumes through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) that will scan your resume for relevant keywords. If your resume doesn’t hit enough of the keywords, your resume may never even reach human eyes before it’s summarily rejected.
However, if your resume does reach a human, one thing you don’t want crossing his or her mind is: this is boring. Bear in mind that it’s likely that he or she has probably at least skimmed through hundreds of resumes before yours, so if your resume doesn’t stick out or command a presence, it won’t leave much of an impression.
Here’s how you can ensure that your word choice makes your resume stand out from the rest:
● Research, research, research : A quick search of similar job postings should inform you what keywords have direct bearing on your industry. Work these into your resume, but don’t go overboard. Don’t forget to catch related keywords, as well.
● Ready a list of action verbs: Action verbs are important tools to have readily accessible because they vividly describe your actions and don’t take up as much space as passive voice. They also make you sound more authoritative, since you are actively implementing duties, instead of the duties passively happening to you. Employers love assertive resumes because they are more inclined to entrust you with important tasks.
● Dust off your thesaurus : Making use of a thesaurus will keep you from the monotony of repetition, thus keeping the hiring manager engaged. So, even if you have all this experience and know-how, it won’t amount to much if you can’t frame it with descriptive and powerful words that will resonate with your would-be employer.
With the perfect words at your fingertips, you can weave them all together to compose a resume that will earn the approval of both the robots and the hiring manager.
8. Style counts!
This is one of those steps that seems trivial compared to the others. However, the font you choose can factor into your potential employer’s first impression of you. Choosing a silly font is going to make you stand out, but not in a way that you may want. Instead, fonts that convey reliability and trustworthiness are your best bet.
Likewise, you want to help out your would-be employer as much as you can, so you should prioritize readability for your resume over something ostentatious. Depending on the typeface, something too flashy can obscure or distract from your message. If you want some suggestions on fonts that have proven to be well-liked by recruiters, take a look at this list of best fonts to use on your resume.
9. Be prepared to kill your darlingsPhoto of William Faulkner by Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
No matter how long and illustrious your career, your resume should not be a document that rambles on and on. If you consider the hundreds of resumes hiring managers have to power through, it’s natural that they wouldn’t spend more than six seconds on each resume, as this study by The Ladders. This leads to an old adage that your resume shouldn’t exceed a single page, which still holds true today. Therefore, you should approach writing with the mindset: be concise.
If you find yourself hesitating, take some advice from a famous writer, William Faulkner, and be prepared to kill your darlings. While this advice sounds extreme, what Faulkner really means is that you should be mentally ready to cut stuff out of your writing, even if you take great pride in writing it.
This idea can also be applied to resume writing. Maybe you have a fondness for that first job you ever took or that high school club you participated in. However, if neither of these are pertinent to the job you are seeking, it’s best to just trim out the unnecessary information or reword it more efficiently.
Wrapping things up
Sitting down and writing your resume isn’t something you should approach haphazardly. Being mentally prepared and having all the appropriate information ready will result in a better looking and better received resume, making the job hunting process all the more smooth. So, don’t be afraid to take your time and brainstorm away!
About the author:
Lauren McAdams is a hiring manager, career consultant, and lead writer at ResumeCompanion.com. She’s been quoted by sites like Forbes, Fox Business, and TechRepublic, and her resume templates and career advice on Resume Companion have helped hundreds of applicants find their dream jobs. When she’s not busy enriching the lives of job seekers, she’s either sipping on coffee or a glass of wine – depending on the time of day of course.
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