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The Ultimate 6 Step Guide to Resume Writing

May 24, 2016 Kate Lopaze

The Ultimate 6 Step Guide to Resume Writing

Ah, the resume…the foundation of every job search. Without it, your experiences and your skills are just kind of on the bench, waiting to be pulled into the game. Chances are, you’ve created a resumes for every job you’ve held as an adult—or more accurately, like, many of us, you pulled a hastily edited and patched document through from job application to job application. It becomes a Frankenstein hodgepodge of skills, old jobs, and technical proficiencies in programs that no longer exist (WordPerfect, anyone?) Isn’t it time to give your resume some love, and turn it into a living snapshot of your professional life? Don’t be lulled by the idea that you only need to work on your resume when you have an immediate need for it—a new job search, or an unexpected job interview coming your way. Think of it as a perennial plant: it should be updated at least once a year to stay current and beautiful. That way it’s ready to go when you do need it, or if you just need a quick reference of your most recent achievements (like during an annual review or if you’re asking for a raise). The good news is that it’s never too late to rebuild your resume. Let’s talk about how to write a resume and creating a new one from scratch, whether you’re new to the process or just want a fresh start.

Step 1: Choose Your Format

Step 2: Choose Your Template

Step 3: Choose Your Features

Step 4: Fill In the Outline

Step 5: Proofread

Step 6: Know Your Audience

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Step 1: Choose Your Format

choose-your-format Not all resumes are created the same. Sure, you’ve seen the standard reverse chronological resume that has your address block at the top, followed by an objective (or “find a job, duh” phrased in a much nicer and professional way), your education, your skills, and a backwards tour of your job history. That’s a great format, because it works (classics are usually classics for a reason). It’s clear, and it shows where you’ve been. Yet it’s not right for every job seeker. If you’re a student just out of school, or you’re trying to return to work after a job loss or a break, gaps in that chronological job history could cause raised eyebrows with your interviewer, and distract from the great qualities you would bring to the job.

RELATED: Should You Include a Summary on Your Resume?

So there are alternatives to the same old format. Instead of a chronological format, you could go with a functional format, also known as a “skill-based” resume. In this kind of resume, you lead with a “qualifications summary” of your most important skills (ideally tailored to the specific job for which you’re applying). This lets you give the most space to your most marketable current qualities, if you’d rather focus on your skills over your experience or history. A third option is to mix the two in a “combination” resume. The combination resume is good for mid-career or manager-level applicants, because it demonstrates both your strong work history and the skills you plan to bring to your next job. But what about these fancy video resumes and graphic resumes that the internet tells us are all the rage? They’re great, but for very specific purposes (like if your new job would require on-camera skills or graphic design, respectively). But honestly, a good-old-fashioned resume that you can email or snail mail to someone are still the standard. You’ll never go wrong with a strong, well-written document. You can bring the bells, whistles, and personality in your interview. If you’re having trouble deciding which format is for you, The Muse has more information on how to find the right format for you, and ResumeGenius has a library of different resume types you can review. [mks_separator style="solid" height="10"]

Step 2: Choose Your Template

choose-your-template There are several ways to go about this. You can settle in with your laptop, a caffeinated beverage, and the blank glowing screen of your favorite word processing app, then start outlining your new resume from scratch. If you find the blank screen to be too daunting, or you want guidance, well, you’re in luck! There are many, many tools online (free and cheap) that will help you build your resume. All you need is an internet connection, some time, and a list of all the things you want to include. If you want additional help from career experts, premium resume building sites often offer coaching and help for a nominal fee. TheJobNetwork has you covered on getting started with some of the best resume template sites and apps to use, including:
  • Google Docs, to which you already have easy access if you have a Gmail or Google+ account. This has the added benefit of being able to import information from other documents you’ve saved in your Google portfolio. (Free)
  • ResumeGenius, which specializes in helping you craft your new resume from the ground up. (Premium account required after a free trial period)
  •, which offers templates, samples, formatting tools, and a resume builder. (Free)
  • LiveCareer, which offers expert advice during the resume creation process. (Premium account required after a free trial period)
  • Hloom, which has more than 275 sample resumes for you to review for inspiration. (Free)
You don’t get bonus points for creating your own template, so if you find a format online that feels right for you, use it!

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Step 3: Choose Your Features

choose-your-bells-and-whistles Before you start writing, think about whether there’s anything else you want to include. Do you have a lot of numbers in your resume (revenue, sales, complicated statistics)? If so, think about whether you’d like to include a small infographic or a table to help present the information clearly.

RELATED: Which Font Should You Use on Your Resume?

This is also where you should consider optional elements like the aforementioned “Objectives” section. Some people argue for keeping this traditional part of the resume, as long as you write a clear, well-written one. Others argue that it’s not necessary unless you have a large gap to explain on your resume. The verdict? Include it if there’s an important point to make about your resume, but if you need extra space for skills or work history, it’s expendable. Before you start writing, also put some thought into your font choice. You want something clear, readable, and—above all—professional-looking. Some top choices include Times New Roman, Bell MT, Bodoni MT, Bookman Old Style, Cambria, Goudy Old Style, Calibri, Garamond, and Georgia. No emojis. Ever. And remember: friends don’t let friends use Comic Sans. Also, keep the page layout clean as well. You may feel tempted to use tiny margins or make font size tiny to fit everything in, but you should stick to a basic guideline of 1 inch margins and size 12-14 font for resume body text. Keep in mind that someone might well be reading your resume on a small phone or tablet screen, so you want it to be as readable as possible. [mks_separator style="solid" height="10"]

Step 4: Fill In the Outline

fillintheoutline Whichever format you’re using, replace any sample text with your own. As you copy and paste, make sure you’re reviewing everything closely for accuracy. (And making sure that you’re not leaving any dummy text in. “Lorem ipsum” is not going to make much sense to the reader if it pops up in the middle of your skills summary.) If you’re winging it without a set template or app, go one section at a time. Depending on the format you choose (chronological, functional, combo), the order may vary:
Your main information.

Marco C. Polo

1313 Mockingbird Lane

Cleveland, OH 11111


Objective (optional)
This is a specific summary of what you’re hoping to achieve with your job search.
This is bulleted list of your hard skills (certifications, software proficiency, language skills) as well as your soft skills (communication skills, leadership skills, problem solving skills, etc.).
Job history/Work Experience
This is a series of your jobs, usually in reverse chronological order (starting with your current/most recent job, then working backwards). The more jobs you accumulate in your history, the choosier you can be about how much information to include for each position. For jobs that are most relevant to the job for which you’re applying, provide as many details as possible. For way-back jobs like your summer spent working at Dairy Queen in high school, consider skipping altogether unless they’re directly relevant to the new job description.
Here is where you’d include information about schools attended, honors received, and degrees completed. You don’t need to include years (you’re not required to indicate your age to potential employers), but be specific about schools and degrees. If you’re just out of school, you can fill in bullets about relevant classwork or extracurricular activities.
Volunteer experience and interests
If you have volunteer experience, you can include it towards the end (space permitting—if you’re going over a page, this is a section that could be better covered in an interview or cover letter).
Unless a job description specifically requests references up front, this is not a section you need on your resume anymore—and in fact, it takes up valuable space you could be using for skills and experience. You don’t even need to add a “references available upon request” line. Most employers take for granted that a job candidate will provide references if things progress. [mks_separator style="solid" height="10"]

Step 5: Proofread

proofread-your-resume You must, must, must proofread your resume closely before you send it out, at a minimum. Ideally, pick a trusted person to read it for you (the picker the person is, the better!). You want another set of eyes that isn’t familiar with every word in the document. This person can help flag any typos, but also let you know if your resume flows well and makes sense. [mks_separator style="solid" height="10"]

Step 6: Know Your Audience

know-your-audience Whichever format you choose, it’s very important to tailor your resume for the job for which you’re applying. If you’re building/rebuilding your resume for the sake of having a new and refreshed one on hand, it’s fine to keep a kind of generic version. But before you send it anywhere, be sure to look closely at the job at hand, and make sure that you’re playing up the skills and experience mentioned in the job description. And with that, you’ve got a new and improved resume ready to go for the next opportunity!

RELATED: The Ultimate Resume Guide for Every Job Seeker


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