How to Write a Resume: A Personnel Journey
Some tips for how to write a resume
When it comes to how to write a resume and you're like me, you probably think that your accomplishments, expertise, education, and personality are downright impressive.
If you're like me, you've been putting as much of that as possible into writing your resume.
If you're like me, you've tried sending that resume to as many employers as you can.
If you're like me, you're tired of having your talents overlooked.
And, if you're like me, you'll completely reevaluate the way you look at how to write a resume and do it properly.
But I had the advantage of a university career that included teaching writing courses with components on how to write a resume. I had access to expensive textbooks and personal training from instructors who have spent decades teaching students how to write a resume.
But you're not me, and that's why I'm saving you the time and money to help you learn better methods for writing a resume. If you want to make it really easy, though, just send me an email and I can do it for you - I'll even do it for free if your tailored resume doesn't lead to your landing a job. Below, I'll share with you my experiences with resume writing and how I finally put the work in to find out how to write a resume properly
Why trust me when it comes to resume writing?
I spent years writing resumes the wrong way. I would send out copies of the identical resume to dozens of employers every once in a while, never customizing my application much, and never paying attention to what the job posting was really asking for.
Perhaps I persisted in this method because I had a more-than-subconscious desire to NOT get a full time job; I was very happy scrabbling together contract teaching and freelance writing gigs. Sure, there was not a lot of security, and the associated stress left me sleepless, irritable, and unproductive. But that's what it takes while you wait for your dream employer to stumble upon your resume.
BUT THEY NEVER WILL!
The problem is that I never changed my methods for how to write a resume. I should have learned how when it came time to grow up and make my experiences work for me, to get a real job with benefits, consistent pay cycles, and a steady set of priorities. But now, I wanted to work.
Yet, I still believed that if I kept blanketing job boards with a list of my accomplishments stuffed into poorly written resumes, someone would take notice and find me the perfect role.
I was focusing on myself. My accomplishments. My personal narrative. My experiences. But those are not the things that employers want to see most on your resume. Because they're not looking for a person's life story. They want to know that you're ready and able to do the job you've actually applied for. And part of identifying the best candidates is picking out the ones who know how to write a resume properly. Often, it's even a subconscious choice.
What I did wrong in my resume writing
There's an ego component here. You want your employer to know EVERYTHING about you, relevant or not. So your method of resume writing may be to include information about every job you've ever had.
Here's how I was writing my resume in a nutshell. No matter what kind of job I applied for, the reader would see that I had experience in
Writing and Editing
I dare you to find me a single employer who's demanding that combination of experience!
And then there was my tedious list of degrees - 2 bachelor's degrees, a master’s degree, and a PhD, all taking up a hefty block of text. Now throw in 3 stock references and a list of general skills. That's one way to think about how to write a resume.
Obviously, to include all that, my resume ran well over a page, and sometimes into 3 pages.
Needless to say, I got very little response from this style of resume writing. Because if you've ever spoken to a professional about how to write a resume, you know that I've already included a whole bunch of opportunity killers.
6 seconds to tell me who you are
Does anything in my resume stand out to you?
For one thing, there's way too much to absorb, even if you take the time to read every line. And that isn't how employers react to resume writing.
According to TheLadders.net, employers spend about 6 seconds!!! on average looking at a prospect's resume. To get noticed, you need to know how to write a resume that can stand out in just 6 seconds.
That document that you spent an hour drafting, and years developing skills and experience for. All it is is 6 seconds of tedious busy work for whoever looks at it. If an employer doesn't see what they're looking for immediately, off it goes to the reject pile.
So my lengthy, impressive, detailed, and beautifully written monstrosity of a resume might be just the thing for someone who already knows me and expressed interest in my work history, education, volunteerism, and hobbies. All those details remain in my Indeed.com resume, but once I rephrased and organized them properly, they started gaining me a whole bunch of attention from recruiters.
To a stranger, that busy employer with hundreds of documents to process, my 3-page baby is actually a pleasant relief: they can rip it up, delete it, toss it out after the first glance. "That's not how to write a resume" they can chuckle to themselves, and out goes a highly qualified employee, only because he didn't follow the rules of how to write a resume.
"How badly does he want the job if can't be bothered to learn how to write a proper resume?"
How to write a better resume
The most recent course I co-taught before applying for work in earnest was a writing course for engineering students. The very first assignment was to write a resume, tailored to real-life job postings of the students' choice. It was an awkward position for me to be in because I had never gotten a job that I had supplied a resume for - how then could I judge if these students had learned how to write a resume properly?
Sure, I was admitted to multiple universities at the graduate level based on the strength of my CV and other application documents.
And yes I had a part-time job in food service all through college.
And yes I had also been a TA for business courses with a resume writing component.
There was a moment in this particular engineering class that sits with me now, a kind of funny thing. I make it clear to my students when I am a teaching assistant that I may sometimes disagree with the professor. Since I do all the grading for my half of the class, I make sure to tell them it is in their best interest to follow my instructions when they differ from what the prof says.
So, naturally, a student asked me if I had any dissenting opinions from what was being taught by the professor and which was covered in the text book. I responded that, in this case, even if I disagreed, which I didn't, they should definitely NOT listen to me. After all, I had never submitted a successful resume for a job outside academia.
So what did we learn about resume writing?
After reading my little story, you may be wondering "how on earth can I trust you as a guide for my own resume writing?!"
Well, there's an ancient Jewish saying: “I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and the most from my students.” I think we have all experienced this for ourselves. When you learn something new, you can be distracted or uninterested. All you retain is a general idea of what's taught. When you have to study with a classmate or collaborate with a coworker, however, you're forced to carry more of the burden. You've got to focus in order to demonstrate to your equal that you're as capable as they are.
But when you teach! That's something far more challenging altogether. You've got to fully understand the concept and become a master of it. In my case, I had to master how to write a resume.
If you fake your way through a course as a student, you can pull off a good grade by just grabbing on to the key points and buzzwords - I know that got me through a few courses! When you work alongside another person, you end up sharing information intimately. You want to seem like you belong; even if you're faking your knowledge, you have to do more work to keep it up. That's because you've got another person looking at you the whole time.
When you teach, you've got a whole classroom of students hanging on your every word, (well, in my dreams,) judging the quality of your ideas. Not only that, you are tasked with improving their knowledge and abilities of how to write a resume. They'll know if they're not getting value, and you're not going to be rehired if you teach badly.
So, when you teach, you have to really know your stuff.
In my case, I had to make sure that I understood the rules and best practices, and that when I was teaching students how to write a resume, I was doing it right. And when you have to grade dozens of resumes, taking on the role of a prospective employer, you get an eye for what's effective and what isn't.
Is it any wonder that after this intensive on the job training for teaching how to write resumes that I quickly became an expert in writing resumes myself?
What does it take to get your resume noticed?
There are many time-tested methods for making your resume leave an impact in a short time. (Remember the 6-Second rule?) It's actually very simple. The best method for how to write a resume is to make sure that the things employers need to see jump out at them.
Here's what I should have been putting in my applications.
Well, actually, all the right stuff was already there! Mostly.
And here's the exciting news if by this point you're terrified that you'll have to rewrite your resume from scratch. The fact of the matter isn't that applicants typically put the wrong things in, or not enough. Instead, there's frequently too much on there when it comes to resume writing.
Beyond cutting out all the unnecessary information, it's about putting in all the key points clearly, succinctly, and convincingly. Additionally, you need to make it look visually appealing. This doesn't mean elaborate designs and colour (unless your applying for something like a graphic design job.) Just the opposite in fact. You need to keep it clean and simple so that you can make only the key points pop in your new and improved resume.
We can sum up 6 points to remember for getting your resume noticed. Use an acronym: WARCAB
White Space: An eye-catching resume looks clean. Wall-to-wall text will get you sent right to the reject pile.
Accomplishments: When possible, state what you achieved in each role that you've occupied.
Relevance: Include descriptions of your skills only as they relate to work you've done. And only include experiences with relevance to the job you're applying for.
Concise: Learning how to say a lot in as few words as possible takes practice, but it will allow you to jam pack your resume without overloading the senses. Make sure you never repeat any key points.
Alignment: Resume templates exist for a reason. When everything is neatly organized, the mind can focus on the writing without distraction.
Bold: make sure that the most important points are bolded. Doing this part correctly is incredibly powerful for grabbing a reader's attention. Italics can also be effective.
Take a look at what applying these rules did for me when I revised my resume.
This resume, written for a content marketing position, has some obvious changes. A big one is the excision of all irrelevant information. Gone are all but my most recent degree, my list of general skills and qualities, and double gone are all experiences irrelevant to content marketing.
But cutting out 80% of my professional life and personality was just the easy part.
The next part is where my strong writing background and creativity come into play. Notice all the bolded words? Perhaps I overused bolding, but then I have a lot of relevant experiences.
On that first resume, there was so much to take in. As a result of the clutter, no section or words jumped out at you. But take a look at this revised resume again. All those bolded words are major key points you want from a content writer. Here are some of the words that were now being screamed to the reader when I changed my resume writing style:
copy and content
planned and organized
advertising, layouts, and printing
sales and marketing
Now, a quick glance reveals so many words that are relevant to the position. You may wonder, then, can't I just throw in a ton of keywords and be done? Well, no. Because, although the initial view may be about 6 seconds, once you grab the attention of an employer, then they'll be looking more closely at your resume.
So you need to make sure that your greatness still shines. You need clear writing. Use past tense exclusively to show that you have accomplished things. A uniform style makes it easier to read too. Notice as well that I have not used the same keywords twice. This ensures that every line on the resume matters, showing off unique skills and accomplishment.
This level of detail and precision is why many people will benefit from hiring a resume editor.
Two points about the content of your resume bear mentioning here:
If you can get inside the head of the employer, you'll know exactly how to write a resume and be ready to use the right words.
You can get inside their heads by looking closely at the job posting and using the same words.
Now, having done all that, the big question is this: was this better resume effective?
3 days: That's how long it took to Get a positive response and schedule an interview after writing this improved resume.
One of the most important things to remember when thinking about how to write a resume is that if you want to know how to write a better resume, you need to know who is reading it. As with all writing, knowing your audience is key to getting your resume noticed. Once I put that knowledge into practice, resume writing became easier and I was getting much better results.
What is the goal of resume writing?
In addition to knowing your audience, you need to know your purpose in writing a resume.
One of the most difficult concepts to grasp for my students when it came to how to write a resume was understanding the end goal of resume writing. Too many applicants believe that the resume and cover letter land you the job. They equate how to write a resume with how to get hired.
But the truth is much different.
There's a gradual process to how employers find the perfect employee. No one is hiring on a resume alone. People lie on their resume. People inflate their accomplishments. People misunderstand what words mean, and think they have skills that they don't. Sometimes an employer misrepresents the job, soliciting skills from applicants that aren't actually relevant to the job.
Sorting all that out is for the job interview, and sometimes pre-hiring test assignments. There's a whole lot of other things to know about how to interview well. The good news is that the competition pool is a lot smaller once you get to the interview stage, so you want to be putting more effort into learning how to write a resume than in how to act in an interview. Besides, if you are serious and knowledgeable, then just being yourself is a great interview strategy.
Again, the reason for writing a resume is to attract enough attention to win an interview. In fact, your cover letter ought to explicitly acknowledge this fact - you don't ask for the job in your letter, but instead ask for the chance to discuss the opportunity in person. Going about it this way is less presumptuous, and also shows the employer you understand how business is done.
After all, your application package is a set of formal documents with clear and specific functions. If you misunderstand the function, then the form and content will suffer too.
One more time! We don't write resumes to get hired; we write them to win an OPPORTUNITY TO GET HIRED.
5 more things to think about when writing a resume
1. Don't lie!
If you put something on your resume that you can't back up in an interview, you'll quickly realize how much you've messed up. While you want to impress the recruiter with your knowledge and abilities, laying claim to a skill you don't have will come back to bite you. The interviewer will know right away when you can't answer a question related to the thing you lied about. If they see you've lied, the door closes right there, and you won't get the job no matter how perfectly you wrote the resume.
Don't despair though. Sometimes, just knowing how to write a resume and how to follow up effectively in the interview will be enough to make you outshine the competition. Even if you don't have all the required skills, see what happens anyway if you apply. You'd be surprised at how willing some employers are to take a chance on someone who only meets some of the job requirements.
Above all, employers want to see your commitment and ability to learn how to do the job right. If you've spent the time learning how to write a resume the correct way, and you've included relevant details about the company and position in your cover letter, you've already demonstrated how invested you are in your new employer. They'll appreciate the effort you took to write the resume properly and show off how perfect the skills you do have are for the work at hand.
2. Don't oversell yourself!
No one wants to hire a narcissist. Match your style and content to the things the job posting asks for, and don't try to sell additional skills that aren't being asked for. Although, if they may be relevant to the job, that's a different story.
It's a good rule to cut out all adverbs and most adjectives. It actually sounds worse when you tell someone you accomplished a task flawlessly than to say that you accomplished it. Self-praise is not a good look for any applicant.
3. Don't make spelling and grammar mistakes!
A resume full of errors can be a huge turnoff, even if writing isn't important to the job.
When an employer has trouble reading what you write, they'll wonder about your other abilities. Besides, they'll think you didn't even care enough about the job to do a proper edit and proofread. Your writing, especially your resume and cover letter writing, are the first impression an employer may have of you.
Make sure that impression is perfect.
How to write a resume includes knowing how to write a proper sentence!
4. Don't use the same resume for every job!
You can't impress anyone if you're trying to impress everyone. Show employers that you are listening to their needs by addressing them in your tailored application documents. How to write a resume is all about knowing who is reading your resume and why.
5. Don't waste time!
It's tempting to think that sending out as many resumes as possible is an effective job hunting method. Perhaps in an economy where there are more jobs than employees, that's worthwhile. But today there are far more talented and capable workers than there are jobs that require them all. A Recent statistics Canada study found that is as hard as it has ever been for recent graduates with a bachelors degree to find jobs that match their skills and training.
That doesn't mean there isn't the perfect job for you out there. In fact, taking the time to figure out exactly what you want and need out of a job can help you limit your job search and refine your application materials. It's a lot easier to write a good resume when it's for a job you really want.
But if you just send out applications everywhere without thinking, you can easily pass over the job that would have been perfect for you. Instead of putting together a perfectly written resume and enthusiastic cover letter, you could end up sending out your generic documents instead. This means that your dream employer will not see you.
When you just focus on the jobs you really want, you'll be motivated to use what you've learned to write the best resume you can. A better resume means a better chance of employment. Focus, then, just on the jobs you really want, and you'll immediately find writing resumes a lot easier and more rewarding.
Are you ready to get noticed?
If you're like me, you'll take these lessons about how to write a resume to heart when you update your resume. You'll get noticed more when you follow these resume writing tips. When you know how to write a resume, you'll win more interviews than ever before.
That's how it was for me. If you're still unsure if you can write a resume, there's help out there. Kaiser Editing offers a resume revision guarantee: you don't pay unless you get the job. Click here to enlist the aid of someone who has put in a lot of work to learn how to write a resume that wins interviews.