On the surface, résumé writing is a straightforward process; who are you, where do and have you worked, what have you done there, and where did you go to school?
If you have never written a résumé before I recommend starting simple. This will give you the opportunity to gather and organize all of the generally required information such as dates, titles, responsibilities, and coursework. There are many basic templates that you can find online including these from Microsoft Office. This will be your starting point.
The following considerations will allow you to take this basic résumé and turn it into a professional and concise document that will catch the eye of a hiring manager.
There two commonly used résumé formats, chronological and functional.
Chronological résumés list your work history in reverse chronological order, starting with the current position and working backwards. This is the most appropriate format if you have a consistent work history and if you are looking for a position in a field closely related to your previous experiences.
Functional résumés highlight skills and abilities over actual positions. This format is most appropriate if you have a diverse work history, have been out of the workforce for an extended period of time, or are looking to break into a field in which you have no prior experience.
Chronological résumés are much more common, they are easier to follow, and are what most hiring managers expect to see. If you have a diverse background you can still make a chronological résumé work. I describe some ways to do this later in this post under the heading “Tailoring your Résumé”.
Many people will tell you that your résumé should be kept to 1 page unless you have over 10 years of experience. Others will say that 2 pages is fine. I say that if you can fit all of your relevant information on 1 page, do so; if it takes 2 pages that is fine too.
Don’t extend the length of your résumé to 2 pages because you forgot to list your high school job as a cashier. The key is listing relevant information, not just everything. I would also not go over 2 pages unless you are a senior manager or executive with 20+ years of experience.
Bullets – What? So What?
When writing bullets, each bullets should answer the following 2 questions, “What?” and “So What?” This means that not only should you describe what you did, but how it made a difference or had an impact. These are also known as impact statements. Writing in this fashion ties outcomes to your actions. This is important because employers are looking for someone who will come in and have a positive impact.
Example: Managed squadron fraud, waste, and abuse program; developed standard operating procedures that ensured consistency among 8 units and reduced wasteful spending by 25% in two years.
Here are some general Do’s and Don’ts for bullets:
Tailoring your Résumé
If you’re willing to settle for any job, you can submit the same résumé to a few hundred openings and hope that you get invited to a few interviews. The issue with this strategy is that the skills and experiences which you list on that résumé may only be a good fit for 1 or 2 positions.
To increase your chances at landing a specific position you’re going to need to tailor your résumé to that position. If the position you’re applying to is in management, you’ll need to highlight your leadership and managerial experience. If the position is in finance you’ll need to highlight any experiences you’ve had with managing money. With this strategy you are taking control and are making yourself a good fit for every position to which you apply.
Tailoring your résumé is also a good way for you to break into a different field. Say for example that you are a Firefighter who is looking for a career change and applying to positions in IT. You wouldn’t want to focus heavily on your EMT or HASMAT training, this wouldn’t be relevant to the positions to which you are applying. Instead you should focus on the database you use (e.g. Microsoft Excel) to mange station equipment inventories or the electronic fire detection systems that you regularly interact with.
This is not lying, it’s simply putting your best foot forward and highlighting different aspects of your experience.
I personally find this part of résumé writing to be the most painful as you find yourself tweaking your bullets over and over again. A good middle ground is to create 4 or 5 versions of your résumé, each targeted at a different type of position.
A recent study by The Ladders has uncovered the fact that recruiters only look at a résumé for an average of 6 seconds and that they spend almost 80% of their résumé review time on the following data points:
Beyond these six data points, they did little more than scan for keywords to match the open position.
This means that you must make an immediate impact by placing relevant information in the correct places. This is still no guarantee of a job, only that you can be in control of what the recruiter sees.
Although I recommend reading this insightful study, take their recommendations with a grain of salt. The Ladders proposes that the best way to overcome layout issues is to have your résumé professionally rewritten, and to no one’s surprise they offer a $600+ résumé re-writing service.
With some time and effort most people can put together a very professional résumé. If you need an example of a professionally written résumé, many of Linkedin‘s 175+ million members have their professionally written résumés online.
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