How to Write a Resume: Dos and Don'ts

Last Updated Feb 3, 2011 11:22 AM EST

Many people feel overwhelmed at the idea of writing their resume. How can you possibly describe your entire career in a page or two? But that's thinking about the resume in the wrong way.

Remember this and commit it to memory: Resumes are marketing documents. They aren't your life/work history. They aren't required to show your failures and short coming. Their purpose is to quickly tell a recruiter/hiring manager that you have the qualifications to do this work.

Here are 5 Dos and 5 Don'ts for Resume Writing:

Do
  • Put your jobs in reverse chronological order. Your last/current relevant job goes first. (You can choose to leave off an irrelevant, short term job.) Some people write "functional resumes", but many HR managers view these as attempts to hide something unpleasant.
  • Move your education to the end of the page. I know you're proud of your school, but unless you're a new grad, your degree in Economics and minor in Sociology should go after your work experience.
  • Turn accomplishments into numbers. Some departments have 1 person, and some have 350. Quantify yours. "Managed a department of 12 analysts" is a lot stronger than "Managed a department." Did you have budget responsibilities? "Managed a $2.3 Million budget" is very different from "Managed a $75,000 budget." How many clients did you juggle? 1, 2, 25? Quantify.
  • Identify your strengths. What skills keep popping up in job after job? Those are your strongest assets. Make sure to highlight them in your resume by placing them directly under the job title.
  • Write out your description of each skill/accomplishment. People typically agonize over this stage. Should they write full sentences? Use bullet points? Arrows? Use a period at the end of each line, or perhaps a semi-colon or nothing? Truly, it doesn't matter. Just be consistent.
Don't
  • Write paragraphs. A resume should be scannable. People like white space on resumes. Recruiters want to be able to glance at the resume and get the gist. Blocks of solid text require more attention.
  • Make the recruiter guess what your actual job was. Put your titles in bold. Translate strange titles into descriptive ones. For example, if your title was "Community Rock Star," write: Community Rock Star (Public Relations Specialist).
  • Share Too Much Information. No birthdate, religion, hobbies, weight, social security number, marital status, links to Facebook or personal blogs, children, sexual orientation or life mission statements.
  • Make your resume too long. 1-2 pages is the generally accepted length. Anything longer will likely get overlooked.
  • Forget to proofread. Get your friend, your neighbor, your mother-in-law (she won't be afraid to criticize) to look at it. You want them to look for spelling, grammar, and consistency. Does it make sense?
For further reading:
Resume Illustration by PSD, Flickr cc 2.0

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