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How to Get Started on Your Resume: A Five-Step Primer for Established Job-seekers and Career-Changers
by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
As an established job-seeker, you probably have a resume. Thus, getting started on the resume that will take you to the next rung in your career ladder may be a simple matter of spiffing up your existing document using guidelines in this article and many other resume resources on Quintessential Careers.
But some established job-seekers do have to start from square one. I sometimes hear from job-seekers that they have been recruited into most of their jobs or obtained them through networking and have not needed a resume. Or they have not needed one in such a long time that the resume they have is quite outdated.
Most people find the idea of creating a resume overwhelming. Even the notion of revamping an existing resume can be daunting.
This article takes you through the steps to getting started on your resume and provides a refresher if you have a resume that needs updating and polishing.
Step 1: Consider whether you really want to tackle your resume on your ownConsider hiring a professional resume writer. An investment in a professionally crafted resume can pay off big time. There's no shame in hiring a professional resume writer. You hire doctors, lawyers, financial advisers, and tax consultants when you lack the expertise in those areas, so why should resume-writing be different? Many employers and even more recruiters actually encourage the idea of professionally written resumes because hiring managers want to obtain your information in a reader-friendly form that clearly tells how you can benefit the organization.
See our article Why Hire a Professional Resume Writer?.
Step 2: Review resume samples to get ideas for wording, layout, and current resume trends.If you decide to take on your resume without professional help, looking at sample resumes will give you ideas that you may want to apply to your own document. For content, you'll want to review resumes in your own and similar professions, but resumes for other occupations can offer ideas for resume organization and layout.
By looking at samples, you'll get a sense for the sections that are typically included on a resume and how those sections are organized. You'll see how resume bullet points are worded. You'll get ideas for distinctive resume designs that will help you stand out.
You can find samples in many resume books, all over the Internet, and of course, here at Quintessential Careers. See our great collection of resume samples.
Step 3: Prepare to craft your resume by brainstorming and gathering information.The resume-preparation step comprises several sub-steps:
- Determine the focus of your resume. What kind of job or jobs will you target? Your resume must target your desired career goal with precision. Job-seekers tend to forget that employers review resumes extremely quickly -- often in just a few seconds. An employer taking such a quick glance should be able to immediately grasp what you want to do and have a sense of the value you can contribute to the organization. Your resume must focus on key strengths that position you to meet a specific need and target specific jobs/employers. In other words, employers give little consideration to one-size-fits-all resumes that aren't focused on a job's specific requirements.
- Decide whether you will need multiple versions of your resume in your quest to target different types of jobs. Since specifically targeted resumes are much more effective that "general" resumes, you may need more than one resume if you are open to more than one type of job. At the very least, you'll want to tweak and customize your boilerplate resume for each job you apply for. See our Cover Letter and Resume Customization Worksheet. You may also need more than one resume format. Because chronological resumes are the strong preference of most hiring decision-makers, the vast majority of job-seekers should stick to that organizational format. Job-seekers with extremely unusual or problematic job histories may benefit from a chrono-functional resume. Even those should use the chrono-functional resume on an experimental basis and be prepared to switch to a chronological format if the chrono-functional resume yields poor results.
- Identify the audience for your resume. Will it go primarily to recruiters? Directly to hiring managers? Will you use it mostly for networking and career fairs? Each audience will require small tweaks in your resume presentation. For example, you'll probably want to stick to one page for networking and career fairs. For recruiters, provide substantial information about each organization you worked for and your reporting relationships. Research the preferences of your target audience.
- Brainstorm your accomplishments and results. Your resume must -- with a future-oriented flavor -- emphasize results, outcomes, and career-defining performance indicators. Using numbers, context, and meaningful metrics (e.g., previous years' performance, competitors, counterparts, forecasts/projections/quotas, industry trends), the resume must paint a picture of you in action -- meeting needs/challenges, solving problems, impacting the company's big picture, growing the business, enhancing revenue, and driving profits. Concrete, measurable accomplishments are the points that really help sell you to an employer -- much more so than everyday job duties. If you can achieve the important step of identifying your accomplishments, the rest will fall into place as you work through the remainder of this article. Read our article For Job-Hunting Success: Track and Leverage Your Accomplishments and use our Job-Seeker Accomplishments Worksheet to help.
- Compile your employment data. For the experience section of your resume, you'll need the name of each employer, location (city and state), and dates of employment (starting and ending month and year). Resist the temptation to refer to employer-supplied job descriptions in composing your resume; job-description language is the antithesis of accomplishments-rich verbiage that makes a resume effective.
- Develop a branding message that you will execute not only in your resume, but also in all your other job-search communications. Today's resume communicates a brand relevant to targeted employers. The branding expressed in your resume captures your career identity, authenticity, passion, essence, and image. "Branding is... best defined as a promise," says my partner, Randall Hansen, founder of Quintessential Careers,"... a promise of the value of the product... a promise that the product is better than all the competing products... a promise that must be delivered to be successful. Branding is the combination of tangible and intangible characteristics that make a brand unique. Branding is developing an image -- with results to match." If you have not already developed a personal brand for your job search, do so as you prepare to craft your resume. See our article Branding Your Resume and our branding resources.
Step 4: Just do it. Get words on paper.Sometimes the best way to get started on your resume is to just start writing in a Word or text document (Notepad or WordPad, for example). Just jot down your version of the typical components of a resume (that you've seen in the samples you've reviewed) and worry about formatting, fine-tuning, and polishing later.
Also consider developing the components of your resume through our worksheets:
- Keywords Worksheet -- use this worksheet to help identify keywords for use in your resume and cover letter. These keywords will likely vary according to job/type of job you are seeking.
- Resume Components Worksheet -- a critical worksheet to help you develop every aspect of your resume. Whether you're starting your resume from scratch or just tweaking an existing document, use this worksheet to make your resume sparkle.
- Resume Professional Profile/Qualifications Summary Worksheet -- use this worksheet to help you develop bullet points for this very important resume section. You may want to tweak the section slightly for each job/type of job you apply for. (Not aware of this section of a resume? Check out: Fundamentals of a Good Chronological Resume.)
- Especially vital for career-changers is our Transferable Skills Worksheet -- use this worksheet to develop lists of skills and examples of how you've used them. Determine which skills are transferable and applicable to each job/type of job you plan to apply for, and plan how to portray those skills in your resume and cover letter.
Now, put all the components together, using the organizational and layout models you've admired in the samples you've reviewed. As you'll note in most samples, the majority of items on a resume are presented as bullet points, and most of those bullet points kick off with powerful action verbs. See a list of sample verbs here and samples of action verbs in use here.
Step 5: Edit, proofread, and polish your resume.Edit your resume to make sure the wording is the best it can be. Cut out all unnecessary words. Ensure that each bullet point packs a punch.
Typos, misspellings, missing words, and weak grammar can kill all your good efforts in constructing your resume. Proofread, and then put your resume down for a while before proofing again. A good technique for catching errors you would not otherwise notice is to read your resume from the bottom up. Then ask friends or family to proof it for you.
How does your resume look? Is it pleasing to the eye? Is the type size and font easily readable? Can the reader's eye easily follow the resume's organization? Are the margins wide enough? These are all aspects of polishing your resume.
Polishing can also include getting the opinion of others. Enlist members of your network (especially those who share your profession) to read your resume with an eye toward answering the question, "If you were hiring for the type of job I seek, how would you respond to this resume?" You can also self-critique your resume using our Resume Critique Worksheet. Finally, consider having your resume critiqued by a professional resume writer. Resume critiques are usually quite inexpensive or even free because resume writers use them as tools to promote their resume-writing services.
Finally, consider file formats (beyond the standard Word .doc) that you may need for your resume -- such as ASCII text, HTML, or PDF. See our article Your E-Resume's File Format Aligns with its Delivery Method.
Final Thoughts on Job-Seeker Resumes
Don't forget all the other components of your job search as you craft your resume.
A resume is an important part of your job search, but it's far from the only component. Remember that you'll also need a cover letter for each job you apply for and a references sheet separate from your resume. You may want both a print and an online career portfolio. You'll also want to shore up your network and prepare for interviews.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers, edits QuintZine, an electronic newsletter for jobseekers, and blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her PhD in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, Cincinnati, OH, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market (both published by Ten Speed Press), as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes (Career Press); and with Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills (Alpha). Visit her personal Website or reach her by e-mail at kathy(at)quintcareers.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
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