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The Essential Resume

Updated on November 5, 2014

Purpose of a resume

There are thousands of websites, videos, and books on writing resumes, you go to 10 people and they will give you ten different opinions on how it should be done. So why listen to me? Besides the fact that I have been doing them for over 20 years and have prepared over 6,000 resumes for CEO’s to Bartenders, you shouldn’t, what you should do is whatever works for you. I do have some basic information though, some ground rules that could help you and if they do, or if what I say makes sense, then by all means utilize them.

Many people tell me that resumes have changed with the times and I will agree there are some new “rules” that apply, but the fundamentals are still the same and have been since I began doing them in the early 90’s.

With the Internet there are things to consider when writing a resume. Using power words is your personal SEO. They should be strong adjectives that describe what you have to offer a perspective employer. Don't be shy in talking about yourself, especially the accomplishments you have achieved, employers love that.

A résumé has one purpose and one purpose only - to get the interview. It is your marketing tool, your company brochure. It is the first thing a prospective employer sees of you. Sure, you might have talked to them over the phone, but visual representation is the longest lasting, and the most influential.

The Essential Resume Outline

A résumé should be written with the employer in mind, but these days there is an abundance of employment agencies and head hunting firms, each with their own opinion. Just remember that this is your résumé and not theirs, they may have some salient points to make regarding industry terms, etc. but you have to be satisfied that it represents you in the best possible way first. Here are the basic sections that each résumé should include

1. Objective.

2. Qualifications.

3. Education.

4. Employment.

The Objective is your guidepost, your arrow. The last thing an employer needs is someone who doesn’t know what they want. But be careful, don't write obtuse sentences such as: Seeking a position in your company that will give me the opportunity too..... You get the idea, it's just a bunch of useless words with no direction. You have to be the solution to the problem and not the problem. An objective gives them a sense that you have confidence in your direction, that you have made a choice. It can be general - Administrative Assistant or specific An Administrative Assistant position in the Banking Field. In some cases the objective is your title, such as Registered Nurse, Video Editor, you are looking for what you are.

Qualifications - This is where you put talents, skills, abilities, special knowledge, and anything else that will impress the reader of the résumé. Each point should be bulleted and phrased in an active and powerful way such as: Strong Troubleshooting and Problem solving abilities. Keep each line fairly short and don’t forget to include computer skills and any other specialized knowledge that you possess.

This is the section that will tell the employer, within 30 seconds, that you are the qualified candidate. To this day, if I get an employer looking for specific skills I go right to the Qualifications to see if they match what they are looking for.

Employment - This is the nuts and bolts, the guts of the résumé. Here is where the active, accurate and pertinent information regarding your past and present employment should be written in concise terms

Education - Depending on how recently you have graduated from college, or if you graduated from college at all, this section could either go under qualifications or at the end of the résumé.

The rule of thumb is that the most recent experience goes first. If that was going to school and you have just received a Bachelor, Master, or even an A.A. degree then put it first. If, however, you have little or sporadic education put it after your employment history.

The Importance of a resume or - You only get one chance to make a good impression

The importance of a résumé cannot be overstated, to get a sense of its true value do this little exercise. Take the salary that you would like to receive and multiply it by the number of working years you have left. That will give you an idea of the monetary worth that it carries.

I strongly recommend that no one, I mean no one does their own résumé. While we may think that we know ourselves best, it is often hard for us to ask ourselves the right questions, to stand back and look at what we have accomplished objectively. Just as in most areas of our lives, we seek professional help when there are important issues at stake. How important is your future?

Now that I have gotten that out of the way, if you must do your own résumé, here are some tips:

1. Use effective wording, power words, phrasing that will attract their attention.

2. Presentation; the way it is laid out and presented reflects you as a person, and your personal value as a prospective employee. Keep it simple and straight-forward.

3. The 30 second rule; Most people will give a résumé 30 seconds, if within that time they cannot tell why you are qualified for the job, your résumé goes into pile B (the old round file).

Resume Styles

Just as there are three things to remember about putting a résumé together, there are three distinct kinds of résumé formats for general use.

A. The Functional résumé.

This type focuses all it’s attention on a persons talents, skills, qualities, and attributes - which is definitely a plus, since they are very important. However, the functional résumé may only summarily list job history and dates.

Generally speaking, such a résumé is used when someone has extensive gaps in their work history, or numerous jobs over a short period of time.

B. The Chronological résumé.

Is a list and description of jobs that a person has had over the course of their working life. It will also list education and usually have a paragraph called a summary which can list skills.

A majority of people use this format since countless books and college career services teach it. The major drawback to the style is it’s inability to focus the readers attention within 30 seconds.

C. The Combination résumé.

This style uses the best from both of the above formats and puts them together to make a dynamic and very effective presentation.

I prefer the Combination style, and is the one which has been the most effective for my clients. The reasons for its success are simplicity and clarity. An HR person, or employer, wants to spend as little time as possible weeding through résumé’s for the appropriate candidate. The more you can do to make their job easier, the better.

No I

On a résumé I is always implied and never said. A way of checking to see if you have the right implication is, after writing a sentence, check to see if the same sentence would make sense with, I am, I have in front of it. For Example:

Oversaw a staff of 8 administrative employees in handling legal documents.

Now put I in front of it and see if it makes sense. Then do the same thing with the following sentence.

Overseeing a staff of 8 administrative employees in preparing legal documentations.

Starting with active words such as Oversaw, Performed, Administered (a comprehensive list is found in the appendix) will give power to the résumé. Along with the power words don’t forget to include industry appropriate terms which can be key indicators that you actually have the background the employer is looking for. These terms can be part of your workaday language and may be hard to spot. In the best case scenario, you can use a job description that the company created for your position. This will usually include all the salient points you need. Now all you have to do is put it together so it’s readable to the average person.


If you don’t have a job description, take some time to recall and write down everything you do at work,. even if you think it doesn’t matter write it down. Then you can go back and hone the information to a short paragraph.

Start with the most recent employment experience and then work backward. Give the dates when you started and when you ended each job. Personally, I do not put months on the résumé, just years. This has the advantage of taking care of short gaps in work history, or lack of memory. If, on the interview, they ask for months you can tell them, after all, if you are on the interview the résumé has done it’s job.

Generally the last two years of experience are the most important, however ten years of background is optimal. This will give the employer an idea as to the extent of your professional experience and gives you more credibility when asking for the salary you require.

If you have over ten years employment you may not have to list it, unless it relates specifically to the job you are looking for.

Underneath the body of the employment description I like to highlight accomplishments by using an arrow, bullet, or italics.

This is another important area where you have the opportunity to show why you are the perfect candidate; Employee of the Month, having Increased sales by 30%, or improved the efficiency of the filing system.

Other categories

Following the job descriptions or education you can include other sections if pertinent, such as, Military, Memberships, Volunteer Work, Publications and other miscellaneous categories. Students might want to put scholarships and fraternal organizations down if their work history is lacking. Professionals who are involved in the community, have been honored, or written scholarly articles, will usually benefit from informing their interviewers of such activities.

A warning though, while discrimination is against the law, I would still refrain from putting religious or ethnic oriented memberships on the résumé, without them it will put you on an even playing field with everyone else.

Age is another issue, it too is against the law to discriminate because of age, but the issue is tricky and one that is hard to police.

While I would never, ever support lying on a résumé (it will always come back to haunt you) you can eliminate unneeded truths, such as the date you graduated from college if it was more than ten years ago.

Unnecessary Information

Just as humans evolved, eliminating our need for tails, so the résumé has evolved to eliminate the standard ending phrase: References Available Upon Request. If an employer asks for references you must have them, if you don’t, they will move on to the next candidate.

Being asked for references is a clear indication of their interest in you, so having to say they are available should be a moot point.

Personal hobbies or interests - as far as I am concerned it is a waste of space on a professional résumé. If they want to know your golf handicap or tennis game, they can ask during the interview. Once again, if you are on the interview then the résumé has done it’s job.

Oh! One last thing, there is a big trend now to not put addresses on the resume, there are some good reasons for this, if you live outside the area where you are looking for work, otherwise it will work to your advantage to include it, but don’t use a P.O. box and make you put your telephone number, email address, website, LinkedIn whatever helps them get a hold of you.

The One Page Controversy

As I have said, there are opinions as thick as flies out there. A good many people have been told, rather emphatically, that they must stay with a one page résumé. I would agree, if the person is just out of school or has had less than 10 years of background. However, if someone has 20 years experience with impressive accomplishments, it would be a shame if they left off a piece of good information just so they could stick with one page.

I’ll tell you a secret, those who insist on a single page are usually, agencies or headhunters. They do not want to fax more than one page because of cost, or they may put it in their book for clients to refer to. A one page résumé is more convenient for them, they are looking out for their interests and not yours as an individual.

On the other hand, a résumé should not be more than two pages, unless the person is a high level executive, or a teacher with extensive credentials, continuing education, publications, memberships, etc


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