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Tips for Writing an Effective Résumé

Updated on November 14, 2008

When approaching a prospective employer, your résumé is often your introduction. Since you get but one chance to make that first impression, it is critical that your résumé be polished, accurate, and articulate. Here are some tips:

  • In nearly all cases, the chronological résumé format is preferable to the functional format. Employers are frequently suspicious of the functional résumé as it is commonly used to disguise lapses in employment or job hopping.
  • A résumé and curriculum vitae (CV) are two different things. A CV is generally longer and much more detailed than a résumé. Unless you are an academic, a CV is likely inappropriate and may be viewed by potential employers as pretentious.
  • Proofread. Do not rely on your preferred word processing software's spellchecker. Read your résumé slowly from beginning to end to ensure that your sentences flow and that you have chosen the most effective words to convey your point. Then, read backwards word by word to catch any and all typos. A résumé with errors will not be taken seriously.
  • Show your potential employer that you are an exceptional communicator and value his/her time by relating your experience without extra words or flowery descriptors. Brevity is crucial.
  • Know your audience. Who is the hiring manager? Address your cover letter to him/her. Understand that your résumé will likely pass through several hands before it reaches your target audience.
  • Begin sentences with action words (i.e. analyze, critique, collaborate, deliver, negotiate, etc.) rather than with vague or unnecessary words (i.e. persistent, decisive, proactive, actually, I, am, a, etc.).
  • Include relevant skills, whether they be software, language, or others. If it may be useful on the job and increases your value in the eyes of a hiring manager, it is pertinent.
  • Unless you are changing careers, you do not need a goal or objective statement. To use one unnecessarily is to waste valuable real estate on the page.
  • Have somebody you trust read your work. It never hurts to have another set of eyes, and that somebody else may remember something important that you may have forgotten.
  • Do not include personal information such as marital status, parental status, and interests. You are not writing your biography for the jacket of your next best selling novel. The exception is if you have a hobby or interest that contributes directly to your relevant skills or experience.
  • Always include a cover letter. This is not intended to be a restatement of your résumé content. Keep it brief, but express your enthusiasm.
  • In general, if you question whether something you've written is inappropriate, it is. Remove it or revise it to clarify your intent.
  • Be careful with any attempts to use humor. It's best to keep the résumé and cover letter professional and simple. Use the interview to dazzle them with your character and wit.
  • Do not fudge details. You will be caught.

These are just some basics, but I hope you will find them useful. If you are preparing for a job search, I suggest purchasing or borrowing from your local library a concise guide on résumé writing. Make sure it is a recent edition, as employer preferences do change over time. I highly recommend The Elements of Résumé Style by Scott Bennett.

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