Job Search: Part 1—How to Write an Interview-Winning Resume

Job-seekers often think they need a resume that will get them the job. However, the purpose of the resume isn’t to get you the job. The purpose of the resume is to get you the interview.

For most positions, hiring managers are faced with a formidable stack of resumes. Just like editors reviewing writers’ query letters, they look for any excuse NOT to consider a resume. Often they glance at each one for only a few seconds before deciding to reject it or to put it aside for review in more depth.

Your first goal, then, is for your resume to make the cut so the hiring manager takes a closer look at it. Your second goal is for you to be called for an interview after the review of your resume.

Following these tips will give you a much better chance that both of those goals will be achieved. 

  • Assemble all your information. Review old job descriptions and performance evaluations, school transcripts, awards and compliments you have received, and other documents related to your work history, education, and community activities.
  • Don’t give the hiring manager any reason to reject your resume out of hand. Provide the information the employer needs and make it simple to find. Be sure your complete contact information is at the top of the first page and your name and phone number and/or e-mail address are in a header on the second page.
  • Format the resume so it is easy to read. Use a clean, simple font, preferably in 12 pt but no smaller than 11 pt, on plain white or cream-colored paper. Make margins at least .5 inch all around; 1 inch is better. Reduce the line spacing between paragraphs rather than the margins or font size. Use bold, italics, and underlining to make headings stand out. Ensure that the formatting is consistent throughout the document, and present information in bulleted lists so the resume is scannable. Keep the document to no more than two pages.
  • Begin with a profile or summary of qualifications. “Objective” is passe – emphasize what you have to offer an employer, not what you want. Many people don’t like to toot their own horn, but if you don’t tell the hiring manager what you will contribute to the company, your resume will land in the Rejected pile. If you’re too modest to brag on yourself, review evaluations from previous employers, recall compliments you’ve received from customers and coworkers, and ask associates what they think your strongest attributes are.
  • Include keywords. Often employers are looking for specific attributes and experience and will scan the resume for those words. If your job title (such as Vice President for Southern Region) did not readily identify what you did, include a more descriptive noun (Regional Sales Manager) in the profile or job description.
  • Focus on your accomplishments, not job descriptions. Use short sentence fragments beginning with a strong action verb. Describe what you did (without using “I”) and what the results were: “Handled customer service calls, resolving complaints and building customer loyalty.” Quantify your accomplishments and results whenever possible: “Administered $2 million construction budget and brought project in under budget” or “Increased sales by 31% in a 2-year period.”
  • Be completely honest but position yourself in the best way possible. If you normally supervised 12 employees but supervised 30 people for six months during a special project, say “Supervised up to 30 people.” If you have related volunteer or hobby experience, include it as well as paid work experience: “Managed 3 fundraisers for Local Charity, raising over $500,000” or “Coordinated summer reading program for Children’s Club; 75 children read 10 or more books during the summer.” List continuing education and seminars, if applicable to the job you seek, as well as formal education.
  • Consider a functional resume if your work history is less than stable. Employers generally prefer chronological resumes, in which jobs are listed in reverse chronological order. However, if your experience is limited or if you have gaps in employment, a functional resume, in which accomplishments are broken down by function rather than by employer, may be more effective. However, a blended resume may be better yet – list your accomplishments by function, then list your employers and dates of employment. The hiring manager isn’t left wondering where you worked and when, but your accomplishments may capture her attention before she reads far enough to see the gaps in your work history.
  • Proofread thoroughly and have another person review the resume. If you can, get input from a coworker or someone who knows your accomplishments. Another person may recall something you’ve overlooked or point out the significance of an accomplishment that you took from granted.
  • Create a text-only resume. When you apply for jobs online, you will often be asked to submit a text-only resume. Many employers want a scannable resume so they can search for keywords without taking the time of a live person. Be prepared by saving your resume as a text document and removing all formatting. Left-align everything; use capital letters instead of bold, italics, and underlining for emphasis; and add terminal punctuation at the end of every bullet point and statement. Otherwise, everything might run together.
  • Remember: it’s all about what you can do for the employer. Ask yourself if you would want to interview the person who submitted your resume. If not … start revising.

For more information about what to include in a resume and how to gather the information, see my Information for Resume Clients.

This post is an entry in An Island Life’s How-To Group Writing Contest.

Note (added 7/15/08): Be sure to read the comments for some great advice from our community.

Note (added 7/29/08): This post has been so popular that I decided to expand on job search advice and create a series of three posts, of which this is the first.

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