The Easy Guide to Effective Résumé Writing

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An effective résumé is the most powerful marketing tool in your career search arsenal. Particularly when a candidate has not had the opportunity to speak with someone at the target organization, the résumé is the key sales piece through which the hiring manager will decide whether to conduct an interview.

Candidates should think of their résumé in two parts: format and content. Format refers to the physical layout, as well as the look and feel, of the résumé. Content is what a candidate chooses to put on the résumé and how it is presented. It is important that these two factors be considered together because great content in a poor format will be dismissed, just as easily as a well formatted résumé that says nothing useful will be disregarded.

When considering format, the goal is to create a résumé that is concise, accurate, well-organized and visually pleasing. The majority of résumés share two basic sections – education and experience. In many cases it is appropriate to include more specific sections, such as community service, leadership, interests, professional affiliations, awards and publications. For candidates making a career change, it may be appropriate to separate experience into sub-categories that best highlight their relevant skills for the targeted position. For example, a practicing attorney seeking an adjunct teaching position may separate experience into law experience and teaching experience.

Some candidates may choose to use an objective at the top of their résumé, particularly if they will not be submitting a cover letter. An objective is a brief, concise statement expressing the candidate’s career goals as it relates to that role. In contrast a profile, which some candidates may also include, is a concise paragraph showing the value and skills the candidate will bring to the job.

It is extremely important for candidates to keep the target industry in mind when creating their résumé. For many jobs, particularly business careers, résumés should be presented in a simple format and a basic font, such as 12 point Ariel or Times New Roman. Normal margins should be approximately 1 inch, although in some circumstance can be as small as 0.7 inch. This simple formatted résumé should be printed on white or cream colored paper. There may however be exceptions to this format based on the targeted industry. For roles in marketing or graphic design, graphics and more creative résumé formatting will be the norm.

In most cases a one-page résumé will suffice to properly show the relevant skills and experience for a position, but there are situations when a multiple page résumé should be used. Candidates with more than 10 years of work experience typically need more than one page to fully show their capabilities. Moreover candidates with multiple publications, awards or presentations may choose to use more than one page.

Once the proper format is determined, the next step is to determine the content to include. A résumé is not a biography of all your accomplishments, only those most relevant to the target job. The résumé should clearly show the value you will bring to a particular job. It is therefore likely that you will have more than one version of your résumé depending on the jobs you are targeting.

First, take time to research the typical duties of the job. Based on that information, determine which skills and accomplishments you should highlight. For example, are writing and research skills valued, or is the employer seeking strong communication and negotiation skills? An employer seeking specific skills will look for those on a résumé.

A good exercise to help properly identify the relevant skills to highlight is to place the job description next to your résumé. As you review the required qualifications for the job, go through your résumé and seek examples from your prior work that show you have those qualifications. Keep in mind that all information on your résumé is open to detailed questions during an interview, so refresh your memory if you are including older experiences and projects.

Taking the time to properly format and develop the right content for your résumé will allow you to create your most powerful marketing tool. This process will also force you to review your past experiences in detail as you compare them to the target job’s qualifications; thereby preparing you to show your most valuable skills in the next step of the process, the interview.

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