“The most important tool you have on a résumé is language.”
– Jay Samit
A résumé is a “selfie” for business purposes. It is a written picture of who you are—it’s a marketing tool, a selling tool, and a promotion of you as an ideal candidate for any job you may be interested in.
The word résumé comes from the French word résumé, which means “a summary.” Leonardo da Vinci is credited with writing one of the first known résumés, although it was more of a letter that outlined his credentials for a potential employer, Ludovico Sforza. The résumé got da Vinci the job, though, and Sforza became a longtime patron of da Vinci and later commissioned him to paint The Last Supper.
Résumés and cover letters work together to represent you in the most positive light to prospective employers. With a well-composed résumé and cover letter, you stand out—which may get you an interview and then a good shot at landing a job.
In this section, we discuss résumés and cover letters as key components of your career development tool kit. We explore some of the many ways you can design and develop them for the greatest impact in your job search.
Your Résumé: Purpose and Contents
Your résumé is an inventory of your education, work experience, job-related skills, accomplishments, volunteer history, internships, residencies, and/or more. It’s a professional autobiography in outline form to give the person who reads it a quick, general idea of who you are, and what skills, abilities, and experiences you have to offer. With a better idea of who you are, prospective employers can see how well you might contribute to their workplace.
As a college student or recent graduate, though, you may be unsure about what to put in your résumé, especially if you don’t have much employment history. Still, employers don’t expect recent grads to have significant work experience. And even with little work experience, you may still have a host of worthy accomplishments to include. It’s all in how you present yourself.
Watch the video most appropriate for your career stage. Please note, there are templates (See Career Toolbox) available within the course that correspond to the advice in these videos.
For Career Launchers or students who need basic information on “How to Format a Resume” (5 min.30 seconds)
Experienced Career Changers and Advancers: 6 Steps to Creating a Great Resume for 2020 (Starts at 1.28 if you want to start there. Then the video is 6 minutes, 99 seconds)
Elements of Your Successful Résumé
Perhaps the hardest part of writing a résumé is figuring out what format to use to organize and present your information in the most effective way. There is no correct format, per se, but most résumés follow one of the four formats below. Which format do you think will best represent your qualifications?
- Reverse chronological résumé: A reverse chronological résumé (sometimes also simply called a chronological résumé) lists your job experiences in reverse chronological order—that is, starting with the most recent job and working backward toward your first job. It includes starting and ending dates. Also included is a brief description of the work duties you performed for each job, and highlights of your formal education. The reverse chronological résumé may be the most common and perhaps the most conservative résumé format. It is most suitable for demonstrating a solid work history, and growth and development in your skills. It may not suit you if you are light on skills in the area you are applying to, or if you’ve changed employers frequently, or if you are looking for your first job.
- Functional résumé: A functional résumé is organized around your talents, skills, and abilities (more so than work duties and job titles, as with the reverse chronological résumé). It emphasizes specific professional capabilities, like what you have done or what you can do. Specific dates may be included but are not emphasized. So if you are a career launcher with little or no actual work experience, the functional résumé may be a good format for you. It can also be useful when you are seeking work in a field that differs from what you have done in the past. It’s also well suited for people in unconventional careers.
- Hybrid or Combination résumé: The hybrid résumé is a format reflecting both the functional and chronological approaches. It’s also called a combination résumé. It highlights relevant skills, but it still provides information about your work experience. With a hybrid résumé, you may list your job skills as most prominent and then follow with a chronological (or reverse chronological) list of employers. This résumé format is most effective when your specific skills and job experience need to be emphasized.
- Video, infographic, and website résumé: Other formats you may wish to consider are the video résumé, the infographic résumé, or even a website résumé. These formats may be most suitable for people in multimedia and creative careers. Certainly with the expansive use of technology today, a job seeker might at least try to create a media-enhanced résumé. But the paper-based, traditional résumé is by far the most commonly used—in fact, some human resource departments may not permit submission of any format other than paper based.
An important note about formatting is that, initially, employers may spend only a few seconds reviewing each résumé—especially if there is a big stack of them or they seem tedious to read. That’s why it’s important to choose your format carefully so it will stand out and make the first cut.
Résumé Contents and Structure
For many people, the process of writing a résumé is daunting. After all, you are taking a lot of information and condensing it into a very concise form that needs to be both eye-catching and easy to read. Don’t be scared off, though! Developing a good résumé can be fun, rewarding, and easier than you think if you follow a few basic guidelines.
Contents and Components To Include
- Your contact information: name, town and state, phone number, professional email address (make sure this is some version of your name, nothing odd or personal).
- A summary statement: 2-3 sentences describing you in relation to the position. This statement should describe who you are and what you are great at.
- A summary of your skills: 6-8 skills you have gained in your field. Make sure you adapt this section for each job and use only skills that you have that are specifically mentioned in the job ad.
- Work experience: depending on the résumé format you choose, you may list your most recent job first; include the title of the position, employer’s name, location, employment dates (beginning, ending); Working for a family business is valid work experience and should definitely be on a resume.
- Volunteer experience: can be listed in terms of hours completed or months/years involved. Use the same format as that used to list work experience.
- Education and training: formal and informal experiences matter; include academic degrees, professional development, certificates, internships, etc.
Résumés resemble snowflakes in as much as no two are alike. Although you can benefit from giving yours a stamp of individuality, you will do well to steer clear of personal details that might elicit a negative response. It is advisable to omit any confidential information or details that could make you vulnerable to discrimination, for instance. Your résumé will likely be viewed by a number of employees in an organization, including human resource personnel, managers, administrative staff, etc. By aiming to please all reviewers, you gain maximum advantage.
- Do not mention your age, gender, height or weight.
- Do not include your social security number.
- Do not mention religious beliefs or political affiliations, unless they are relevant to the position.
- Do not include a photograph of yourself or a physical description.
- Do not mention health issues.
- Do not use first-person references (I, me).
- Do not include wage/salary expectations.
- Do not use acronyms and be sparing with abbreviations. Only use abbreviations when necessary for solving spacing issues and only if the meaning of the word is still clear.
- Proofread carefully—absolutely no spelling mistakes are acceptable.
Top Ten Tips for a Successful Résumé
- Aim to make a résumé that is 1 full page or 2 full pages long on letter-size paper. Don’t have 1 and a 1/3rd or 1 and a 1/2 pages long. If you are more entry level, one full page is more appropriate. Edit until you have an appropriate mix of text and white space.
- Make it visually appealing, but forego graphics and columns or other types of formatting that will not work well with applicant tracking software (ATS).
- Use action verbs and phrases. Be sure to start each bullet with an action verb. Use THE SAME verbs the job ad uses, even if the one you are using means the same thing.
- Proofread carefully to eliminate any spelling, grammar, punctuation, and typographical errors. Have at least two other people look at it. If that is not possible, try reading it backwards. Reading it backwards allows for your brain to fully take in each word instead of filling in what you know you meant to write.
- Include highlights of your relevant qualifications or skills to attract an employer’s attention. Once again, be sure to include those mentioned in the job ad.
- Make your resume future-focused and job-specific. Know what door you are trying to open with the resume and craft it with that in mind.
- If you have more than one employment target then consider having multiple customized resume versions.
- Use a resume scanning software program (available in the course) to test your resume against the job ad before you apply. Shoot for a score of at least 80%
- Customize, customize, customize! Remember, you HAVE to have at least a 70 percent match with the action verbs and descriptors in the job ad in order get past the applicant tracking software (ATS) software.
- Keep refining and reworking your résumé; it’s an ongoing project. Your resume is never finished!
Building Your Resume
Professional Summary and Skills
A one to two line teaser statement about you as an employee related to the particular job for which you’re applying. The statement should “hook” the reader into learning more within the six to eight seconds they spend reviewing your resume.
Compassionate and accomplished human services provider with a passion for supporting those with substance abuse problems. Ability to create, implement, and lead recovery and rehabilitation programs.
Accomplished writer and editor with over 10 years of experience in advertising copy. Excellent ability to use voice and content to build thought leadership and convert leads into sales.
Creating a Summary from a Job Ad
Job Ad Responsibilities
Professional Summary Example
Adaptable and precise administrative professional, skilled at tracking paperwork, researching accounts and scheduling appointments with excellent customer service and communication skills.
Technical (hard) and people (soft) skills are those you’ve obtained throughout your career. People skills are non-tangible skills that you utilize while working with other people. These skills are broad and can be utilized in many industries.
Hard or tech skills are those that are tangible and display your ability to perform concrete tasks.
Your resume can contain skill bullets highlighting competencies you’ve obtained throughout your career. Your bullets should be relevant and specific to the position for which you’re applying.
Search the job ad for key required skills. When choosing your bullets, be mindful of how each skill is useful and necessary to the employer. Add additional descriptive words to take your bullets from generic to field-specific.
|People (Soft) Skill Examples
||Technical (Hard) Skill Examples
Remember that your résumé is your professional profile. It will hold you in the most professional and positive light, and it’s designed to be a quick and easy way for a prospective employer to evaluate what you might bring to a job. When written and formatted attractively, creatively, and legibly, your résumé is what will get your foot in the door. You can be proud of your accomplishments, even if they don’t seem numerous. Let your résumé reflect your personal pride and professionalism. A resume is also a “living document” and will change as your experiences and skills change.
Your Cover Letter
A cover letter is a letter of introduction, usually 3–4 paragraphs in length, that you submit with your résumé. It’s a way of introducing yourself to a potential employer and explaining why you are suited for a position. Employers look for individualized and thoughtfully written cover letters as an initial method of screening out applicants who may who lack necessary basic skills, or who may not be sufficiently interested in the position.
Often an employer will request or require that a cover letter be included in the materials an applicant submits. There are also occasions when you might submit a cover letter uninvited (also called a letter of interest). For example, if you are initiating an inquiry about possible work or asking someone to send you information or provide other assistance.
With each résumé you send out, always include a cover letter specifically addressing your purposes.
Characteristics of an Effective Cover Letter
Cover letters should accomplish the following:
- Get the attention of the prospective employer in 3-4 paragraphs – be succinct!
- Set you apart from any possible competition by showing your unique voice, writing ability, attention to detail and knowledge of the company.
- Identify the position you are interested in and how you learned about the position or company.
- Answer the employers question of “Why is this person interested in this particular job at this particular company?”
- Present highlights of your skills and accomplishments that are directly relevant to the employer’s stated needs in the job ad.
- Express genuine interest in the company. Do research online include something about them in the second paragraph. The mission statement is a great place to see what they value!
- Visually match the resume. Same header, font style, etc
- Be addressed to a specific person whenever possible.
Video: 5 Steps to an Incredible Cover Letter
Licenses and Attributions
CC licensed content, Original:
- College Success. Authored by: Linda Bruce. Provided by: Lumen Learning. Located at: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/collegesuccess-lumen/chapter/resumes-and-cover-letters/ License: CC BY: Attribution.
- Edited and adapted by Jan Coville
All rights reserved content:
- How to Format a Resume Fast, created by Heather Austin. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzomFlIAPHc&feature=emb_logo license: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
- The Key to a Winning Resume, created by Heather Austin. Located at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iwCzT2P7vw&feature=emb_logo License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.
- 5 Steps to an Incredible Cover Letter. Authored by: Aimee Bateman. Located at: https://youtu.be/mxOli8laZos. License: All Rights Reserved. License Terms: Standard YouTube License.