February 19, 2017

How to Write a Resume: Basic Guidelines

Written by Rachel Eddins

Posted in Career Planning and with tags: resume

how to write a resumeYour Guide to Writing Your Resume

If you are in a job search you know that your resume is your marketing tool. Your resume should present to an employer your potential by illustrating examples of past accomplishments and experiences using the skills necessary for the job you are seeking.

If you are a career changer or entry-level job seeker, it is likely you do not have the relevant experience. However, this does not mean you haven’t used the necessary skill sets.

Your challenge is to identify experiences where you have used those skill sets and present them at the forefront on your resume. In this post we will go over the basics of how to write a resume.

Getting Started with Writing Your Resume

Here are some steps to prepare for writing your resume.

Step 1: Identify the types of positions you are targeting. 

Before you sit down to write your resume, you need to know what positions/industries/roles/skills you will be targeting. Anything to help you narrow down the focus of your resume.

The content of your resume will be directed towards those areas. If you haven’t identified your career or job search target yet, go back and spend some time on this first. If you’re unsure, you can work with a one of our career counselors to help you identify potential matches.

Step 2: Evaluate the skills and abilities required by the position you are seeking. 

The next thing you’ll need to know is what employers will be looking for on your resume. You will tailor your past experience to fit the job/career you are seeking, which illustrates your potential for the position.

An employer will scan your resume (in 5-10 seconds) to determine if you can do the job. Your resume will be organized by highlighting the skills relevant to the types of positions you are seeking making it easy to scan and demonstrate your qualifications. So, first you must identify them!

Here are some ways you can identify relevant skills:

  1. An excellent tool to use is the Occupational Network http://online.onetcenter.org. To begin, search the occupations that you have targeted and identify the typical skills required by those careers. Make a list of the skills you’ve identified.
  2. Second, search job postings and job descriptions and identify the preferred qualities of the ideal candidate and other skill requirements listed (use major job search engines and broaden your search nationally to retrieve a greater variety of results for your selected job title.) Add any new skills and abilities you’ve identified to your list.
  3. Third, talk to someone who has hired, interviewed or worked with people in the positions you’re seeking. Ask about the qualities of their ideal candidate and which skills and abilities would make someone successful performing the function of that job.

Now you should have a good idea of what employers will be looking for in the career you are seeking.

While you may not have the related employment experience, it is highly possible that you have demonstrated the desired skills in your past.

If you have chosen a career that reflects who you are and utilizes your strengths you VERY likely have used those strengths in your past.

Step 3: Identify experiences in your life that reflect WHEN you have utilized the desired skills for your ideal career.

For this exercise, we recommend that you write accomplishment stories. If you’ve followed the steps in the self-assessment process, you may have already completed this step. If not, here is a guide to writing your accomplishment stories:

Exercise: Write a story about 4-5 work-related experiences or accomplishments of which you are proud in the following format: Goal, Challenges, Action, and Results. It can be an accomplishment in school, extracurricular activity, job, hobby, etc.

For this exercise consider all the experiences and roles you’ve had in your life, but focus on as many employment related ones as you can. If you are an entry-level job seeker or career changer, you may need to evaluate more diverse experiences.

Remember, we’re looking for skills and strengths as well as bullet points for your resume.

For each accomplishment identify the following:

  • Your goal – what did you want to accomplish? (Ex: raising funds to support a new computer lab at your son’s school; bringing up sales numbers).
  • Challenge or circumstance when you began the project or task (a problem or need you had to overcome?)
  • Action you took to create a result or solve a problem; identify what you did very specifically, step by step and focus only on what YOU did – not the team.
  • Describe the result that followed, quantified as best as possible.
  • What skills did you demonstrate in that experience? Here are some examples of transferable skills: Transferable-Skills

Now you should have accomplishment-based experiences to support your qualifications for the position you are seeking. It’s time to decide on a resume format.


Step 4: Identify Your Resume Format

There are just a few basic resume types, but these types have many variations. Use a format that makes the best presentation of your particular skills and abilities.

  1. The Simple Chronological Resume

This is considered to be the “traditional” resume. Education and experience are presented in reverse chronological order. It is the simplest of resumes, easy to read and understand and what most employers expect to see.

It summarizes your skills and accomplishments under each job listed. The major focus is on activities of the past 5 – 15 years of relevant experience. Use this resume style if you have relevant work-related experience for your career objective.

Here is a Classic Professional Resume example.

  1. Classic Combination Skills Based Format

This resume style arranges content under major skills rather than jobs previously held first, thereby minimizing your actual work history. A well-done skills resume emphasizes skills that are most important to succeed in the job stated in the job objective.

A skills resume is often used in situations where the writer wants to avoid displaying obvious weaknesses that would be highlighted on a chronological resume. This is the most common style of resume template for career changers with no relevant work history.

A skills resume can help hide a variety of other weaknesses as well, such as limited work experience, gaps in the job history, lack of educational credentials, and other flaws.

It is best to present your skills first (using your accomplishments from your stories in the step 3 exercise) then list your work history. Because skills resumes can hide your problems, some employers do not like it. Keep in mind however that if a chronological resume highlights a weakness, it may get you screened out.

Additionally, in an effective job search, you should present yourself BEFORE your resume, i.e., once you’ve met with someone and they’ve gotten to know you, you follow up with a copy of your resume.

Here is a Skills Based Professional Resume example.


How to Write a Resume: Layout and Appearance

  • Be sure your contact information is at the top, bold your name, include your address and phone number (cell phone with professional message is best) and make sure your email address is professional – your name is fine.
  • Length: one page is usually enough, unless you are an experienced candidate. If you can’t get everything on one page, you are better off filling up two full pages with content than to provide one-and-a-half pages of content.
  • Formatting: tailor your information to the job you’re seeking. Capitals and boldface can make points stand out. Give thought as to what you are emphasizing and make sure they are the most important points. For example, bold your profile heading and key skills you include in your resume if appropriate (the keyword, not the whole sentence). Bold your major vs. the university you attended. Bold your job titles vs. your employer. Italicize the main points in your key accomplishments. Use numbers to draw attention to your accomplishments (i.e., increased revenue 54% in less than one year).
  • Organization: list your sections in order of importance and relevance. For example, if you graduated over 10 years ago, your education is less important than your experience.
  • Fonts: use a simple, easy-to-read, 11 or 12-point font such as Times New Roman, Arial or Callibri.
  • Proofread and have someone else proofread. Employers who notice typographical, grammar, formatting, or punctuation errors will think you’re not detail oriented, which is important for almost any job. If you bold job titles, make sure each one is bolded throughout. If you end a bullet point with a period, make sure every bullet point ends in a period. Even if you are good at proofreading, find someone else who is and ask this person to review your resume once for formatting errors and once for content.
  • Use white space. This will make the contents of your resume easier to read. Make sure there is sufficient spacing between headings and elements in each section. Be sure not to make your margins too small to fit more information on the page. Remember, employers will scan your resume initially so it should appear easy to scan. The use of headings, bold or italics and white space will create this. If it looks like something that needs to be read, it will be passed up.

How to Write a Resume: Content

Follow these steps to write each content section of your resume.
how to write your resume

Headline, Branding Statement, or Objective

  • Start with a headline statement that focuses on the position you are seeking/your profession/job title as a heading in bold at the top of the page.

Example: Database Administrator, Office Manager/Executive Assistant, Public Relations/Marketing/Corporate Communications (bold the titles).

  • In lieu of a headline statement you could use a branding statement which defines who you are and the value you offer.

ExamplePerformance Improvement Consultant with expertise in delivering training programs that drive productivity and performance efficiencies.

  • For entry level professionals, a clear objective statement is sufficient. Use this format: Seeking position with type of company, utilizing skills (list about 3 strengths/skills). Be sure to focus on what you offer vs. what you want.

Example: Seeking human resources position in healthcare, where proven abilities to select, train, and staff healthcare personnel are desired.

Profile or Summary Section

  • A profile goes underneath your header is is usually listed in sentence or bullet form.
  • The first sentence usually states the years of experience in a field.
  • The next sentences highlight greatest/most impressive achievements and skills acquired over years of work.
  • Choose bullet points that directly tie your top selling points/strengths to the requirements of the job you seek.

Example: Globally astute consulting principal with 12 years consistent history of increasing firm revenues. Able to drive results through leadership, subject matter expertise, and precise efficiency methodologies. Highly skilled at developing products and systems resulting in $1M to $20M in cost savings. Known for building two $MM companies and establishing effective relationships with Fortune 500 clients.

  • You could either combine with the profile or use instead a summary, core competencies or skills section underneath your header. A skills section is generally listed as two-three rows and two-three columns of skills unique to the position you seek. You might include keywords such as “draft legal briefs” or specific skills such as programming languages.

Example Resume Profile Section: 

Core Competencies 

Rapid Business Growth                  Large Staff/Team Management               Innovative

hange Management                       Complex System Implementation            Agile

Start-up Development                    Product Lifecycle Mapping                       Precise

Experience Section

  • Highlight accomplishments and avoid using a list of daily job duties or responsibilities. Your experience section should list accomplishments, results, and outcomes. Make sure accomplishments reflect YOUR contributions and not the team’s. Write accomplishments that emphasize your key skills.
  • Write actively using action verbs (i.e., implemented, developed, increased, led, initiated) to start each bullet. Use present tense for your current position and past tense for previous positions. Example: Achieved 35% increase in customer retention rates within the first year.
  • Use active, descriptive phrases to highlight your unique qualifications.
  • Quantify your results where possible.
  • Format: one way to format this is to list the overall scope of your position then bullet list “results”.  Another strategy is to simply bullet list key accomplishments.
  • List 2-6 bullet points per position.
  • Use words common to your industry, especially specific skills (obtain these from your job description/vacancies research).

Writing Your Experience Section: Sell it vs. Tell it.

Promote your accomplishments vs. simply stating facts.

Example 1:

Tell It: Coordinated all secretarial, clerical and administrative functions for large commodities export company.

Sell It: Implemented a series of process improvements that reduced staffing requirements 20%, increased daily productivity 30% and reduced billing errors 14% for a large commodities export company. Full responsibility for all secretarial, clerical and administrative functions.

Example 2: 

Tell It: Set up PCs for newly hired sales and service staff.

Sell It: Installed more than 100 PCs and implemented customized applications to support nationwide network of sales and service staff for one of the world’s largest insurance companies. Provided ongoing troubleshooting and technical support that reduced PC down-time by 38% over a 6-month period.

Skills Section (If Using Skills-Based Resume)

If you are using a skills-based resume, you’ll want to select three-four of your strongest skill areas that relate to your objective and identify several accomplishments that go along for each.

Prioritize accomplishments from paid work experience first.

You can list the skills section as Summary of Qualifications, Skills, Qualifications, etc.

Your accomplishment bullets will go under each skill category. See the skills based professional resume.

Underneath this section list your work history.

Additional Sections

  • Education. Include your degree and major field of study (include GPA if above 3.2). If you don’t have a college degree, list technical training, certification and any related coursework completed. If you’re in school, list the degree you are seeking with your expected date of completion.
  • List additional sections that highlight the skills/experience you have. You can include sections such as training, certifications, awards, publications, presentations, leadership, honors, activities and any other experience that supports your career objective. Watch out for hobbies and activities that are unrelated to your objective unless they demonstrate a unique qualification. Avoid anything that could be perceived negatively such as political activities (unless relative to the position).
  • Select information that supports your objective. Never lie on your resume. That does not mean that you have to present negative information! Make sure that everything you put in your resume supports your job objective in some way. Be prepared to talk about everything that you have listed on your resume in your interview.

Submitting a Resume Online

  • Use keywords from the job description in your cover letter and resume in order to pass the automatic HR analysis programs that eliminate resumes before they are ever read by a human.
  • Do not use spaces or tabs for formatting a table or aligning text. Please use Word’s alignment and indention features.
  • Do not surround your resume body with a frame, do not use columns in your resume, and do not use fancy table borders as this can cause problems with the formatting.

Should You Include a Cover Letter?

In most cases, yes. Learn more about how to write a cover letter and explore a few samples.

Resume Writing Resources:

Here are some additional resume writing resources:

Need Additional Help With Your Resume?  

Contact one of our career counselors in Houston, Tx for a resume critique, assistance on how to write a resume, and help with your job search. We also offer career testing and a structured “find your career path” coaching group. Services are available face to face in Houston or through online career coaching.  

To get started now give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.

Recommended Resources:


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