Countless books have been published on how to write a resume, but there’s no need to overthink it.
Following a few core principles will serve you well.
1. Be clear and concise.
Employers are busy. Don’t waste their time with information that isn’t relevant to the position. Make that precious time count by writing a resume that is concise and easy to scan. A long-winded document tells the employer that you don’t really understand its purpose. For some managers, using too many words shows a lack of effort.
Always strive to deliver a clear and condensed expression of your professional value. It takes time and revision to accomplish this, but the resulting job interview will be worth the effort.
2. Keep it relevant.
Resume writing is a challenge because there is so much to say in a limited space. The solution is to forget about representing your whole life on one sheet of paper. Focus on your experience, skills, and workplace contributions relevant to the open position. These are the things hiring managers want to know. You’ll have a chance to introduce yourself in greater depth during the interview.
3. Include concrete facts.
It isn’t enough to list responsibilities from past jobs; employers want to see that you have delivered concrete value. Wherever possible, quantify your contributions with numbers. For example, “Supervised entire patient care team in a large nursing facility,” is not as strong or compelling as “Supervised 12 nursing staff in 72-bed facility with 97% patient satisfaction rate.”
If you don’t feel comfortable using exact numbers for a particular bullet point, try using a range of numbers. You could say, “Facilitated intervention counseling for 20-40 families per month.”
4. Be real.
Embellishment is a well-known vice in world of resume writing, but stretching the truth will sting during the interview process–or worse, after you are hired. Lay a solid foundation for your relationship with each potential employer by sending a resume that is honest and loyal to the facts. This policy will never lead you astray.
5. Draw the eye to key information.
Keep in mind that hiring managers want to extract a few important details (e.g., your name, relevant skills and achievements, recent employment history, education, and contact information). When these details are easy to spot, the person holding your resume is able to get a clear and immediate sense of why they should interview you.
That’s assuming your resume is seen by human eyes. A growing number of companies (especially large ones) use applicant tracking software (ATS) to process the heavy volume of resumes they receive. This technology uses algorithms to extract relevant information from your resume and rank it against the job description. Those that rank high enough are presented to hiring teams; the rest are eliminated. Jumbled formatting and disorganized text are among the common reasons for rejection by an ATS.
6. Eliminate distractions.
Your resume format is not the best place to get creative–most managers value a consistent and uniform approach. Use bullet points, a single font (e.g., Arial, Times, or Helvetica), and sufficient spacing throughout. Stay away from fancy fonts, clipart, and other distractions. Instead, focus on delivering a solid impression through words.
Speaking of words, avoid the use of personal pronouns (I, you, they) and definite/indefinite articles (a, an, the). Strive for a tone that is active, neutral, and distraction-free. Examples:
- Instead of, “I was responsible for managing three people who reported directly to me,” say, “Managed three direct reports.”
- Instead of “I led the development team for upgrades to the accounting software,” say, “Led development team for accounting software upgrades.”
7. Customize for each opportunity.
Each job has a unique set of requirements, and each resume should be tailored accordingly. It may help to re-order the skills you’ve listed, or to highlight different professional achievements. The goal is to create maximum relevance to the opportunity in question. Don’t give the impression that you’re looking for any job; send a message that you’re interested in this job.
To this end, keywords can be useful. By lifting certain words from the job description and working them into your resume, a direct connection is established between what you have and what the employer needs. Always be selective and nuanced when using keywords, however.
Be Confident in Your Value
Few writing projects generate as much anxiety as the resume, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The best version of this document – the version that gets you to the interview stage – will emerge as long as you keep things simple, relevant, and concrete.
Need help developing your resume? Capella University students and alumni enjoy free, lifetime access to the Capella Career Center for career planning and advice.