12 Step Resume Writing
- The Net's Premier Resume Writing and Editing Service
Before you can begin to design your resume on
paper, you need to have the words. Use the following twelve-step
writing process to help you clarify your experience, accomplishments,
skills, education, and other background information, which will
make the job of condensing your life onto a sheet of paper a little
easier. If you need more help, consider using a ResumeEdge professional
Step One: Focus
Decide what type of job you will be applying
for and then write it at the top of a piece of paper. This can become
your objective statement, should you decide to use one, or be used
in the first line of the profile section of your resume to give
your reader a general idea of your area of expertise.
Objectives are not required on a resume, and
often the cover letter is the best place to personalize your objective
for each job opening. There is nothing wrong with using an objective
statement on a resume, however, provided it doesn't limit your job
choices. As an alternative, you can alter individual resumes with
personalized objectives that reflect the actual job title for which
you are applying. Just make sure that the rest of your information
is still relevant to the new objective, though.
Never write an objective statement that is not
precise. You should name the position you want so specifically that,
if a janitor came by and knocked over all the stacks of sorted resumes
on a hiring manager's desk, he could put yours back in its right
stack without even thinking about it. That means saying, "A marketing
management position with an aggressive international consumer goods
manufacturer" instead of "A position which utilizes my education
and experience to mutual benefit."
Step Two: Education
Under the objective on the first piece of paper,
list any education or training that might relate. If you are a recent
college graduate and have little relevant experience, then your
education section will be placed at the top of your resume. As you
gain more experience, your education almost always gravitates to
If you participated in college activities or
received any honors or completed any notable projects that relate
directly to your target job, this is the place to list them.
Showing high school education and activities
on a resume is only appropriate when you are under 20 and have no
education or training beyond high school. Once you have completed
either college courses or specialized technical training, drop your
high school information altogether.
Continuing education shows that you care about life-long learning
and self-development, so think about any relevant training since
your formal education was completed. Relevant is the key word here.
Always look at your resume from the perspective of a potential employer.
Don't waste space by listing training that is not directly or indirectly
related to your target job.
Step Three: Job Descriptions
Get your hands on a written description of the job you wish to obtain
and for any jobs you have held in the past. If you are presently
employed, your human resource department is the first place to look.
If not, then go to your local library and ask for a copy of The
Dictionary of Occupational Titles or the Occupational Outlook Handbook
available online at
These industry standard reference guides offer volumes of occupational
titles and job descriptions for everything from Abalone Divers to
Zoo Veterinarians (and thousands in between).
Another resource available at your local library
or college career center is Job Scribe, a computer software program
with more than 3,000 job descriptions. Other places to look for
job descriptions include your local government job service agencies,
professional and technical organizations, headhunters (i.e., recruiters),
associates who work in the same field, newspaper advertisements
for similar jobs, or online job postings (which tend to have longer
job descriptions than print ads).
The ResumeEdge Resume Center will provide you
with hundreds of job descriptions taken from all of the resume samples.
Simply do a keyword search for relevant job titles on the
sample resume pages.
Now, make a copy of the applicable descriptions
and then highlight the sentences that describe anything you have
done in your past or present jobs. These job descriptions are important
sources of keywords, so pay particular attention to nouns and phrases
that you can incorporate into your own resume.
Step Four: Keywords
In today's world of e-mailed and scannable resumes,
make sure you know the buzzwords of your industry and incorporate
them into the sentences you are about to write. Keywords are the
nouns or short phrases that describe your experience and education
that might be used to find your resume in a keyword search of a
resume database. They are the essential knowledge, abilities, and
skills required to do your job. They are concrete descriptions like:
C++, UNIX, fiber optic cable, network, project management, etc.
Even well-known company names (AT&T, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, MCI)
and universities (Harvard, Yale, SMU, SUNY, USC, Stanford, Tulane,
Thunderbird) are sometimes used as keywords, especially when it
is necessary to narrow down an initial search that calls up hundreds
of resumes from a resume database.
Acronyms and abbreviations here can either hurt
you or help you, depending on how you use them. One example given
to me by an engineer at Resumix was the abbreviation "IN." Think
about it. "IN" could stand for intelligent networks, Indiana, or
the word in. It is better to spell out the abbreviation if there
could be any possible confusion. However, if a series of initials
is so well known that it would be recognized by nearly everyone
in your industry and would not likely be confused with a real word,
then the keyword search will probably use those initials (i.e.,
IBM, CPA, UNIX). When in doubt, always spell it out at least one
time on your resume. A computer only needs to see the combination
one time for it to be considered a "hit" in a keyword search.
Soft skills are often not included in search
criteria, especially for very technical positions, although I have
interviewed some companies that use them extensively for the initial
selection of resumes for management positions. For instance, "communicate
effectively," "self-motivated," "team player," and so on, are great
for describing your abilities and are fine to include in your profile,
but concentrate more on your hard skills, especially if you are
in a high-tech field.
At the end of the chapter, you will find more
examples of keywords for specific industries, although there is
no such thing as a comprehensive listing of keywords for any single
job. The computerized applicant tracking programs used by most companies
allow the recruiter or hiring manager to personalize his or her
list for each job opening, so it is an evolving process. You will
never know whether you have listed absolutely every keyword possible,
so focus instead on getting on paper as many related skills as possible.
The job descriptions you found in step three
are some of the most important sources for keywords. You can also
be certain that nearly every noun and some adjectives in a job posting
or advertisement will be keywords, so make sure you use those words
somewhere in your resume, using synonyms wherever you can. Make
a list of the keywords you have determined are important for your
particular job search and then list synonyms for those words. As
you incorporate these words into the sentences of your resume, check
One caution. Always tell the truth. The minute
a hiring manager speaks with you on the telephone or begins an interview,
any exaggeration of the truth will become immediately apparent.
It is a bad idea to say, "I don't have experience with MS Word computer
software" just to get the words MS Word or computer software on
paper so your resume will pop up in a keyword search. In a cover
letter, it might be appropriate to say that you "don't have five
years of experience in marketing but can add two years of university
training in the subject to three years of in-depth experience as
a marketing assistant with Hewlett-Packard." That is legitimate
reasoning, but anything more manipulative can be hazardous to your
Step Five: Your Jobs
Starting with your present position, list the
title of every job you have held on a separate sheet of paper, along
with the name of the company, the city and state, and the years
you worked there. You don't need to list addresses and zip codes,
although you will need to know that information when it comes time
to fill out an application.
You can list years only (1996-present) or months
and years (May 1996- present), depending on your personality. People
who are detail oriented are usually more comfortable with a full
accounting of their time. Listing years alone covers some gaps if
you have worked in a position for less than a full year while the
time period spans more than one calendar year. For instance, if
you worked from September 1996 through May 1997, saying 1996-1997
certainly looks better.
From the perspective of recruiters and hiring
managers, most don't care whether you list the months and years
or list the years only. However, regardless of which method you
choose, be consistent throughout your resume, especially within
sections. For instance, don't use months some of the time and years
alone within the same section. Consistency of style is important
on a resume, since it is that consistency that makes your resume
neat, clean, and easy to read.
Step Six: Duties
Under each job, make a list of your duties, incorporating
phrases from the job descriptions wherever they apply. You don't
have to worry about making great sentences yet or narrowing down
Step Seven: Accomplishments
When you are finished, go back to each job and
think about what you might have done above and beyond the call of
duty. What did you contribute to each of your jobs?
- Did you exceed sales quotas by 150 percent each month?
- Did you save the company $100,000 by developing a new procedure?
- Did you generate new product publicity in trade press?
- Did you control expenses or make work easier?
- Did you expand business or attract/retain customers?
- Did you improve the company's image or build new relationships?
- Did you improve the quality of a product?
- Did you solve a problem?
- Did you do something that made the company more competitive?
Write down any accomplishments that show potential
employers what you have done in the past, which translates into
what you might be able to do for them. Quantify whenever possible.
Numbers are always impressive. Remember, you are trying to motivate
the potential employer to buy . . . you! Convince your reader that
you will be able to generate a significant return on their investment
Step Eight: Delete
Now that you have the words on paper, go back
to each list and think about which items are relevant to your target
job. Cross out those things that don't relate, including entire
jobs (like flipping hamburgers back in high school if you are now
an electrical engineer with ten years of experience). Remember,
your resume is just an enticer, a way to get your foot in the door.
It isn't intended to be all-inclusive. You can choose to go back
only as far as your jobs relate to your present objective. Be careful
not to delete sentences that contain the keywords you identified
in step four.
Step Nine: Sentences
Make sentences of the duties you have listed
under each job, combining related items to avoid short, choppy phrases.
Never use personal pronouns in your resume (I, my, me). Instead
of saying, "I planned, organized, and directed the timely and accurate
production of code products with estimated annual revenues of $1
million," say, "Planned, organized, and directed. . . ." Writing
in the third person makes your sentences more powerful and attention
Make your sentences positive, brief, and accurate.
Since your ultimate goal is to get a human being to read your resume,
remember to structure the sentences so they are interesting to read.
Use verbs at the beginning of each sentence (designed, supervised,
managed, developed, formulated, and so on) to make them more powerful
power verb list in the Resume Center).
Make certain each word means something and contributes
to the quality of the sentence. If you find it difficult to write
clear, concise sentences,
send your resume to ResumeEdge.com
to put a team of Harvard-educated editors and professional resume
writers to work for you.
Step Ten: Rearrange
You are almost done! Now, go back to the sentences
you have written and think about their order of presentation. Put
a number 1 by the most important description of what you did for
each job. Then place a number 2 by the next most important duty
or accomplishment, and so on until you have numbered each sentence.
Again, think logically and from the perspective of a potential employer.
Keep related items together so the reader doesn't jump from one
concept to another. Make the thoughts flow smoothly.
Step Eleven: Related Qualifications
At the bottom of your resume, think about anything
else that might qualify you for your job objective. This includes
licenses, certifications, affiliations, and sometimes even interests
if they truly relate. For instance, if you want a job in sports
marketing, stating on your resume that you play tennis or are a
triathlete would be an asset.
Step Twelve: Profile
Last but not least, write four or five sentences
that give an overview of your qualifications. This profile, or qualifications
summary, should be placed at the beginning of your resume. You can
include some of your personal traits or special skills that might
have been difficult to get across in your job descriptions. Here
is a sample profile section for a computer systems technician:
- Experienced systems/network technician with significant
communications and technical control experience.
- Focused and hard working; willing to go the extra mile for
- Skilled in troubleshooting complex problems by thinking
outside the box.
- Possesses a high degree of professionalism and dedication
to exceptional quality.
- Effective team player with outstanding communication and
- Current Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Information
It is also acceptable to use a keyword summary
like the one below to give a "quick and dirty" look at your qualifications:
- Hardware: IBM 360/370, S/390, 303X, 308X, ES-9000, Amdahl
V6-II, V7, V8, 3705/3725, Honeywell 6000, PDP II, NOVA, Eclipse,
Interdata 8/32, Wang OIS 115, 140, VS-80, VS-100, HP 3000, 9000,
Vectra, IBM PC-AT, XT, and numerous other computers and mainframes.
- Languages: FORTRAN, PL/1, COBOL, BASIC, BAL (ALC), JCL,
APL, DL/1, SQL, DS-2, HP-UX, and various PC-oriented software
and support packages.
- Systems: DOS, OS, CICS, VSI/II, MVS, SVS, VM/CMS, IMS, MVT-II,
MFT, POWER, TOTAL, DATANET-30, JES-2, JES-3, BTAM, QTAM, TCAM,
VTAM, TSO, ACF, NCP, SNA, SAA, ESCON, SDLC, X-25, TCP/IP, UNIX,
This type of "laundry list" isn't very interesting
for a human being to read, but a few recruiters in high-tech industries
like this list of terms because it gives them a quick overview of
an applicant's skills. You can use whichever style you prefer.
Busy recruiters spend as little as ten seconds
deciding whether to read a resume from top to bottom. You will be
lucky if the first third of your resume gets read, so make sure
the information at the top entices the reader to read it all.
This profile section must be relevant to the
type of job for which you are applying. It might be true that you
are "compassionate," but will it help you get a job as a high-pressure
salesperson? Write this profile from the perspective of a potential
employer. What will convince this person to call you instead of
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Give Your Resume an Edge!
From Designing the Perfect Resume, by Pat Criscito.
Copyright 2000. Reprinted by arrangement with Barron's
Educational Series, Inc.