As I noted previously, the best way to approach your resume is to view it as creating a story. When you view it as a story, you can both craft it so you can easily convince people to hire you, but also it's just a lot more enjoyable.
Any good story has parts; introductions, beginning, endings, climaxes, etc. Your resume has its own components that tell your story. We'll look at these parts so you can get an idea of how to tweak them to tell the kind of story you want.
So, we'll take a look at the parts of your resume-story. I'll present them in the order I recommend they appear on the resume. Each has a specific purpose in telling your story.
Your address, name, email, website, and contact info go at the top of the resume. Simple, precise, and useful.
Also, at this point you're starting to tell your story. You want this information presented properly and clearly – and consider what it says about you. A few things for your consideration:
Name: Did you list any advanced degrees or certification after your name? If you have those you want people to know, they're part of your story.
Address: Are you in a different location than your potential employer? Then you'll want to note you understand that in interviews or even your cover letter.
Phone: Did you give the best number or numbers to be contacted at? You don't want to forget to list all the needed forms of contact.
Email: Is your email address one that's professional, or is it a silly name or handle that might give a wrong impression? I recommend having a business-only email address with some proper dignity.
Online Resources: Personal Websites, Linkedin Profile, and More. Some people include these in their contact information. I usually do myself. Just make sure they're relevant, and again, present the proper image you want.
This is the part of a resume where you state your intention – who you are, what you're looking for, etc. This statement gives people a one-sentence summary for potential employers.
Thus you may be "An experienced programmer with ten years of web experience seeking to move into e-commerce" or "An ambitious future professional looking for a career in gaming."
Think of this much like the quick summaries you see in books or movies, those little statements and taglines that convince you to see them or read them.
Personal statements are challenging – just like the taglines I mentioned – but constructing them in a resume is vital so you can tell your story. A good tagline will get the attention of your audience and set the stage for them to understand your resume. A bad one is confusing, inappropriate, or uninteresting.
I recommend designing the tagline at the start of your resume building process it helps focus your resume around that story you're trying to tell. To do that you need to have a story in mind.
However, depending on the kind of resume, you may need to do some resume-building before a tale emerges emerges.
The skill section of your resume tells people what you're capable of doing. It does not tell them everything you can do – there's much they don't care about – but it does tell them what you can do that supports your personal statement, your cover letter, and the fact that you can do the job you've applied for.
I view this section as the equivalent of a display of ability. Early on in many tales the hero or heroine displays some ability – solving a crime, fighting off an enemy, cooking a meal, and so on. That gives you an idea of who they are. Your skill section should immediately let people see you're competent at something.
In making a skills section, I find people fall into two traps: they give more detail than needed, or they undersell themselves in the skill department and list to few skills. Finding the correct balance is more of an art, but the final touchstone is simply this – do you list skills that are relevant to the job you want and the story you're telling? If the skill isn't relevant, leave it out, and if it is relevant, put it in.
Displaying your skills is a bit of a challenge – if you just create a list, people will get lost in it. If you list things in general, people will miss the fine detail, which may be very important. To do that I organize the skill section on two levels – a general level and a specific level.
Here's how to organize them:
- List the skills relevant to the job you're seeking.
- Break them into 4-6 large categories.
- Put the list of categories on your resume, and in each category, the relevant skills.
For a writing position your skill categories may be things like writing, editing, typesetting, and information technology. For a programmer it may be console development, web development, databases, system setup, and communication skills (for a senior programmer). Play with your skills and find the right categories.
Within each of those categories you would list the skills that fit.. For instance, under Writing one may list abilities such as fiction writing, nonfiction writing, column writing, etc. If one is a programmer, you may have a "programming" category and in that list your languages, databases, computer languages, etc.
Having this kind of skill breakdown makes the resume fast to read – the reader sees your 4-6 basic categories. If those categories intrigue them, they can read the specific details. An example using the above would be:
- Masters in communications.
- Twelve years experience in writing scientific, research, and business documents.
- Interviewing and researching to gain information for writing purposes.
And so on. You could do subcategories, single lists, whatever works for you. Ply around with it.
There are many ways to format this section. Play around and find what works best for you.
You've told people who you are in a quick summary. They have an idea of what you can do. The Employment History section is part of the why. This is one of the places you show how you got to where you are now – and why people reading your resume should be part of your future.
This is in some ways the simplest section and the most challenging.
Really what you do is list your employment history as far back as you want to go (usually as far back as is needed to communicate your story). I list each employer or job separately, the dates I worked for them, and their location. You can probably do that in a few minutes.
It's what comes after that gets a bit more challenging.
You need to tell your story in this section and show why people should hire you. The way you do that is listing your major achievements for each job. Each job you have is a rung in the ladder of your great climb, and what you should do is list the major achievements each time, as long as those achievements are A) actual achievements, and B) are relevant to the resume story you're presenting.
Keep in mind that this section also shows your evolution. You may have started as an administrative assistant in a publisher long ago, and though you now have a writing career, noting that in your resume helps show growth – and focus. I myself am a programmer turned project manager, but since I manage programmers, I include that in my resume.
We'll go into this section in more detail next part.
Education is a lot like the Employment section – you want to show your education and how it prepared you for your current career. You want to list awards, achievements, majors, etc.
That being said there's a good chance your education has little to do with your current career – much in that I am not a psychologist. That is of little consequence to your resume – your major, as irrelevant as it seems now, is part of your story.
So don't worry about including your education in your resume even if it seems irrelevant or goofy now. If questions come up about it, be ready to answer them. Believe me, for fifteen years of IT experience, I am still explaining why I left science – but explaining it helps people get a better feel for who I am.
If your educational background is directly relevant to your career/job/general focus then go and work it into your story as best as possible. If you have an advanced degree, don't forget to include the designation (PhD, etc.) with your name.
Certifications and Training:
Education sections usually cover official schooling – college and the like. If you're like many people and you've had additional training and certifications, list them in a second section.
Certifications and Training tell people what you've done beyond the "usual" education, showing people how you've pursued specific knowledge and grown as a professional. This is the part of your story shows dedication to your craft and growth.
For some professions – programmers, graphic artists, project managers (present!), certifications are indispensable for career progress and growth. Make sure you call them out. My usual rule is "if letters go after your name, you want to show it" – MCSD, PMP, etc.
If this area seems a bit sparse? Then perhaps it's time to jazz it up with some more education . . .
Hobbies are not something to disregard in your resume because they show that you're a person who, well, has a life. It shows that you're a person just like everyone else. Story-wise, it's like those moments in a movie where we learn about the endearing quirks of a character or see how their passions define their lives.
It also shows what else you can do.
Hobbies, like your job history and education should reflect your story, but you have a bit more leeway here. Maybe you want to show your fun-loving side, maybe you want to communicate your seriousness, etc. This is very much a judgement call.
However I prefer honesty. I like to give people an idea of who I am, and a few times my hobbies have come up – and in all cases it moved the process forward. There's nothing like someone asking about my interest in Chinese philosophy to lead to a discussion on the importance of ethics.
OK we looked at the parts of your tale – the story you'll tell through your resume. Now, how do we get all this?
Well, that's the next section . . .
– Steven Savage