Writing a resume is, for some individuals, a straight forward task -- develop a marketing piece that targets the right employers, with the information they want, in a format that communicates clearly. For others sitting down to write a resume appears to be an exercise in shooting in the dark. They not only do not know what types of employers they are attempting to motivate, they are not clear what skills or experiences they possess that might be valued. In either case, the development of an effective resume is the same process.
To write a resume that works, you begin by understanding the purpose of the document, how it will be read, what it does, and what it cannot do.
The resume is not a personal history. It is a concise, clearly stated outline of your education, work, and volunteer and co-curricular experience that highlights your qualifications for employment -- full time, summer, or internship. Where possible, it targets a specific audience and uses language that will connect with and motivate that audience. If you have not identified the audience you are trying to reach, you should begin by satisfying the toughest audience you have -- yourself.
The resume is a marketing document that rarely travels alone. It is most often accompanied by a cover letter that serves to further establish the specific connection between your qualifications and the needs of the potential employer. In those instances in which a letter is not included, it is most likely because you are hand-carrying the resume. Your conversation serves to describe how your qualifications "fit" the description of need that the employer has stated -- whether in a job description, an advertisement, or in a marketing brochure. Finally, the resume might be delivered by a third party -- a parent, an alum, or someone with whom you have developed a relationship through networking. It is the job of this person to connect you to the employer.
Most resumes are read in one of two ways. In the first scenario, a person reads through one or a stack of several hundred resumes. Most readers read twice. They skim the resume seeking to understand the nature of your experience and how it might have the potential to meet their needs. Then they go back, seeking more depth which will establish the connection between their needs and you. In the second scenario, the resume is "skim-read" by computer. It is actually assessed through a keyword search. Specific qualifications, skills, traits, or languages listed in the position description are sought. The range of keywords used will vary according to the needs of the job. The can be fairly general such as: leadership, management, supervision, creative, problem solving, research. They can also be specific,: Mandarin, C++, area of concentration, GPA, editorial, performance type. The machine read resume then goes to a reader for further analysis and confirmation of the "fit."
In either case, it is important that the resume can be read quickly and that important information is described accurately and assertively. Whether you are an undergraduate, a graduating senior, or a graduate student your resume will be a presentation that documents your general qualifications which might include:
* your ability to learn quickly;
* to adapt to new environments;
* to research, analyze, and solve problems;
* to work with and/or lead a team;
* to follow instructions;
* to deal with ambiguity;
* to make decisions; and
* to communicate effectively.
Preparing to write your resume. Start by writing a comprehensive outline of all the experiences and facts you might want to include in your resume. Keep this outline as a reference while you experiment with a variety of formats and styles.