Crafting your résumé is an important, albeit tedious task. Ten or more years ago, cover letters always accompanied résumés. As such, these letters, which were much more flexible in form and function, were once a job-seeker’s first impression. That has changed in recent years, however. Now, some companies use automated application systems that do not include a field for uploading your cover letter. Some companies even go so far as to say they don’t want to see a cover letter. Even when you are able to include a cover letter, many hiring committees are so overwhelmed with hundreds, if not thousands, of résumés, that they skip the appetizer and go straight to the main course. This is why you must be prepared for the possibility that your résumé will be your first (and perhaps only) impression.
So how do you maximize your chances? My first recommendation is always to tailor your résumé to the specific job for which you are applying. But this is the topic of another post. Beyond that, it is important to draft a quality, to-the-point, error-free document. There are a number of different ways to craft a résumé, and no one option is wrong, but certain options are “safer” than others. I’m going to show you two ways to create your résumé. The first is for job-seekers who are recent graduates with limited work experience. This can also apply to people changing fields. The second is for those who have been in their field for some time and have a lot of experience, which will be addressed in another article.
If you’re a recent graduate, you want to put your degrees front and center, especially if you attended a prestigious school or graduated with honors or a high GPA. Some forms recommend an Objective section first, but I always find these cumbersome to write and not very informative to the hiring committee. Remember, you don’t want them to ever feel as though you’ve wasted their time. The only time I recommend an Objective section is when you’re applying to a company for any job, not to a specific position. Otherwise, put your education first. Treat this kind of like you would a job. Take a couple of lines to highlight the things you did in college or grad school that would be relevant to your field. For example, you should include that you were the Chairman of the University Democrats when you’re applying to work for a politician (who presumably is also a Democrat…otherwise, I might leave that off). If you’re applying for a job in a museum, you might highlight the high-level art history courses you took, especially if they were taught by someone well-known in your field.
Next, if you have relevant work experience, like interning in a law firm while you were in law school, put your Professional Experience section next. Make sure you include relevant contact information and spend a few lines detailing your duties. Always list the most recent job first and then work backwards.
Now move on to a Skills section. Here is where you want to highlight anything you do really well that is relevant to your field. You can put this before the Professional Experience section if you don’t have any relevant work experience, but you do have skills that are important for your field, like HTML coding if you’re going into IT. If your resume is looking puny, the Skills section is where you can beef it up. Don’t put overused clichés like “people person” or “go-getter.” Instead, opt for straight talk that also explains why the skill is important. If you’ve had experience working from home as a research assistant and you’re apply for a remote work position, you can say something like “experienced in remote work and self-direction,” which tells employers you can handle not having a boss breathing down your neck making sure you’re working.
If you have any certifications or publications that are relevant to your field, and you have room left over, add either (or both) of these sections at the end.
Now, to the big issue: what if you don’t have any relevant work experience? I’m going to assume that you at least have some professional experience, even if it’s waiting tables or an unpaid internship. The key is to explain to the hiring committee how your work experience will be useful in this position for which you are applying. Put your work experience under the filter of the job you want and ask yourself what you learned in the old job that you can use in the new job. Then present it that way on your resume.
Remember, hiring committees want to know “what’s in it for me” if they hire you. Your résumé is your first (and maybe your only) chance to tell them.