Let’s get back to talking about resumes. We have covered some of the basics of business correspondence already but now we need to get down to the serious business of crafting your resume.
Before we get started, though, we need to answer the question: What is a resume, anyway? More important, what is a good resume?
A resume is a document that condenses a person’s skills, education, and experience into a short one or two pages. The purpose of the resume is to find employment, and in the normal course of jobseeking events it is usually the step that (hopefully!) leads to a job interview.
It is probably the most important single document you will produce in your job search. Without one potential employers will not even know you exist, and with a great one you will be much more likely to get an interview. The problem is that there are a lot of really average to poor resumes out there because people don’t follow some of the simple rules that lead to a good resume.
While there is no guarantee that a good resume will result in a job interview and a career in the sweet new career that you want, I can certainly guarantee that a bad resume will keep you out of the building. So what can you do to get out of the “average” pile?
The first thing you must recognize is that your resume is your first impression with the company where you want a job. You may have met someone who asked you to send them your resume, but it is very unlikely that they are the actual hiring manager or decision maker who will present you with an offer. That person will know you only by the document that you send in, so your paper had better be focused, well written, and error free.
Let’s talk the error free bit first. Remember that this is your first impression, and if it contains grammatical or spelling errors you are telegraphing to your potential employer that you either that you have poor skills with the English language or are too lazy to proofread your resume. Nobody is going to read your misspellings and think “Oh boy! I really want to hire someone who can’t spell!!”
A way you make sure your resume is error free is to proof read it yourself and have others proofread it as well. I recommend that you print out your resume and read it as though you were a teacher grading an exam. Don’t just read it on the computer screen because you will miss things – people tend to miss grammar errors that are not identified by their word processing program (like “there” and “their”, for example). Get out a red pen and critically examine it. You will be surprised at the errors you find. Make sure to double check your contact information as well – I accidentally misspelled the city I live in on my early resumes and missed it because it was in the header. An interviewer caught it and I felt like a complete moron because I had read and reread it a dozen times but skipped the header without thinking about it.
Your resume must be well written. That is easy to say but very difficult to do, particularly with the requirement to keep it short. You need to be able to distill your whole professional life, including your schooling, work experience, training, and skills into a few pages. Much easier said than done! Mark Twain, the quintessential American 19th century writer, put it best when his publisher sent him a telegram asking to write a couple of pages in a couple of days:
From the publisher:
NEED 2-PAGE SHORT STORY TWO DAYS.
NO CAN DO 2 PAGES TWO DAYS.
CAN DO 30 PAGES 2 DAYS.
NEED 30 DAYS TO DO 2 PAGES.
We will get much more deeply into how to craft a well written resume in future posts as we delve into the different types and methods of writing them. One thing to keep in mind as well is that your audience, the hiring manager, is a civilian who likely has no knowledge about the military much less whatever your occupational specialty was. You will need to translate military-speak and jargon into simple English. Otherwise the reader will be confused and your resume will rocket into the trashcan. The point is that it is a lot harder than you think to shrink your life down to a few pages and still get the message of why you should be hired across.
Your resume must be focused. This goes hand in hand with the stricture that it must be well written, but you will find these two concepts at odds as you compile your resume. You will want to tell the employer why you are the right person and support it with a lot of vignettes and experiences, but you don’t have the space to wax eloquently about how great you were at you whatever you did. You need to be able to strip it down the the essence of what you are trying to say without all of the fluff – and you need to be able to do it so that it reads well.
You won’t need 30 days to write your two page resume, though. It takes time and practice to write a good resume, and how you write depends on the type of document you choose to compile. There are three basic types of resumes, and each is written differently. We will dive into each in much greater detail in future posts, but here is a quick rundown of each type:
The most common and easiest to write is the chronological resume. This is basically a brief history of what you have been doing. This resume is great for situations where you may not know the specific job you are going after or in cases where you go to a job fair and have the opportunity to hand out a bunch of resumes to corporate recruiters. It is also the least focused of the types, which can be a problem if companies are looking for specific skills or talents. It is also not a good resume for someone with little experience such as a newly graduated student who has not yet landed his or her first job.
The second basic type is the functional resume. The functional resume presents your skills in a sorted fashion that shows what you are good at and what expertise you offer to the company. This type of resume is useful in areas where specific skill sets or talents are needed for a job. They are very common in the health care and scientific fields because they articulate your strengths and abilities in specific areas that should target the job you are looking for.
The third and often most useful type is the combination resume. This incorporates both chronological and the functional components into the resume and provides the company with insight into your experience over time as well as your specific skill sets. It is the toughest to write, though, for the reason that Mark Twain complained about to his publisher: now you have to essentially bring together two resumes into one and keep it within two pages.
It can be done, though, and in the upcoming string of posts we will go into each resume type in great detail…
1) Resumes need to be short and to the point. Two pages is as long as they should be except in very specific circumstances.
2) The resume is your first impression with the person or people who will make the decision to hire you, so you had better provide your best possible product: Error free and grammatically correct!
3) There are three basic types of resumes: Chronological, Functional, and Combination. Which one you use depends on the company you are applying to and the job you are seeking. More on that in future posts.