How to Write a Professional Resume
Job placement, especially at the more advanced positions of a career, requires a fair bit of matchmaking to ensure the right fit for all parties involved – this is where a professional resume comes in. Although some positions can be filled through word-of-mouth recommendations, plenty of positions are handled the old-fashioned way: An ad is placed, a candidate submits a resume and the hiring staff must try to sift through all of the available applications to find the right fit.
Filling a position by comparing candidates without professional resumes can be a challenge. For one, it’s time-consuming. Employers may need weeks to sort through a stack of resumes to find those that are most qualified. Since employers usually don’t have the luxury of leaving a position unfilled for long periods while this happens, most have built shortcuts into the hiring process designed to make identifying good candidates easier and faster.
How Your Resume Helps in the Hiring Process
In reality, this method of hiring puts a lot more emphasis on how a resume is written than on the candidate who stands behind it:
- Between two candidates of equal talent, the one with the more professional resume will usually win.
- Between a mediocre candidate with an excellent-looking resume and a superb candidate with a poor-looking resume, the mediocre candidate may be more likely to move on to the next phase of hiring.
- Well-qualified and even ideal candidates can be turned away from a position after just a quick glance at a LinkedIn profile that doesn’t line up with their resume.
The message is clear: If you want to improve your odds of being hired, you need to have a stellar resume. It doesn’t matter how amazing your talents or impressive your credentials, if you can’t convey that information swiftly and effectively on paper (and on LinkedIn) then you are at a disadvantage.
If you’ve found yourself overlooked for positions that you know you’re perfect for or are preparing to transition from one position into another, it pays to take a long hard look at your resume and see what you can do to improve it.
Professional Resumes are Truthful Yet Persuasive
The goal of a professional resume is to package your actual accomplishments and credentials in the most attractive way possible. A good resume needs to be truthful and accurate, but that doesn’t make it any less of a tool for self-promotion.
The facts of your career are immutable. Where you have worked, your education and certifications, awards you’ve won and responsibilities you’ve held are all things that won’t change. What you can modify is their presentation.
You’ll want to consider the physical appearance of the resume itself as well as the way it reads. Professional resume writing relies on clarity, brevity and relevance. A resume tailored to the position you’re applying for will always make you stand out positively in the eye of the employer and may be the difference between the executive position you know you’re qualified for and silence from the hiring department.
The 10 Essential Ingredients of a Successful Professional Resume
The best professional resume doesn’t need to cover every detail of your working life. It should focus specifically on the experience relevant to the job you’re trying to get. The HR department or hiring team should be able to read your resume and feel as though you as a candidate are the perfect fit for the open position.
You do this by first researching the role you’d like to land. You’ll then tailor your resume to fit the specific needs of the role you’re seeking. Below are some specific tips to follow:
- For each relevant position, clearly detail your job title and a description of your daily activities. Focus on measurable results and milestones as well as specific skills the position required that are relevant to the job you’re applying for. Don’t assume that an employer will know what a job title means as particular titles can be vague and vary from one job to the next. Spell it out as succinctly as possible.
- Be clear with dates and locations when documenting your work history. Vague dates can make it look like you’re trying to hide or cover up gaps in your career.
- Go into detail when describing the job, especially any technical or complex aspects of your work history. Highlight achievements and any especially relevant or impressive aspects of your performance.
- Spend more time detailing job history or education when it’s relevant to the position you’re aiming for. You can include less relevant jobs as necessary to show work history, but drill down into the details of the jobs that actually pertain to the position you’re targeting.
- Avoid unnecessary or extraneous details. You’re not trying to tell the employer about every facet of your life or career history. Especially avoid the urge to include any details that could be misconstrued or raise questions. Leave the more complicated issues for the job interview.
- Be as clear as possible with your descriptions, job titles, dates and any other information you include. Vagueness leaves room for interpretation, and that can result in wrong assumptions. Give your resume to a professional colleague or friend to review; if there are any parts that don’t make sense to your friend or seem questionable, trim them.
- Keep it brief. You ideally want a professional resume to fit on one to two pages. Any longer and the hiring team most likely won’t keep reading. Save some details for the job interview so you’ll have something to talk about that they haven’t already seen on your application.
- Don’t forget the importance of proper spelling, grammar and punctuation. Clear communication skills are vital to any position, and an error-free document shows both that you are educated and professional as well as someone who cares about the position.
- Make the resume as readable as possible. Use subheadings and a clear, organized layout that make it simple to scan the document and understand its meaning at a glance. Choose an easy-to-read and professional font, and avoid the urge to make the font size smaller to cram more information onto the page.
- Choose a resume format and layout that is visually appealing without being too complicated. Fancy stationery, images and resume templates can be eye-catching, but they can also be distracting. Remember that the company you’re applying for may not view the resume in exactly the way you’ve sent it. Opt for a clean, concise and readable format.
If you’re not sure about your resume-writing skills or are anxious about creating one, it’s not a bad idea to consult with a resume writing service. Professional Resume Writers have the skills and experience to make a resume look its best, and it’s smart to get outside help. You can be sure that at least some of your competition has already done the same.
What Should a Professional Resume Include?
At its most basic, a resume provides an at-a-glance look at a candidate’s work history and qualifications. However, the true purpose of a resume goes beyond simply detailing what you’ve done with your professional life. Instead, it should show how the experiences you’ve had up to this point make you uniquely and perfectly matched to the job you’re applying to.
When working on a professional resume, focus on things that highlight your most impressive and relevant accomplishments:
- Professional achievements that are relevant to the position you’re applying for.
- Education accomplishments, including degrees and specialized training. Highlight any relevant honors and awards.
- Professional designations that are relevant to the field in which you’re applying.
- Success indicators, milestones and metrics that provide measurable markers of your achievements.
- Additional areas of competency and fluency, such as specific software knowledge and specialized job skills.
And if it is relevant to the job, also be sure to make note of any security clearance you may have achieved. You should also make note of your military history, including the amount of time served and the rank achieved.
Whether you’re applying to be a manger or a vice president, employers are looking for candidates that stick out from the competition. Think of what you have that makes you different from others who may be applying to the same job. Focus on these unique individual traits and achievements when writing your resume and preparing for the interview.
Should You Include an Objective on Your Resume?
Professional resume writers recommend not including an objective at the beginning of the resume. The objective is a piece whose time has long passed. Instead, you should craft a summary section. The purpose of this brief summary is to make it clear what value you bring.
You’ll want this section to be personalized to each job you apply for. Otherwise, you run the risk of being dismissed out of hand by a hiring manager who doesn’t bother reading past the first section. The summary is where you clearly paint your unique value proposition and why you are the right person for the job.
Decide on the Right Resume Structure
There are two primary ways to structure the content of a professional resume, and both have advantages and drawbacks. You’ll want to consider the individual strengths and deficiencies so that you can choose the best framework for the job at hand.
The first and most common resume format is a chronological resume, which details your prior work history in reverse chronological order. The most recent employer is listed at the top with previous employers listed below. For each position, you’ll detail the dates worked, job title, achievements and skills.
The other format you can use is the functional resume. This groups your work experience into specific skills or areas of expertise. You can reference specific jobs or positions you’ve held that utilized those skills under each skill. If you’ve held multiple positions but stayed within the same general area of expertise, this can be a good way to keep all of your work history easily organized.
Because chronological resumes are the most common, they tend to be considered the default. They are the easiest to read and can be reviewed at a glance. However, they do tend to make gaps in work history or multiple short jobs more obvious. If these are a problem for you, switching to a functional resume format might be best. On the other hand, many employers have become suspicious of functional resumes and may immediately assume that the reason for this format is to hide a spotty work history, so use this technique at your own risk.
One exception to the chronological-as-default guideline is for jobs that are heavily focused on technical skills or achievements. If you’re working as a writer, programmer, artist or some other position where what you create is more important than where you’ve worked, a resume that focuses on those details may be best.
It’s also possible to create a hybrid of the two resume types by creating a section at the beginning highlighting your specific job skills and competencies followed by a reverse-chronological explanation of your work history. If you do this, be sure that the two sections do not have too much overlapping information. A resume is far too brief of a document to withstand any redundancy.
What to Avoid in Your Resume
Up to this point, we’ve focused on things you want to include in your resume and what you should focus on. However, there are many ways a resume can go wrong. You already know that anything that appears irrelevant, confusing or unprofessional should automatically be snipped. A few other common resume problems are somewhat less obvious but no less important.
- Words. Words. Words. The first is any unnecessarily vague or overwrought language. Avoid the urge to cram your resume with buzzwords or meaningless corporate jargon in an attempt to make it sound more impressive. You’re much better off focusing on your actual accomplishments than on trying to couch your daily work activities in convoluted terms.
- Don’t Get Personal. You’ll also want to avoid including any personal information beyond what is necessary. Avoid including information that may be politically contentious or which might leave an employer wondering about your loyalties to the company. For example, you may want to avoid mentioning your Masonic affiliation, role in an activist community or the details of your support group. You want to give your would-be employer a glimpse into your professional life, not account for every hobby, passion and challenge you’ve faced.
- Hold the References. It’s also best to avoid including references on a professional resume unless they are particularly impressive. Otherwise they simply take up space that can be better spent on other things, like listing your accomplishments. Include a line about the availability of references and rest assured that the employer will follow up if interested.
- (Don’t) Show Me the Money. Salary is another thing best left off a resume. Many employers will try to get candidates to give salary expectations right off the bat, but avoid the bait. If you’re an attractive enough candidate, you’ll get an interview whether or not you list your salary expectations. Leave the negotiations for when an offer is already on the table.
- Enough is Enough. One last thing to note is that a resume should only be submitted with whatever materials the employer requests. In most cases, a resume and cover letter are more than adequate. If you’re expected to provide a portfolio or letter of recommendation, the job ad will state it explicitly. Otherwise, avoid clogging up your application with unnecessary materials.
Hiring departments are filled with busy people, and they don’t want to spend more money filling positions than necessary. Especially in the case of attractive and competitive high-level positions, employers are likely looking for reasons to turn a candidate down as soon as they see a resume.
Don’t give your would-be employer an excuse to reject you. Strive to put your best foot forward, and hire a professional resume writer if necessary, so you have the best chances of getting through the door and land the job of your dreams.