How to Write a Resume – The First Step in Getting a Job

If you’ve just graduated and are thinking of how to write a resume for that dream job posted in the student adviser’s office, it’s time we let you in on a secret.

It’s probably not a secret anymore because people have become smart about writing resumes to catch the attention of human resource managers. But it’s still worth sharing on the off chance you were not aware of it. Many headhunters have mentioned it, so this tip will come in handy.

Hooking Attention is Key

The World Wide Web has millions and millions of web sites, and surfers literally “surf” sites. This means that surfers are busy, want information quickly, and if they can’t get it, they skip over to the next site. This explains why you often hear the expression “they scroll, they don’t read.”

In a way you can’t blame them. With millions of web sites competing for prime time, and Internet geeks being an impatient breed, the information has to be “where it’s at.” If not, you can’t hold their attention. As Nick Usborne said, the Internet is a friendly, democratic platform, but it’s also the most unforgiving. If you’re applying for a highly-competitive job market or looking for the best software engineer jobs, your resume needs to capture the attention of the person handling it and not just because of how it looks. The content must be tailored-fit for the right key words of the job you’re applying for.

What has this got to do with how to write a resume, you ask.

Here’s the relevance of what I just said: just as visitors scroll on web sites, personnel managers “scan” resumes, they don’t read every word, unless the candidate is called for an interview and it’s time to scrutinize his experience and qualifications.

This is the 21st century. Even the recruitment industry innovates. So this is the secret: if your resume does not pass the scan test, it lands on the slush pile. What you laboriously put together is now in never, never land.

How does it work? The job description has been written in such a way that certain keywords stand out. These keywords are known only to the recruiter, not to the reading public. As resumes arrive (and yes, they arrive in the hundreds and thousands), they are fed into a scanner. Only those resumes that contain the target keywords are retained.

That’s the secret. Let’s now go to the rules in resume writing.

How to Write a Resume: Cardinal Rules

Standard practice dictates that the resume must:

  • be typed with no grammar or spelling errors
  • not exceed two pages
  • have a professional appearance
  • contain: contact details, career objective, education and experience, specific achievements, skills, willingness to provide references.
  • not contain: your religious affiliation, birth date, nationality, marital status
  • be accompanied by a covering letter

Grammar/spelling errors: that your resume and covering letter must not have grammar or spelling errors is a given. Errors are a sign of carelessness and lack of credibility. Organizations like to pride themselves in hiring the best and the brightest, so someone who can’t spell or use correct English has no business being in the company.

Two-page rule: any resume that’s more than two pages is overkill. When you’re called for an interview, that’s the time to elaborate on whatever it is you want to highlight. Use short sentences. Bullet points are easier on the eye and they stand out.

Professional appearance: if your resume is on cheap stationery, it shows lack of consideration and no “attention to detail.” Professional looking resumes are on thicker sheets with matching envelopes (don’t use colored stationery, but various shades of gray are accepted nowadays). Think seriously about format and layout. Pick up a resume-writing book in your local library and look at the samples provided.

A couple of recommendations:

How to Say It on Your Resume: A Top Recruiting Director’s Guide to Writing the Perfect Resume for Every Job by Brad Karsh with Courtney Pike (Paperback – Jan 6, 2009). ISBN-10: 0735204349; ISBN-13: 978-0735204348.

101 Best Resumes: Endorsed by the Professional Association of Resume Writers by Jay A. Block and Michael Betrus, ISBN-10: 0070328935; ISBN-13: 978-0070328938

Contents: your contact details should be on the first page. You have to make it easy for the reader to find your telephone number or e-mail address. Your career objective must appear on the first page. State the university’s name, year and degree you earned. Highlight specific achievements (don’t say: “I helped the sales team of the company to meet their sales quota for the quarter”; instead say: “I helped the sales team of the company reach sales of $250,000.00 for the third and fourth quarters of 2009”). Mention that you’d be pleased to provide references upon request.

Personal Information: you are under no obligation to state your age, nationality, religious affiliation or marital status. In fact, in some states and provinces in North America, these are illegal questions.

Covering Letter: make this short and sweet, unless you’re specifically requested to address questions like “why the company should hire you” and “how do you see yourself five years from now” or what can you contribute to the company’s mission”. In most cases, these are questions that are more appropriate for the interview.

Lastly, make sure you sign and date both the covering letter and resume. You don’t want to be asked when you wrote the resume because the information is outdated.

How to Write a Resume: Address the Company’s Requirements!

I deliberately left this for last because it’s probably the second most important lesson you should learn in writing a resume. I mentioned keywords earlier and how large companies feed resumes into a scanner to find good matches. If you don’t use those keywords that appear in the job description, the computer automatically ignores your resume.

I’ll provide a couple of examples to clarify this point.

Example # 1: A company is looking for a programmer who has five years’ experience in Java Script, PHP and design of Joomla templates. They want someone who can update and tweek a web site using these specific skills. The preference is for someone who has worked in the aerospace industry although it is not a requirement.

When you draft your resume and you have those skills, include a sentence or two under the “experience” or “skills” section:

My computer programming skills include:;

  • Java Script;
  • PHP;
  • Re-design and installation of Joomla templates;
  • Ajax;
  • Ruby on Rails;

I have worked on the web sites of aerospace companies such as xxx, xxx, xxx. These are the links to those web sites if you wish to see a sample of my design work.;

Note that you can include other programming skills like Ajax and Ruby on Rails, but first mention those in the job description.

Example # 2: a national wine club is looking for a writer to do the club’s newsletters, update the web site, moderate the discussion forums and publish at least four articles a month. The person hired will be expected to post wine blogs weekly.

Your resume must pick up the keywords that will allow the computer to select your resume. You write:

Experience: wrote for the City of Calgary Regional Wine Club. Duties covered creating and sending a newsletter to subscribers, supervising and moderating of discussion forums, soliciting new memberships and writing of articles monthly. Posted fresh content on the web site and made changes to the web site as requested by management.;

Skills: web site design, blogging, writing and research.;

Areas of interest: red wine from Italy, Rosés from Portugal and wines from the Niagara region. Took sommelier courses in California’s Napa Valley.;

Guiding theme: honesty is still the best policy. If you haven’t got the experience, don’t lie.

Happy resume writing, and good luck on your job hunting!



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