You’ve drafted a resume and have been applying for jobs for the past few weeks, possibly even months. You’re well-qualified for the positions you’re applying for, but the number of responses you’ve received is minimal. Why? Perhaps your resume is acceptable, but is doesn’t stand out from the crowd. In today’s economy, employers often receive hundreds, if not thousands, of resumes in response to every advertised position. Employers have very limited time to review each resume submitted, so yours needs to grab their attention quickly.
The basics: key elements of a resume
No two resumes are going to be identical, but most resumes should contain the following information:
- Header. The header of your resume should have your name and contact information, typically your phone number, email and mailing address.
- Objective. Your objective should explain what position you are seeking, and why you are qualified. This section of your resume should be brief, specific and employer-oriented.
- Employment history. Here, you’ll provide the name of your employer, position title and employment dates for each position you’ve held. Each entry should provide a description of your tasks and responsibilities.
- Education. List any degrees or certificates you have earned. You may also want to include continuing education, which indicates you are interested in keeping up with the latest information in your field.
- Skills. This section may be set up in list or paragraph form. Be sure to identify any skills you have not related to your employment history. This section of your resume is also a great place to list technical skills.
The order in which you present this information on your resume will depend on your experience, as well as on the job you are seeking. If you don’t have very much work experience, but do have a strong education background, you should consider listing your education before employment history. Perhaps you’ve already had several different jobs; if this is the case, you’ll want to highlight your work experience before your education, particularly if your work experience is relevant to the position you’re applying for.
Be sure the format you’ve chosen for your resume support your qualifications. The format of your resume shouldn’t distract the reader from the important information it contains. There are two basic formats for a resume:
- Chronological. A chronological resume typically highlights your employment history. Therefore, this format is best for individuals with strong work experience and the desire to continue working in their current field.
- Functional. A functional resume emphasizes your skills over employment history. This format is ideal for someone seeking work in a new field or looking for that first job after completing a degree.
Regardless of the resume format you choose, keep the following information about formatting in mind:
- Font. Your resume should be easy to read. Choose a basic font like Calibri or Times New Roman. Be sure to stick with 10 or 12 point font.
- Margins. It’s best to use the default margins in your word processing program.
- Headings. The major sections of your resume should have headings. You may want your headings to be in bold or italics so the different sections of your resume stand out to the reader.
- Spacing. Be sure to leave a space between each section of your resume to avoid a cluttered appearance.
- Length. A common misconception is that all resume s should be limited to one page. If you are seeking an entry level position and have minimal experience, one page should work just fine. However, if you have a significant amount of experience and are applying for a mid-level or management position, it is acceptable for your resume to exceed one page.
- Plain text. Try to keep your resume as simple as possible since employers use various application management systems. Some systems may allow you to upload your resume, while others may require copying and pasting. The more basic your format, the less work you may have to do later.
Highlighting your strengths
Your resume may already highlight your experience, but it must also focus on your strengths. With the competitiveness of today’s labor market, you can’t wait until the interview to reveal your strengths to potential employers. Waiting may mean you never actually make it to the interview processes.
If you chose to develop a functional resume, the skills section is a great place to emphasize the qualities and abilities you have that are valuable to an employer. If your resume is arranged chronologically, be aware of the order of your tasks list for each job description. If your resume has a long, bulleted list of tasks for each job you’ve held, chances are an employer is not going to take the time to read every single item. The first few tasks listed should be the ones that convey your strengths to a potential employer.
Keep in mind a cover letter is a great place to highlight strengths that might not be immediately apparent on your resume. Be sure you use concise language and focus on your main points from the beginning of your cover letter.
Tailoring your resume for a specific position
Many people make the mistake of using the same resume for every application they submit. If you aren’t already tailoring your resume for each opening that you’re applying for, you need to begin doing so. Take some time to review the job description and identifying action words -- typically verbs. Try to incorporate as many action words as possible from the job description into your resume. You aren’t often going to find that your qualifications are identical to the ones an employer is looking for, but they may be comparable. Using similar language is a way to reinforce that fact.
If necessary, rearrange the order of the sections of your resume. If your education background is particularly relevant to an opening, shift the education section to the beginning of the resume. If your work experience is more relevant, it should be highlighted before your education. If you’ve created a chronological resume, but it just doesn’t seem to work for the particular job, consider drafting a functional resume.
When applying for a job, it’s critical that your resume gets noticed; it’s your ticket to a job interview. Review your resume to be sure it includes all of the key elements. Be sure to choose a format that highlights your strengths and is easy for an employer to understand. Tailor your resume for each position you apply to, incorporating action words that are used in the job description. Once you’ve developed an exceptional resume, you’re sure to catch an employer’s attention.
If you need information or personalized assistance with employment or education opportunities, visit the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities website or call 800-342-9647 to talk to a SECO education or career counselor.