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Writing Your Resume: What to do to get results

By Jordan McGee on May 1st, 2009 •

Looking for a job? You're not alone, and in this economy your résumé could make or break your job search. Just because you're young and have a short work history doesn't mean you can't put together a résumé that rocks.

What's in a résumé?

The purpose of a résumé is to show potential employers relevant experience and capabilities. A résumé is generally made up of four different sections: contact information, work history, education history and other experience. Another common component is an objective--a short written statement placed below the contact information that explains to potential employers what position you're applying for and why.

Personalize it

The first thing to do is tailor the content to meet the requirements for the job. The best way to do this is to study the job posting and research the company. A résumé is less about who you are and more about showing how well you'll fit the company.

Don't be afraid to break out of the mold when it comes to organizing a résumé. The work history and education sections don't necessarily have to be formatted chronologically. Another technique is to list the most relevant or impressive experience first. This could be particularly useful if you don't have a ton of experience to share--emphasize quality rather than quantity. You could list a completed internship, any relevant classes, projects or special skills. For example, if your computer skills are excellent and relevant, consider listing those first.

Don't forget that you can include any relevant extracurricular activities, volunteer work, and any honors or awards you have received. Only include your GPA if it's good--3.0 or better.

Fitting format

Figuring out the proper format for a résumé is challenging. Robyn Feldberg, a 17-year writing industry veteran and nationally certified résumé writer, suggests starting with the header. Put your name in a larger font size and use horizontal lines to separate your contact information (name, address, phone number and email address) from the body of your résumé. This, she says, will give the résumé a more professional look.

Also make your educational and work experience easy-to-read. Leave the super-stylized fonts for concert fliers and stick with the classics such as Times New Roman or Arial fonts at 11- or 12-point size. "Use bullets to guide the eye to your accomplishments," Feldberg advises. When appropriate, use bolding to highlight the most relevant or brag-worthy skills. Also, it may seem counterintuitive, but leave white space on your résumé so it's not cluttered.

Down to details

In the work history section, list responsibilities from past jobs, but don't forget to include the most important information--your results. Simply listing day-to-day work activities usually doesn't make for an interesting read. Instead, write down exactly what you accomplished while working for past employers (in concrete numerical terms, if possible). This makes a more compelling case for hiring you, because employers will know what you're capable of.

Opinions on proper résumé length vary, but in general, one page is considered appropriate for those with a short work history. This is easily accomplished by making sure everything included is pertinent to the job you're applying for and cutting anything that isn't.

Proofread and critique

After you've written the résumé, be sure to give it a thorough critique. Does it look inviting to read? Are all sections properly labeled? Are your accomplishments clearly stated?

Above all else, make sure it's correct. You want to portray yourself as experienced and responsible, and the easiest way to do this is to make sure the résumé is free of spelling and grammatical errors. Have a second person read it after you've edited. A parent, teacher, guidance/career counselor or friend will often be able to catch overlooked mistakes.

The Bottom Line

The unemployment rate in the United States hit 8.5% in March 2009, the highest it's been since 1993. When navigating a volatile job market, your resume must shine, so give yourself plenty of time--at least two or three hours--to review your resume and make revisions.

Sources: colostate.edu; monster.com; nytimes.com; purdue.edu