Putting It All Together for Your Resume

"A real benefit to preparing your résumé is that none of your prep work will go to waste. Every minute you put into it can be used throughout the networking, correspondence, and interview process."—Susan Britton Whitcomb, quoted from Résumé Magic

Your Name and Contact Information

Contact information is usually placed at the top of the resume (but not always). At a minimum, include an e-mail and phone number where you can be reached. A physical address may not be a necessity, but if it helps to show where you live, include the full address. Make it easy for employers to contact you, but do not overdo it. If you have a home phone, office phone, cell phone, and beeper, you may not want to include all those numbers. You do not want your header to take up most of the top third of your resume. Pick the phone numbers that will make it the easiest for a potential employer to reach you. If you use a professional Website, the URL can be included, but only if it provides additional, helpful information, such as if you have an online portfolio, if your Web site provides additional detailed information that does not fit on the resume, and so forth. The goal is a balanced arrangement of your contact information. Include only what is necessary.

Look through the samples for ideas on how to showcase your contact information. You may already have an idea of how you would like it to look. If not, and if you are stuck on this, do not fret—you can do final formatting after you have entered all of the vital information on your resume. Making it visually appealing is important, but the top priority is including relevant information. Play around with some general ideas, but try not to get stuck on this part too long. You can always reformat as needed.

Objective

The objective statement is seen by many as passé, particularly in the way it has been traditionally used. Job seekers have often used the objective statement to state what they are looking for in a job as opposed to how they can benefit an employer. Or, perhaps even more annoying to employers, objective statements have become blanket expressions that tend to all sound alike, such as, "A challenging entry level position in (insert job title) with room for advancement."

That said, the objective statement may still work for new graduates or those without much or any work history. Since professional profiles or summaries are often used in place of the objective, someone with limited experience may prefer to use an objective or something similar, rather than a professional profile. The key is to make it unique to your situation and show how you can be of benefit to the employer.

Summary or Profile

A summary or profile is an overview of a candidate's history or expertise. It can be used in conjunction with or more commonly, as a replacement, for the objective. Ideally, a summary or profile will contain keywords. It may also be presented as a narrative describing the benefits that the candidate brings to the position. However it is approached, aim for tight, concise writing. Brevity is best.

Because the summary or profile is an overview of your expertise, you may want to complete this section after you have written the other sections of your resume. This important section highlights your capabilities and your branding statement, which will be supported by specifics in your resume. Therefore, it may be easier to do this in reverse, listing the specifics in the body of the resume and then completing the profile that summarizes everything you have included in the document. Otherwise, you may feel that you are not sure what you are supposed to be summarizing.

Education

For many recent graduates, education will be given prominent placing on the resume because it is their most valuable asset. With limited work experience, an impressive education section can showcase your knowledge, related coursework, and projects completed while in school that are directly related to an employer's needs.

How much information is included about your education will depend on your circumstances and how much work experience you have to include on your resume. At a minimum, include your degree earned, the school's name, and the city and state of the school. You do not need to include the exact address of the school.

Should you include your GPA? As a general rule, anything below a 3.5 should be omitted. For highly technical and competitive fields, you may not want to include it unless it is a 3.8 or above. What if you have a 4.0? Some may feel this is an honor worth noting; it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to achieve this grade level. But keep in mind that employers also like their employees to be well rounded with a variety of qualifications. Interpersonal skills can be just as important. Again, use your discretion when determining whether or not to include your GPA. What may be appropriate for one person and one field may not be for another. A good rule of thumb: If you are in doubt, leave it off (this applies to other information as well).

Whether or not you include relevant coursework is dependent upon what courses you completed and whether those courses are useful for the job you are seeking. The more specialized your degree is, the better chances that you have relevant coursework. Nursing students, for example, may want to include coursework in specialized subjects that qualify them to work in particular areas of nursing. An engineer with little work experience may want to list coursework that demonstrates a competency in various engineering methods. Conversely, an English major seeking a position in sales need not include medieval literature as a selling point; it is not relevant. However, serving as a team leader for a project would be a selling point.

Special projects completed in school may be included in lieu of real-world working experience. Sometimes these projects require just as much, if not more, work than do their real-world counterparts. Assignments often include challenging parameters that are not likely in the outside world or that could be negotiated in a real-world scenario. It can be helpful to note these challenges and how they were overcome in the project description. Any special skills used to complete the project should be included and, if appropriate, the grade received. If the project has the potential to be completed in the real world, or if this actually happened (such as a landscape design used by a local resident), it can be worth noting. Note positive results and outcomes whenever possible, and quantify those outcomes when possible as well.

Professional Experience

How you list your work experience can take many forms. At a minimum, include your position title, company name, and the company’s location. While most resumes will somehow show a length of time worked at a particular job, not all will. If dates are not listed, however, it may look suspicious to a potential employer. If you have a solid work history, or worked the same job for a fairly long period of time, you may do well to list years only. If your employment was shorter, or if you are listing an internship, for example, you may want to use both the month and year.

The job, what you did, and how or if it relates to your target position will determine how much and what kind of information you include in the employment section. For positions that have little to do with your target, you may only list the job title and employer. For positions that are similar to your target, or require you to use similar or related skills (those applied in a different situation but easily adapted to your new line of work), you may go into more detail.

Include what you did, as well as the outcomes or results. The tendency is to write "responsible for" or "duties included" and then list what you did. However, eliminating these weak words can help strengthen the resume. For example, cut "responsible for" and use the rest of the description. For example, Responsible for monitoring cash flow can be changed to Monitored cash flow. Use succinct descriptions and begin with action verbs or nouns when possible. This will keep your phrasing short and to the point. If you have copies of your job descriptions from previous positions, use them as a reference, but do not use them word for word. If you are currently employed, use present tense when describing your position (manage cash flow). If you are referring to a previous job, use the past tense (managed).

How well did you do your job? Did you go above and beyond? Did you make any special contributions, cut costs, improve sales, provide exceptional customer service, or devise a better way of doing things? Any accomplishments you achieved while on the job can and should be listed on your resume. The more you can show the results of an activity, the better. Accomplishments can be listed under the job title or, depending on the format, may be set off as a separate heading altogether.