Writing Your Resume Step-by-Step

The blank page can be intimidating. Take some advice from other writers—you have some options. Many writers start by free writing; that is, they write the initial story quickly, without any regard for formatting, editing, or self-censorship. The goal is to get the main elements on paper. Then they revise, edit, and put things into an order that makes sense.

If this approach sounds too haphazard, try an outline. Many nonfiction writers start this way, with an overall idea of what is to come. The writer then goes back and systematically fills in the various elements. This is also followed by revising and editing and moving information around as needed to best present the information.

Resume writers have similar systems. Some prefer to jump right in and write as they go. Others create a basic outline and fill in the proper information. Whatever the method, the thing to keep in mind is that, even with an outline, no resume is "one size fits all." Your resume is a portrait of your unique history. Using examples from a book and trying to make it fit your situation will generally not work, as you may end up using wording that is not your style or personality and does not represent your uniqueness. If you are having trouble getting started, begin with some of the easier pieces of information, such as your educational background, professional development, memberships, and so forth. Then, as you begin adding information, you may find that you gain momentum.

Much of the editing and revision for all types of writers involves cutting—finding more succinct ways of saying things and deleting unimportant information and wording. Moving and changing the order of information can also be done in the editing and revising stage to create the best possible document.

What follows is an outline approach that will take you through the process step by step. Keep in mind that the format you choose may not be in the exact order as the following sections; similarly, you may not be using each section, depending on your circumstances. Feel free to skip around—if you find one section easier to write than another, start with that. This will help you get into the flow of writing and will help build your confidence for the tougher sections.

What You Will Need

As you prepare to write your résumé, you will need a variety of information on hand. Begin with the information you gathered when exploring and compiling your interests, values, skills, and aptitude tests. Here is where you get to put some of that to work. Also compile or make lists of the following information.

Education

If you are a recent graduate or are changing careers, have a copy of your transcripts handy. Review your coursework to see which are most relevant to the job you are seeking. Compile information on any special projects you completed (particularly senior projects) and how these contribute to your position as a job candidate. If you served in leadership roles or projects, volunteered for scholarly activities, completed any special coursework such as studying abroad, these can be highlighted in your education section, similar to how work achievements are noted in the professional experience section.

Skills

Make a list of your skills, or refer to any skills assessment tests you completed. These can be incorporated throughout the resume as appropriate. They can also serve as keywords. If you have skills related to a specific career you are targeting, consider incorporating them in the first section of the resume (see the information on how to present information in the top third of the resume). If you include a keyword summary, specific skills can be included there as well.

Work History, Internships, etc.

Make a list of all the jobs you have held, your job descriptions, and, most important, what you accomplished while on the job. How did you help your employer? Did you contribute to cutting costs or increasing sales or improving service? If you have copies of any performance reviews, look those over as well. (If not, make a mental note to hang on to them in the future so you can update your resume as you move through your career.)

When compiling this information, look for any type of information that can be quantified, such as profits or income generated, time saved, customers served, new projects presented or completed, and so forth. This type of information immediately shows hiring managers the outcomes of your work. What you did (responsibilities) is helpful, but the specific outcomes provide clear, specific, quantifiable results of your efforts.

Volunteer or Organizational Involvement

Summarize any volunteer positions, community involvement, affiliations, etc. If you hold or held any positions within these organizations, write them down. Here again, any quantifiable information that can be included is helpful. Many volunteer positions require as much effort (if not more!) as paid positions, so use that to your advantage. Let readers know who you served, how many were served, the outcomes, monies raised or saved, projects managed, etc.

Professional Memberships, Certifications, Training, etc.

Make a list of any professional organizations to which you belong. If you have completed any special certification or training beyond your education, make a note of that as well. Similarly, if you have held any positions within those organizations, make a list of the dates of service, your roles, and what you accomplished.

Special Interests

Do you have any hobbies or special interests directly related to the type of position you are seeking? You may want to add them to your resume. Unless you are applying for international positions, however, keep these limited to hobbies or interests that are directly related to the position you are seeking. The traditional U.S.-style resume does not include this type of information unless there is a clear reason. (It is customary, however, to include this type of information when applying for positions in certain foreign countries. If this is the situation, additional research to determine what is standard in that country is warranted.)

Computer and Specialized Skills

While it is generally assumed that most applicants have basic computer skills, including specifics can still be helpful. Make a list of all the software you are familiar with and any other special computer or technical knowledge that you have. Include specialty programs as well, particularly those related to your field.

References

Although you will not be listing your references on your resume (they are provided separately), make a note of who may be willing to serve as a reference. Keep your list limited to professionals whenever possible. Previous employers, teachers, professors, volunteer leaders, and the like are your best options. If you need to rely on friends, aim for those who will be able to provide a quality, positive, and professional reference.