How To Write A Resume That Stands Out

The job interview provides 99 percent of the information to those considering you. The interview is where employers make hiring decisions. So you may wonder, “Why spend time on a résumé if it’s not that important?” The résumé serves as a “letter of introduction.” The purpose of the résumé is to generate enough interest so that you will be invited for an interview. Your résumé did its job if you successfully passed the prospective employer’s initial screening. It might help to think about the résumé from the viewpoint of the reader.

What to Include

Don’t overwhelm the reader with prior work experience that may not be related to your current job search. Include only the last ten to twelve years of previous work history. For more senior candidates who have held several positions, or have worked with the same employer for many years, it is not necessary to go back 25 years with work history on a résumé. Just include a statement that says, for example: “Work experience prior to (year) included positions as a mechanical engineer, CAD designer, drafter.” This tells the reader you have held several other positions and progressed in responsibility. If the interviewers want more information, they will ask you.

Include mention of other work experience if you think it is related to the job for which you are applying. For example: A candidate applying for a technician position may want to mention working in the maintenance department of a manufacturing firm during the summers to pay for college tuition. In this instance, an employer interested in hiring a technician would probably find someone with even short-term work experience in the technical field attractive.

In another situation, candidates applying for entry-level management positions who have managed people, even if 15 years ago may have an advantage over candidates who have no prior managerial experience. There are some things you don’t forget and employers will recognize the value of (even if not recent) managerial experience.

If this is your first job after college and you don’t have any full-time work experience, include part-time and temporary work. Internships, practical training and cooperative education experience can give you a head start too. You can also list volunteer work, especially if it is applicable to your career field. 
Concentrate on what you have to offer. Show employers that you have taken the initiative to get a job, regardless of what it was. Everyone has to start somewhere; employers know that. In addition, a résumé longer than two pages is often filled with unnecessary fluff. Candidates have the best chance of getting an interview if they stick to the facts and keep it brief.

How Résumés are Read

Different readers approach résumés from different angles. Some readers will compare your résumé by relating it to others they have received. Others approach it as a critical deciding factor as to whether or not your qualifications meet the requirements of the job; they have no interest in someone who “almost” matches their criteria. Then you have people who do not hesitate to judge a résumé based on their personal biases; they often have criteria that only they understand. Larger companies often have someone in the human resources department that screen résumés before sending them on to hiring managers for further consideration. 

Faced with all of the above, your job is to prepare a résumé that highlights your experience and potential without including unnecessary details that might confuse the reader. Résumés can screen you in or out. To improve your chances for being screened in, consider these guidelines:

  • Is your résumé brief (two pages or less) and to the point? Employers don’t need your biography, only an overview of what you have to offer.
  • Is it free of spelling and grammatical errors? Mistakes can eliminate you from consideration; they suggest you do not pay attention to detail.
  • Is it obvious that you have transferable skills that you could use in any industry?
  • Is your résumé “uncrowded,” or does it look congested? You do not want to present a résumé that is visually intimidating.
  • Have you clearly communicated what you have to offer an employer?

 Chronological Versus Functional Résumé Formats 

An effective résumé, whether in a chronological or functional style, is one that arouses the curiosity of the reader. 

The chronological format is used most frequently. It lists work experience in reverse-time sequence with an emphasis on responsibilities, skills, accomplishments, and academic or professional distinctions. The functional résumé format emphasizes your skills rather than listing specific jobs held in sequential order. To decide which format is best for you, consider the following:

 The chronological résumé is effective when:

  • Your work history shows progress.
  • You want to emphasize marketable, transferable skills.
  • You have worked for well-known employers.
  • You are applying for a job in a traditional field such as engineering, information technology, nursing, law, finance, education, or with the government.

 The functional résumé is effective when:

  • You are changing careers.
  • You have had several jobs in a short period of time.
  • You have been demoted in job responsibility.
  • You have been unemployed for one year or more.

You may also decide to combine the chronological and functional elements into the same résumé. This technique can help you if you want to:

  • Emphasize your unique skills and accomplishments.
  • De-emphasize certain parts of your employment history.

This format may be particularly useful for mid-life and older workers. If you are not sure which style to use, prepare a résumé in all three formats. Then compare them and decide which style presents you in the best possible light to a prospective employer. You may also want to ask several other people to compare them and give you an opinion.

Whether you use the chronological or functional style or a combination of the two, be sure your résumé is visually attractive, (enough white space), interesting, concise, and contains facts and details that prove your value as an employee. As always, it must be free of grammatical, spelling and typographical errors or you are history.

Length of the Résumé

As mentioned earlier, keep your résumé to two pages if possible. If you need two pages, the second page should be at least three-fourths full. Readers tend to disregard pages with small amounts of information. If your résumé runs more than two pages, you need to edit it for brevity, clarity and content. Some technical résumés may be three pages in length.

If you still do not believe three pages are too much, ask a friend to read your résumé. Watch closely, and you will notice that by the time he or she gets to page three they are probably reading faster and faster just trying to finish. 

Although the structure of a résumé will vary according to which format you choose, the following is a general outline for a standard résumé: 

  • Name and contact information including e-mail address.
  • Job objective, if you choose to use one. 
  • Employment record, beginning with your present/latest position. After the company name, dates of employment, and job title, include a statement that explains how your experience at that company was valuable. Some people prefer to divide their employment experience into two groups: the experience that pertains directly to the job for which they are applying, and experience that does not.
  • Education: list your GPA if it’s high (3.5 or above on a 4.0 scale), otherwise leave it off the résumé. It’s not necessary to mention your high school education if you have a college degree. If you do not have a college degree, then you will want to list schools and related classes that you took. The education section can be particularly important if you have only limited employment experience. Highlight ways you can use your education in the job for which you are applying.
  • Special information: Don’t list everything you have ever done here, but mention something that may have impact on your suitability for the position (e.g., fluency in a second language, awards earned, honors bestowed, professional certification completed).

In conclusion, include only information that is necessary to attract the attention of the reader. Too much detail provides little reason for someone to contact you for a personal interview. Too much information may also provide the interviewer with information that he or she interprets negatively and that you may never have the opportunity to defend. A well-written résumé can be “more” in the eyes of the reader.