Creating a Resume: Basic Tips

Many white collar or office jobs require a resume instead of or in addition to a completed application form, which makes creation of a resume an important job-hunting skill.  The resume itself  is a document detailing your education and training, previous job experience, professional skills, references, and contact information.  Although there is no single specific format which is expected in a resume, the basic organization of most resumes is fairly standard, and you can use any of a number of online templates to create an acceptable resume. The following tips will help you to put together your first resume–which will open up a whole new class of possible positions for your job-hunt.

Resume Templates

For a first-time resume-writer, a number of templates are available to help you format the document and collect the proper resources.  Some of the easy-to-use options include:

Resume Templates–This site asks you to create a free account, from which you can create, save, and edit multiple versions of your resume.  After creating your account, the site walks you through the entry of your basic information, which it then auto-fills into the resume format.

Resume Companion–This site offers more than one resume format from which you can choose, each of which can be exported easily to Microsoft Word or Adobe PDF so you’ll have a document you can save, edit, and update.  Among the available tools, Resume  Companion offers fifty thousand professional phrases you can use in constructing your resume, as well as additional templates for cover letters and business letters.

Resume Now–This site allows you to enter your information, which then auto-fills into whichever of the formats you choose.
Microsoft Word–the word processing program itself contains a resume template, which allows you to enter your information into existing formats.

Before turning in your resume, make doubly sure that it is completely error-free.  The resume itself should be accompanied by a cover letter in which you introduce yourself and express interest in the specific job for which you are applying.  Templates for resume letters are also available online, although the content of the letter itself should be written by you and not feel “generic” to the reader.

Contact Information

Provide all the contact options by which a prospective employer can reach you, including mailing address, email address, phone number(s), and fax, if applicable.  Before submitting the resume, make sure than any phone number you have provided has a voicemail message that is polite and professional.  If your email address is something quirky and personal that might be construed as unprofessional, consider creating a new email based on your name.  If you do create a new email, be sure to check it frequently, or set up the new address to forward to the email account you use regularly.

Education and Training

Begin with your completed educational degrees, including high school diploma or G.E.D.  If you are currently enrolled in a program of study, list that as the most recent, specify that you are currently enrolled (with expected graduation date), and indicate your declared major or field of study.  For each of your degrees, consider adding any of the following which may be relevant:

  • The years you attended that school
  • The degree earned
  • Major and minor fields of study
  • GPA and/or graduation honors
  • Scholarships or academic awards you won while at that institution

Vocational and Technical Training could be listed in this section, or you can add a separate heading for other types of training.  If you have completed certification programs, professional development, or other formal training related to the job for which you’re applying, be sure to include those endorsements and certifications on the resume as well.

Previous Job Experience

List all previous jobs you have held, in chronological order with the most recent (or current) first–and consider adding the following details about each job:

  • The date (month and year) when you started the job, and when you ended it.  If there is a sizable gap of dates between any two jobs, the employer will likely ask about your period of unemployment. Be prepared to provide a positive answer to the question, and consider adding information about the employment-gap into the resume itself to head off any concerns.  Employers simply want reassurance that there isn’t any “sinister” reason for the gap; so feel free to specify, for example, that you were traveling or studying abroad, taking a family leave or maternity break from the workforce, pursuing studies or training, and so on.
  • Your position title(s).  If you held more than one position during your tenure with an employer, you can list the most recent job title, or indicate the progression of titles (which shows a prospective employer that your previous supervisor saw fit to promote you).
  • You can include relevant unpaid jobs (internships, volunteer positions) here, or under a separate heading, if they are relevant to the job for which you’re applying.
  • Job responsibilities of each position and professional skills you employed in each position can be summarized here, or you can create a separate section for relevant professional skills.

Professional References

As you select the people whom you will be listing as professional references, consider carefully which people are best positioned to speak to your job skills, interactive skills, technology skills, customer service skills, or whatever aspects of your previous professional experience are most directly applicable to the job for which you are applying.  You may want to provide different references with different applications, depending on the nature of the jobs.

Talk with each person before submitting your resume, explaining the job(s) for which you will be applying (so they can tailor their responses to the specifics of the prospective jobs) and ensuring that each person whom you list is, in fact, comfortable providing a supportive reference. Make sure the contact information you provide is current.

Possible Additional Categories

Depending on your own skills and experience, you may want to include additional categories of information. These might include:

  • Awards and Accomplishments
  • Professional certifications
  • Technical and computer skills
  • Language Skills
  • Committees on which you have served
  • Professional presentations you have given
  • Publications
  • Membership in professional organizations

Keeping Your Resume Updated

As you move forward in your career, take a moment to update your resume whenever you add a training, publication, or professional skill or experience.  It is considerably easier to add these as you go, rather than waiting until you next need a resume and trying to remember new additions at that point.  If you keep your resume updated, you will always have one ready to go as future opportunities arise.


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