Whether you’re embarking on your first big job, looking for a career change, or getting back into the workforce after an extended period of time, you’re going to need a stellar resume to get your foot in the door. However, a blank page is pretty intimidating, and it can be hard to know where to start.
The hardest part is getting the ball rolling, though. Don’t put it off for too long, as it’s far better to just bite the bullet and get started. Treat the process as a gradual drafting, ensuring that you don’t miss out on any pertinent selling points or end up with a page that looks thrown together. Remember, this is a potential employer’s very first impression of you — make it a great one!
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Chances are that you won’t produce the perfect document the very first time. But by following these steps, and being prepared to do some polishing at the end, you can create a resume to be proud of. Here’s how to get started.
Choose a Template for Structure
An important first step is to understand the commonly-used styles of resumes, and figure out which will serve you best.
A chronological resume is commonly used by those presenting a continuous work history. In it, different roles and their responsibilities are set out one by one, up to the present. If you have little or no employment to-date, though, this might not be the best choice for you.
An alternative is a skills-based resume, which focuses on the talents and abilities you will use in your new role. These skills might be gathered from vocational school or college, voluntary work, or even places like sports or activity groups. That makes this a good option if you haven’t held a paid position just yet.
The third commonly used format is a ‘mixed’ resume, which includes both a skills section and a short employment summary. If you have done voluntary or part-time roles, or have taken a long break from your professional activities, this style might work best for you.
Using a template is the best way to get a sense of the different structures, and some guidance on the layout and detail expected for each. Luckily, getting your hands on a template is easy. There are free resources out there — such as this one — as well as those you can buy through online marketplaces like Etsy.
Browse the options, and simply download the one you like best (in a format that you can easily download, such as Word). You’re now well on the way to nailing your resume.
Consider the Skills Employers Want
Once you have a resume structure you are comfortable with, you need to put yourself in the shoes of the employers you’re targeting. What are they looking for in a new employee?
The outputs of this exercise will vary wildly depending on the type of role and industry you’re seeking. The skills and attributes needed to become a veterinary assistant will be quite different than those needed when applying for a role as a financial analyst. Knowing your audience is crucial.
The best way to come up with a list of skills, competencies, experiences, or personal attributes that are relevant to employers in your sector, is to look at job ads. Collect a few current or lapsed online ads for the type of role you want to find. What are the key skills described?
Most likely, you will come up with a pool of skills which overlap between similar jobs for different employers. Look for things like organizational skills, teamwork, a passion for customer service, detail orientation, personal drive, and an ability to communicate with colleagues and customers. You may also spot technical requirements such as IT literacy, or familiarity with certain processes.
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Become familiar with the type of thing the employers in your field are asking for. That way, you can be sure to present your personal skills and experiences in a way that matches the need.
This is the place where most people begin their resume writing process. But by doing the preparation described above, this stage will be far more productive and focused for you.
First, you’re going to brainstorm the experiences, skills, and attributes that you have acquired to date. Then, begin to fit together how these will ‘sell’ you to the employer.
Start with a large sheet of paper. Trust me, this exercise is one place where pen and paper has an advantage over working online. You will want to ‘join the dots’ as you go. Being able to annotate, group, and link experiences with a simple stroke of the pen will make life much easier.
If you have work experience, write this down first. This could be part time, voluntary, or freelance work… it all counts! Now briefly elaborate on the tasks you assumed within these roles, and the skills you needed to carry them out. By thinking in this way, you will create a far more professional listing.
For example, you could simply say, “Helped out my local Girl Scout troop as a volunteer.” A far better statement using this structure, though, would be, “Accompanied my local Girl Scout troop on a week-long adventure trip. This included raising $500 to fund the trip, before leading and supporting groups of 8 girls through challenging activities to help them develop teamwork and survival skills.”
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Similarly, “Held a charity car wash event to support the American Red Cross” can become, “Mobilized 10 students to plan, advertise, and implement a charity car wash event for the American Red Cross. We raised $750 after expenses, which was significantly ahead of our target, thanks to using social media to recruit record numbers of customers.”
Carry on the exercise to include the skills and experiences you have gathered through school and college activities. Also consider other areas of life, such as caring for your family, traveling, or taking part in sports, drama, or other clubs. As you go, think about which of these experiences are most valuable to your prospective employers. These will be your priorities in the next step.
Drop in the Details
Now it’s time to build your draft resume. Using the template you have chosen, start with the basics, such as your personal details and educational record.
If you have chosen a chronological style resume, add in the job roles you have held and their corresponding dates (starting with the most recent). Select three or four bullet points that are the most relevant from the exercise above. Include these under the position details, as they will illustrate the responsibilities you took on.
Make sure you include quantifiable data, such as the size of the team you led, the amount of budget you managed, or how you improved efficiency, customer satisfaction, or profitability. Saying, “I implemented new processes which resulted in a 15% drop in customer complaints” helps the reader understand the impact of the actions you describe.
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If you’re using a skills-based resume, then you need to approach the outline differently. You’ll need to group the skills and experiences you have collected in the exercise above. Then, you’ll use these to build your document.
For example, say you identified Teamwork as one attribute that all employers in your field were looking for. You should highlight your skills in this area by grouping three or four relevant examples in bullet point format. Then, add them into your resume. Prioritize the skills you believe employers are really looking for. Then, use quantifiable details to make the examples come to life.
A mixed resume uses a skills section followed by an (often short) employment history summary. Focus on the skills that employers want and build your resume around these. Then, fill out the employment history with a couple of key successes for each role, from your brainstorm list created above.
Whichever style you have chosen, the template is likely to include a more personal section up top. This is often called something like “Personal Statement, ” “Personal Profile, ” or “Career Objective.” This is the absolute first thing that the recruiter will read, and is ideally the hook that will keep them reading further.
Make sure your statement briefly introduces you, highlights what you will bring to the role, and says what you’re looking for in a new position. You should have all the detail you need to write a great personal statement now, from your previous exercises. However, you can check out more about it here.
Check, Edit, Check Again
Well done — you’re nearly finished now!
The last step when writing your resume is to check it over, make changes, and check again. It is helpful to have someone else look over your document to spot any mistakes you might miss. You can even hire a freelance proofreader through a site like Fiverr.com.
Going back over your resume might feel like a drag, but this is the most important stage of all. Typos, grammatical errors, and silly mistakes are the sort of thing that stop a recruiter from reading. They most likely have a large pile of resumes to get through. One that’s rife with poor use of language or simple mistakes will end up in the trash.
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Once you’re happy with your final document, give yourself a pat on the back. Then, get ready to start sending in applications. If you’re asked for a cover letter, make sure you tailor this to each application to get your foot in the door. You can also check out this guide to writing a great cover — it’s not as hard as you think!
With your eye-catching cover letter, backed up by a knockout resume, you’re well on the way to landing that dream job.