Thursday, June 2, 2016

How to write a résumé

Today you're going to create a document that will help get you a job. It doesn't matter whether you call it a résumé or a curriculum vitae (honestly, one's just a little longer than the other). In either case, you're writing the history of your work experience -- your education, your previous jobs and what they taught you, other kinds of experience that have improved your job skills, and the names and addresses of people who can back up your story.

Some general rules:

When it comes to experience, think outside the box. Yes, education and job experience make a difference, but so do activities that don't fall into either category. Did you learn how to explain difficult concepts more than one way, develop critical skills in handling difficult people, and learn the value of patience when you volunteer-tutored kids at a local school? Then it needs to go on your résumé. Did your Scout leader teach you the basics of cooking and kitchen hygiene? You'd better mention that if you're applying for restaurant work. Picked up CPR certification at summer camp? Parents looking for a qualified nanny might appreciate that little tidbit.

Tailor the résumé to the specific job. Back in the dark ages, when people had to type out each and every résumé by hand, it made sense to write one general-purpose document and make copies of it for different companies. These days, though, word processing software makes it simple to keep your résumé fluid and tailor the details to each job for which you apply. Taking the time to do this could land you an interview, so do eet.

DON'T LIE. Some people, concerned about their lack of impressive experience, try to make themselves look better by padding their résumés with less-than-accurate information about their previous jobs. But if your prospective employer discovers your job history is more fantasy than reality, what's the first thing she's learned about you? That you're a facile liar who thinks your potential boss is either too lazy or too stupid to fact-check your résumé? That's not going to win you many brownie points -- and it's sure not going to get you any kind of job requiring a high level of personal integrity. DO NOT MAKE UP STUFF ABOUT YOUR PREVIOUS JOBS. The end.

Here's the information that must be present:
  • Contact information: your name, address, phone number and email, preferably at the top of the résumé. If you don't already have a specific email for work-related purposes, get one (you can pick it up for free through Gmail or another free email service). Don't underestimate the value of a professional-looking email address; potential employers might have second thoughts about hiring you when they see your address is
  • Educational info: this includes any school you're currently attending, your estimated graduation date, any schools you've attended in the past (especially if you graduated), any certification or training programs you've passed, etc. You don't need to include your cumulative GPA, unless it's stunningly positive and your work experience is a little thin.
  • Work experience: Start with your most recent job title, the company you worked for and the approximate dates you worked there, the job description and the pertinent skills you learned, and work your way through your job history in reverse chronological order. Be prepared to explain any significant gaps between jobs.
  • Other experience: This section is especially helpful to prove that you have marketable skills if, again, your work experience is lacking or has some gaps. Here you should include things like volunteer work, charitable projects, any hobbies and interests that are relevant to the job, or time spent studying abroad (especially if you became fluent in another language or culture while doing so).
  • References: if you list references on your résumé, make sure they are from people who know you professionally and can vouch for your character and work ethic as an employee. Contact them in advance and get their permission to use them as references, and make sure you've listed their most recent contact information (a phone number or email address are probably sufficient). If you want to add a relative or close friend of the family to your references, please limit it to a single person (because nothing says "slacker" like using Mom or Dad as a reference). And this may seem obvious, but it's still worth stating: if you aren't sure someone will give you a positive reference, don't use that person! Better to have no reference at all than a bad one.
There are a number of ways to format your résumé; try Googling "how to format a résumé" if you want some ideas. Personally, I'm in favor of substance over style. Using a single easy-to-read font throughout the document is better than tossing in a half-dozen novelty fonts that make you look like you got hold of way too much caffeine. Simple left-justified text is better than centering everything or inexplicably pulling it to the right margin. And if you want to separate the sections of your résumé, do it with the judicious use of bold and italic text, or create section headers by bumping up the font size a point or two. Also, print on simple high-quality white paper; don't mess around with funky colors or textures. You want the finished document to be simple enough that you could send it as a text-only email without taking 45 minutes to reformat it. Let your experience speak for itself.

Now, go forth and kick some butt (in a competent and professional manner, of course)!