Setting Up Your Resume

I know: you’re a writer. You don’t need help with writing or editing your resume. If that’s the case, skip this post. However, if you think your resume could bear some refreshing, bear with me for a bit. You might be a genius in proofreading or setting up technical documents, but how good are you at marketing yourself? What follows are some tips I’ve lived by since I started working as a professional writer.

As with your portfolio, your resume is a marketing document. Often it is the first impression you give a future employer, so it should receive your utmost attention.

First, the resume has a few basics that should be followed:

  • Your name should be at the top, along with some basic contact information (email address at minimum, but also address and phone if you’re so inclined)
  • You need to talk about your experience in a compelling or pointed way
  • It should be neat/legible (no fancy or cutesy fonts)
  • It should be truthful
  • Unless you’ve been in your field for many, many years, in general it should be no longer than two pages, but I’ve bypassed this guideline myself on occasion

The resume, for you proposal writers, is a past performance document. It demonstrates to your prospective employer that you can do the job you’re applying to do. There are a couple of different ways you can organize your work history, but generally your experiences, life-career stage, or desired job will dictate the form. For instance, if you’re fresh out of college and don’t have a lot of work experience, you focus on your degree and any projects you’ve done. If you’re in your early or mid-career, you can move your degree toward the rear and focus on your job experience. If you’ve been working for quite awhile, or if you’re applying for a job for which you don’t have a lot of direct experience, you might want to shift to a skills-based resume, which emphasizes your capabilities rather than the amount of time you’ve been in the workforce.

For years I’ve included Summary or Objective statements at the top of my resumes, but apparently these are going away. The goal now is to weave your accomplishments into the descriptions of your job experience. Accomplishments are important because they show how you have stood out in the jobs you have done. Examples include:mbers are good: sales made, money/time saved, output produced, or awards won. Lacking numbers, you should focus on unique activities that you accomplished in your role…Numbers are good: sales made, money/time saved, output produced, or awards won. Lacking numbers, you should focus on unique activities that you accomplished in your role…

  • Numbers are good: sales made, money/time saved, output produced, or awards won. Lacking numbers, you should focus on unique activities that you accomplished in your role…
  • Large documents or projects you completed that made or saved your organization/company a lot of money
  • Documents or systems you have established that didn’t exist before you worked in that position (for example, developed a metrics report, established an in-house newsletter)
  • Systemic/process improvements you designed
  • New programs you helped implement

The point is to show why someone should hire YOU, not someone else. You should be talking about what you’ve achieved, not just describe your job duties.

From there, everything is negotiable. A chronological arrangement of your job history will show what you have done or when. A skill-based resume is what it sounds like: it summarizes the types of skills you have while simply listing the places you’ve worked.

As I mentioned in my posting about portfolios, I’ve put my list of publications into a separate document, formatted like my resume. The full resume plus the publications would constitute what academics call a Curriculum Vitae (Latin for “the course of one’s life,” also called a C.V. ). You can have everything together as one document if you like. I’ve had occasions, though, where the boss wanted my resume but didn’t need to know every little thing I’d written, so your mileage could vary.

Other tips:

  • Keep your verbs active
  • Emphasize how you work rather than summarize your job duties
  • Use nothing smaller than a 10-point font
  • Again, avoid cutesy or hard-to-read fonts (Comic Sans is always the prime culprit)
  • Depending on the job you’re posting for, make certain that you are using the “magic words” your future employer expects to see so that you’re a good fit
  • Don’t BS or flat-out lie–about your qualifications or experience–if your experience is close to what the employer wants, explain it as such (and do understand that employers WILL check your qualifications)

Beyond that, I wish you luck. I keep my resume fresh to remind myself of what I’ve been doing to add value and because the job market is uncertain. You’re marketing yourself, so make sure you shine!

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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