Why You Need a Résumé

As helpful as social media and sites such as LinkedIn are, a traditional resume is still a necessity. Since you never know the exact format an employer or connection will require, you need to have a full set of documents prepared. A hard copy resume is also useful for networking, during an interview, and other uses that may arise. Even though many companies use computer programs to screen resumes (Applicant Tracking Systems, or ATS), at some point, a real person will read your resume, and human readers prefer information that is both visually appealing and presented in an understandable format. Therefore, you will need more than one resume. This includes the traditional, hard copy resume (the “pretty,” print-ready paper version), an electronic version, and the corresponding cover letter and e-note.

A resume is more than simply your work history. It is a dynamic document that enables you to sell yourself to an employer; yet it can be used for other purposes as well.

Is a résumé a marketing tool or a business document? This is a question under continual debate. And, while it is definitely not a piece of fiction, it is a creative document that can, and should, be adapted to meet differing needs. Never lie on your resume; however, do use your knowledge, skills, and experience to show how you are prepared for the position to which you are applying. Show how you can use what you already have to move forward in your career.

Also, while there are no rules—you need to present your information in a manner that works best for your individual situation—there are some general standards that are typically used, and some “rules,” or, rather, helpful guidelines, in terms of formatting, font use, phrasing, and how to most effectively use bullet points, charts, and other tools.

Is it any wonder so many people find résumé writing to be a difficult process?

You want your résumé to "sing," but in a professional and clearly understood way. While the résumé is an advertisement of sorts, most will not go to the lengths of what we see in ad copy and on television, except perhaps on a résumé for an advertising writer. In other words, be accurate, toot your own horn, but avoid being over-the-top with the approach.

In contrast, you do not want your résumé to evoke yawns from the person reading it. The résumé is a business document and should therefore follow rules of business writing, with some exceptions. Sentence fragments are common in resume writing, for example, but should be avoided in most other business writing situations.

What Exactly Is a Résumé?

A résumé is a brief summary of your skills, accomplishments, and history as it relates to a potential job. The resume showcases your abilities and how your background has prepared you to move forward with a new position. It is also a selling tool used to get an interview. Employers may receive hundreds or even thousands of résumés for a particular job. The résumé may be the first document an employer sees about you. If a job does not require an application, your résumé may be the only information an employer sees. And an employer may see that information for a very short time. On average, employers scan résumés for about 20 seconds to determine whether or not candidates are worth a more thorough reading. Twenty seconds! That is not much time in which to make a positive impression.

The good news is that, unlike a job application, the résumé highlights only your strengths and related information. Insights such as why you left a job or other potentially negative or damaging points are not included. Other good news is that different formats may be used to best highlight your experience. As such, the format chosen will be the one best suited to promote your assets. Again, while there are standard formats, there are no hard and fast “rules” as to which approach is best. Resumes are not “one size fits all,” or even “one template fits all.” So even if you are using a standard format, such as a chronological resume (which shows your information starting with your recent experience), it is necessary to adjust the format to best meet your needs and the information you want highlighted, while keeping the reader’s needs and time in mind as well. Further good news is that if you follow the steps provided here and the instructions listed, you will have a much better chance of creating a résumé that will get a second look.

Writing a résumé can seem like a daunting, difficult task. But once the process is broken down into smaller steps, it can be much easier to face. It is even possible that you may learn some things about yourself! Believe it or not, the writing process can actually be fun. Sure, some issues can be challenging, such as how to show experience if you are a first-time job seeker. But other parts can be very satisfying, such as finding the perfect action words to describe your experience or discovering that you have skills you never thought of as marketable before. Approach the process like you might a puzzle, thinking of the best ways to fit the information to create a cohesive picture of who you are professionally.

Why Do I Need a Résumé?

You may wonder why you need a résumé, particularly if you actively use LinkedIn and other social media sites, or if you are seeking a job that only requires you to fill out an application, with or without the option of including a resume. There are a few answers to this question.

Even for jobs that ask only for an application, having a résumé on hand will make filling out that application much easier. You will have all the necessary information in front of you on one (or maybe two) pieces of paper; it will help when filling out the section of the application that asks for previous experience. Many companies that require in-depth applications online also either require a resume to be uploaded along with the application, or they offer the option. If you have the option, take advantage of it. As noted previously, the resume is designed to highlight all your positive attributes. This can be a great addition to an application for a variety of reasons, such as those who are new to the industry, have had multiple positions, or other situations that can be potential negatives. The resume can be created in a way to help address and alleviate potential concerns.

Having a résumé can also boost your confidence. By walking through the writing process, you may surprise yourself as you come to realize that you have more experience than you thought. Or maybe your list of your skills looks more impressive on paper than you thought it would. Just knowing that you have put in the effort to write the résumé and see what you have to offer an employer can put you above the competition.

When you walk into your first interview, your experience from writing the résumé will make you much more confident when it comes to answering tough questions. You have already outlined your strengths and accomplishments; now you can elaborate on them. Since your résumé will be targeted to a specific position, or type of position, you will be able to gear those interview answers accordingly. Your chances of getting taken off guard by a simple question such as, "Why do you want this job?" will be very low—you will be able to give an insightful answer because you will have put in the thought ahead of time. You will be able to answer honestly how that particular job fits your goals and objectives—and how your particular set of skills will benefit that employer.

Why not submit that résumé with the application? Job applications are very specific and limited. A résumé can fill in some blanks, further explain skills and experience, and set you apart as a serious contender for the job. That you care enough about yourself to put in the effort and submit your résumé with an application can demonstrate to an employer that you are serious about your job search and future.

In short, nearly everyone needs a résumé.

When Should I Start Writing My Résumé?

The earlier you start working on your résumé, the better. This not only gives you a jump on the job-search process (if you haven't officially started yet), but will also make it easier to update as you progress through your educational and working life. New graduates can begin by making lists of relevant coursework and related projects, volunteer work, extracurricular scholarship, and more. This information can easily be revised as more coursework is completed or edited as new experience becomes more important (or as career goals change).

A college student may not have a great deal of time to devote to a résumé, but compiling notes along the way will make the refining process that much easier as graduation approaches. Waiting until the last minute or even the last few months before graduation can cause unnecessary stress. Besides, it is impossible to know when an opportunity may come knocking. An unexpected career fair may pop up, a recruiter may pass through town, or, as you practice your networking skills, you may come across the perfect person to give your résumé to—and you will want to be prepared for those moments.

Help! I Do Not Have Anything to Include on a Résumé!

Some of you, particularly recent graduates and those entering the job market, even after reading through the entire résumé section, may feel that you do not have enough experience or credentials to list. Your GPA may be less than ideal, or maybe you have not participated in as many activities as you feel you should have. Or maybe your coursework and activities have nothing to do with your chosen field. How do you solve the age-old question, "How can I get experience if I cannot get that first job?" Fortunately, there are ways to gain experience and prove you will be a worthy and reliable employee.

Volunteer Work

Donating your time is an excellent way to learn new skills and help your community and profession. Volunteer work comes in many forms, from working with children to building a new home to serving on the board of a professional or community organization. Volunteering can be an excellent way to meet people and, as you prove yourself and develop relationships, become an excellent means to gain references and build your network. All the work that you do as a volunteer can go on your résumé as opposed to a job application, where space may be too limited—another good reason to attach that résumé.

How do you find volunteer work? If you are in school, contact the vocational guidance office or general studies office. Chances are that someone there will know of groups actively seeking volunteers. You can also try the local Chamber of Commerce. Other ideas are to contact some of the larger organizations, such as Americorps (http://www.americorps.com) or United Way (http://national.unitedway.org/). Your school or public reference librarian may also have suggestions for volunteer work. Ask around. If you have a particular interest, such as tutoring children, contact local schools. If you have an interest in social work, call the local food bank or Salvation Army. Browse through the yellow pages for organizations that provide services similar to those in which you would like to eventually find work.

Also consider devoting your time to a professional organization. A little research can lead to ideas of the “best” organizations to join and/or support. Many professional organizations rely on volunteers, and providing your services can be a great way to meet many people within your industry while providing quality support for the organization.

Temp Jobs

Temps, or temporary jobs, are also available through state Job Service agencies, or Job Centers, or other employment agencies. These types of positions can also be found through networking (a friend of a friend knows of a company that needs a temporary receptionist while the permanent one is out on maternity leave), the classifieds, recruiters, and other traditional forms of finding work. While these positions are not permanent, they can be a great way to prove yourself, learn new skills, earn references, network, and perhaps work into a permanent position. If you do a great job for the company, they may decide that you are worth keeping around (or refer you to another company looking for someone exactly like you).

Writing the Resume

Your resume is a unique reflection of what you bring to the position. While many tools are available to help you craft your resume, it should be written and presented in a way that best reflects who you are as a candidate and how you can be of benefit to the company. Relying too heavily on tools can result in a resume that looks and sounds like many other resumes. Therefore, use those tools that are helpful, but use them wisely. Your resume should be unique to you.

Software and Templates

Many software programs and Web sites claim to help you create a fast, easy, yet effective résumé. Prices for these "services" vary quite a bit. One problem with software and "fill in the blanks" Internet programs or templates is that there is little room for variety. The programs use pre-set formats with limited space. While some of the layouts are attractive, that is only one element of the résumé; content, and using a format that is right for you, is also important—which sometimes requires breaking the rules. Your background, skill set, work history, and all the attributes that make you unique are what you need to highlight. A “one size fits all” approach limits your ability to show who you are and what you have to offer.

It is much more difficult to target a résumé when using software—computer programs can be quite rigid. Instead, use the tips provided here to determine what information about you needs to stand out, and how you can use these tools to accomplish that. Your situation is unique, and your resume can reflect this, incorporating all aspects of the resume—format, phrasing, which information is included (and where), and more. After walking through the steps, if the process still feels intimidating, and you want to spend money on a resume, consider choosing a resume writer rather than investing in software or other impersonal options.

Hiring Someone to Write Your Résumé

"We consider résumé writers to be 'advertising agencies for individuals' which encourages creative freedom and uniqueness rather than conformity … if appropriate in meeting a client's career goals and 'standing out from the pack.'"—Frank Fox, Executive Director, Professional Association of Résumé Writers and Career Coaches.

If you opt to hire a professional resume writer, do some homework. If possible, talk with clients to learn more about the service provider. Also review the writer’s Web site, credentials, and more. Many hold a certification, which shows that they have completed additional learning and proven themselves as competent writers.

Be careful when seeking a professional. The Internet, in particular, is overcrowded with less-than-qualified people offering a variety of job-search services. At a minimum, seek a member of a professional résumé writing organization such as Career Thought Leaders, the National Résumé Writers' Association, or the Professional Association of Résumé Writers and Career Coaches. All of these organizations offer certifications for writers, and, ideally, a professional that you choose will hold one or more of those certifications.

A skilled professional résumé writer can help not only write a better résumé, but determine what information should be included and what can be left off. A résumé writer can also help target the résumé, give it a professional appearance, and add creative flair. Often, a job package will include both hard and electronic copies of the résumé and a cover letter. Depending on your budget, needs, and the services offered, professionals may also provide career coaching, job search assistance, and marketing assistance. Also be prepared to provide thorough, accurate, and honest information.

The Final Word: Honesty

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when writing your résumé is that everything on it must be accurate. Word choices and presentation are geared to truthfully describe your experiences and present them in the best possible way—but not to embellish them. The best wording, descriptions, and formatting mean nothing without honesty.