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A Simple Step by Step Guide to a Building the Perfect Resume

perfect resume

When I first became a manager, I was asked to hire an additional junior person to work for me. I created the job listing, contacted a few recruiters and placed an ad in the New York Times.

Yes, at the time some companies still placed “wanted” ads. 

Within a few days, resumes started to arrive and by the end of the first week, we had well over 100 resumes– the perfect resume had to be in the stack. I started reading each resume – every single word. By the time I got to resume number 25, I realized I had my work cut out for me.

Finding the perfect resume

I dug my heels in and started to eliminate resumes based on how they looked. If they were poorly formatted, too short or really ugly.

One was actually a handwritten resume – it went right to the trash pile.

I continued to my selection process, eliminating any resume with spelling errors, grammatical errors or resumes that were not an exact fit.

By the end of the process, I only had 15 candidates. Was it possible that I missed the most qualified person because I eliminated their ugly resume?

Absolutely. That’s why presentation, format, and content are all equally important.

You’ve probably heard hundreds of times that your resume is the most important document in your job search (because it is). But if you want to stand out from the competition, you need more than a great looking resume. In the end, only qualified candidates will get called for an interview.

There are five simple steps to creating the perfect resume. Let us get started.

perfect resume basics

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Step One: Gathering Your Information

As with all successful endeavors, thoughtful planning will make for a great resume. Take the time to collect all of the content for your resume before you start writing. This includes:

A Summary of Your Skills and Objective

Make a list of all of your skills. This includes computer skills you have and other skill that are relative to your industry (like Accounting Pronouncements,  medical procedures, etc.). Your skills list should include both your hard skills (skills you can teach) and your soft skills (interpersonal skills).

List as many skills as you can think of, the list can be adjusted as/if needed when you build your resume. Where you put your skills section on your resume depends much on the format (covered in Lesson 2).

Education

You should gather the key facts about your education (especially if you have an advanced degree). You should list the name of the university/college, degree program, years attended and any honors (such as Dean’s List).

Another key fact may be appropriate, like GPA, clubs and extracurricular activities, special courses, awards and any other important fact that will help your resume stand out.

If you’ve not yet finished your degree, you should still put it on your resume and list how many credits have been completed to date and expected date of graduation.

Work history

Your work history is the “meat” of your resume.  You will need the company name, position(s) held and dates you worked at each job. You will also want to make a quick list of achievements and specific responsibilities. We will go deeper on this later.

Achievements

This is mentioned up above in the Work History section but the topic deserves some special focus.  Hiring managers will not only want to know that you’ve got the experience for the job, they will also want to know that you can “get it done”.  Nothing shows this better than listing your achievements. Add facts like “automated X process and saved the company $100,000” to the extent possible.

Extracurricular Activities and Hobbies

Employers want to know what you do in your spare time. This topic spans both, what you did during your college years as well as other activities you are involved with. This includes charity work/organizations, clubs (only appropriate clubs),  additional languages you may speak, sports, etc.

It’s All in the Format

Several years ago a friend of mine was out of work due to a bankruptcy. He had tons of experience and felt he would quickly land another job. One of the things that he was particularly proud was his resume. He thought that he had the best format, amazing content, all of the hot keywords to get the attention of the right people.

You know what? He was wrong.

Working with an executive recruiter who helped him redraft his resume over a very painful 4 days, my friend wound up with an amazing resume. An important lesson to be learned – have an open mind and listen to the people who are out there every day.

You’ve collected all of the information needed to put your resume together. Now’s the time to think about the format. Don’t worry about structure yet, we will get to that. Lots of stuff to think about, so let’s get to it.

perfect resume format

Sections

Contact Information – Pretty obvious – Your name, address, telephone number and email address

Your Headline – Take a look at – How to Write a Resume Headline  for tips on adding a title to your resume

Objective -Your career goal and what you want out of a job – Tailor Your Resume Objective

Skills – What are you good at and why should someone hire you? You should list the skills that will help market your strengths. Top Skills You Need On Your Resume

Work History / Experience – This is where you will list the work history you collected from Lesson 1. Take a look at some formats – Resume Experience Section Example

Education – How you present your education depends on how long you’ve been out of school.  If you are a recent graduate (within the last two years), your education will be placed at the top of your resume (otherwise on the bottom). In terms of what you will list –

  • Degree (BS, BA, AA, MBA, etc.)
  • Major (Finance, Economics, History, etc.)
  • Year graduated (or expected graduation date)
  • Name of the School
  • Location
  • GPA (depends on how well you did and when you graduated)
  • Honors (Dean’s List, Honor Society, etc.)

Types of  formats

There are tons of resume formats. Here are some of the most popular.

Chronological – This format is exactly what the name suggests – basically listing your experience and history in reverse chronological order – Sample Chronological Resume

Functional – This format highlights your skills and experience – Sample Functional Resume

Hybrid – Sometimes called a combination resume, this format lists your skills and experience followed by your work history – Sample Combination Resume

Targeted Resume – This format is generally used when you are applying for a specific job or role – Targeted Resume Sample

Styling Your Resume

I remember when my son got his first really complicated Lego set. It was one of those really large boxes of Legos and I’m sure it was some type of spaceship.

He wanted me to help him put it together and we decided to do it in pieces. You know how it is with Legos, you have a picture of the “finished” product, but no real set of instructions.

Many of the pieces look the same when you are looking at a picture of them and it’s not until you have half of the thing built that you realize the last piece that you need was used somewhere else and now you have to take the whole thing apart to get to the piece you need.

Putting a resume together is much the same. You have a picture of the finished product (in the case, the format) all of the pieces, but no real step by step instructions as to how to put the whole thing together. Lesson 3 is all about putting the pieces of your resume together.

perfect resume fonts

Font & Type

You don’t want to use any font or type that will make your resume look particularly unusual unless you are in advertising, marketing or applying for another creative job. It’s essential that your resume makes a great first impression and using a resume font people can actually read will make it pleasurable to review your resume.

Spacing & Margins

Generally speaking, margins of 1/2 inch to 1 inch is fine. Use single spacing with a blank line between sections.

Videos Resumes versus Print Resumes

Visual resumes have been around for awhile. They’ve not grown in popularity as had been expected, but they are still used and have a purpose. Typed resumes are rarely exciting so if you send in a video resume you will surely be remembered.

If you take the time make a video, there’s a good chance they will take time to watch it. A video resume is more interesting and unusual which will set you apart from the crowd.

Ordering Sections for Your Resume

Contact Information

This is the easy part. And it should be easy to find. Your Contact Information always goes at the top of your resume and your name and title should be predominant on the page.

perfect resume contact

Objective

Your career goal and what you want out of a job– This is optional, but if you want to use it would look something like this. A good objectives statement is lean and mean. None of that extra fluffy stuff like “looking for a challenging position” or “utilizing my skills and experience to advance my career.” It’s crap.

Be sure your objective not only focuses on what you want but also focuses on what the company is looking for.  A successful objective is tailored to appeal directly to the job they are applying to. Tell them how your experience and your goals will benefit the company.

Skills

What are you good at and why should someone hire you? You should list the skills that will help market your strengths. Figuring out which of those skills you should include can be challenging. Start by identifying two of the biggest (and proudest) projects you’ve worked on in your career. Then think about the biggest challenges you faced during those projects.

What did you have to do to overcome those challenges? What steps did you take to overcome those obstacles?

Did you write those down? Good, because those are the skills you need to highlight. Moving on.

Work History

The standard method of organizing your work history on a resume is in reverse time order. Meaning, your first listing should be your current or most recent job. Then include other jobs going backward in order.

Use strong verbs is the best way to bring life to your past work experience. Include metrics if you can such as sales numbers, employees managed, etc.

How far back should you go? You don’t need to go back in time more than 15 years. The 2 years you spent clearing tables at 20 isn’t really going to help you get you land a copying writing job at 35.

Put it Together

Put all of your sections together and you are set to go. 

perfect resume modern

It’s About the Content

A few months ago, I was looking to fill a few junior level positions for the firm I work for.  We used a few recruiters to help find and screen some candidates. Most of the resumes we received were good – but not amazing.

They had good formats and did a good job of explaining their work history.  There were a few excellent resumes and, of course, there were a few bombs. The perfect resumes did a great job of using the right keywords, summarizing their job experience and highlighting their skills.

In today’s digital world of job search, content, the right content, is what will get your resume noticed and convince hiring managers to interview you. The right combination of keywords, skills and experience that demonstrates that you can do the job properly make for a killer resume.

Easy to say, hard to do.

Keywords

Do you really need keywords? Absolutely. Keywords help demonstrate your level of experience and accomplishments.

Hiring managers will recognize industry specific keywords and this will help in getting an interview. Additionally, many hiring managers (or their recruiters) leverage keyword searches to find the best candidates for the job.  The right keywords on your resume are a key part (no pun intended) of any great resume. Where to start?

  • Review job listings for your title/position and make a list of keywords used
  • Review resume samples for your industry for keywords
  • Visit trade industry sites for your field
  • The following links should help you find and leverage the keywords that work best for your career and resume.

Relevant Skills

You won’t get an interview if you don’t have relevant skills, even if you have relevant experience. Of course, the skills depend on your field, but it’s worthwhile looking at examples in your industry and other industries.

Soft skills are just as important as professional skills – like being able to think analytically and communicating with team members. Even if you aren’t applying for a leadership role, employees who can successfully interact with colleagues and collaborate with others are great to have on board.

Relevant Experience

This, of course, is your job experience that demonstrates that you have worked in similar roles. If, as an example, you are applying for a job as a bookkeeper, you would list out prior experience on highlight accounting and bookkeeping responsibilities in each of your jobs.

The best approach is to:

  • Create a draft document and list out your job experience by an employer
  • Segregate relevant jobs/responsibilities from other jobs/responsibilities
  • Create a list of responsibilities by an employer
  • Create a list of accomplishments by an employer
  • Take the information gathered above and create your relevant experience section.

I’m a big believer in “follow by example”, and it’s usually easier to follow something that’s been done before in order to create your document.

No Experience

What we haven’t covered is how to construct a resume for someone without experience. Maybe you’ve just graduated from school or are changing industries. This is, of course, more difficult and the focus should be on entry-level jobs.  There are many things you can do:

  • Include jobs you held while in school (even if not relevant)
  • Include volunteer work you’ve done
  • Include any internships
  • Activities while in college (sports, clubs, etc.)
  • Special training and certification

You Need More Than One Resume…Sorry

Have you ever had a recruiter call you for a position that would be ideal for you and, although you have the experience, your resume does not put enough emphasis on that experience?

Or maybe you’ve worked in several different industries and want to focus on one particular industry.

While one resume version, what I call “general” or “generic” resume, works well for some people, there are many people who should have multiple versions of their resume.

There are many reasons why you may need (and should have) multiple resume versions. Remember, too much of a good thing might actually be too much. Balance how many resumes you need with where you will get the most value.

perfect resume custom

Multiple Industries

Maybe you’ve worked in several different industries but in similar roles. Let’s say, as an example, you are an accountant and worked at an aircraft manufacturer but have also worked at an automobile manufacturer.  You’ve decided to find a new job, but want to focus on aircraft manufacturing.

New Industry

Using the example from above, perhaps you would like to work for a company that manufactures satellites. You need to re-write your resume to focus on the skills that would be relevant to your new industry.

Different Roles

Let’s say that you have a lot of experience but have worked in different roles in your career. While you would be open to any of these roles in a new company, you may need to have resume versions that focus on one of these roles.

Career Change

Maybe you want to something completely different than prior jobs. Maybe you’ve just graduated from school with a new (but different) degree/training. Whatever the reason, you need to have a version of your resume that focuses mostly on the skills that are required in the new career.

Which Version is Best for You

There are several types of versions you can have, depending on your needs and the purpose:

What You Do

Focusing on the type of role/position you want as your new job drives the focus of this resume. If you worked in Marketing and Sales but want to focus on the Marketing side, then your resume should be a functional design with a focus on your marketing skills.

Where You Work

Maybe it’s not about what you do, but where you do it (meaning your industry).  In that case, you will want your resume to focus on industry-specific skills versus role-specific skills. This is still considered a skills-based resume (like the one above), just a different skills focus.
Genius Resume Samples – Examples based on industry.

Keeping Track

 Okay, you’ve got these great multiple resumes, now you just need to keep track of which one you’ve sent to who. If you read our post on using Indeed.com  you will know that most sites allow you to upload your resume.

A few will allow you to upload multiple documents and resumes. Most of these are company career sites and not search engines. There are a few platforms like Huntr or you can use the good old fashioned spreadsheet like Google Docs spreadsheet app which is free

We are always eager to hear from our readers. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or suggestions regarding CareerAlley content.

 

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