Be strategic with your first resume

young woman looking at laptop screen“If I include everything I’ve done, the employer can see my great potential.”

That statement describes a classic mistake many of us make the first time we write a resume. When you consider that hiring managers may give only a handful of seconds to scan a resume and decide whether to put it in the “no” pile, it’s worth being thoughtful and strategic about what you include.

What should you do to get started?

Start with a basic resume that you will be able to customize for different job applications. These are the typical sections of a resume, and what to include in each:

  • Contact information. At the top of your resume, write your full name, home address, phone number, and email address. If you don’t have a permanent address, use a location where you can receive mail, or a rented post office box.
  • Summary. This is your five-second commercial, and it’s best if you can target this section especially to each position you apply for. Write your top three or four accomplishments or skills.
  • Education and training. List education and training you have done. Include school or program name, city and state, dates attended, and any diplomas, degrees, or certifications you have earned. For most first resume writers, their education is their strongest selling point, so it’s listed before work experience. If your work experience is stronger, list that before education.
  • Work experience. List past jobs you’ve held. Include the name of the employer or company, city and state, your job title, dates you held the job, accomplishments, main tasks, if you were promoted, or other highlights.
  • Volunteering / activities. List volunteer or community work you have done. Also include other activities that can show your responsibility, commitment, or skills such as sports, clubs, or languages spoken.
  • Military experience. If you’ve served in the military, list dates of military service, rank reached, and branch. Write in any special training or skills you gained.

You can add sections to highlight your strengths, such as “Technical Skills Summary” or “Awards.”

How can you make it look professional?

Making your resume look polished and professional is not complicated, but it takes time. Use these tips to make your first resume clear, easy to scan, and appealing to the eye:

  • Length: one page for a first resume
  • Alignment: Left-aligned, except for headings, which can be left-aligned or centered
  • White space is important; aim to have a one-inch margin all around
  • Choose a simple font: Times New Roman, Cambria, Arial, Calibri, Garamond are good options. Avoid cursive or fancy fonts as they are too hard to read quickly.
  • Use bold, italics, and all capital letters sparingly
  • Font size: 10-12 point; most first resumes can use 12-point
  • Proofread and spell check
  • For printed resumes, use high-quality paper and a quality printer

Be sure that your resume makes an excellent first impression! Ask friends, family members, or others to read through your resume before sending it out. Misspellings, inconsistent use of font and type size, and misaligned margins can all indicate a lack of attention to detail.

Strategy checks

  • Set yourself up for success by using keywords that match words from the job posting or description and look for connections in your experience or education to the needs of the position. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the employer and think about what their priorities and questions might be in identifying people to interview. Focus on highlighting those experiences that make you a good candidate for the job.
  • Remember to be truthful. Some first resume writers feel insecure about their lack of experience and so they embellish or make outright false claims on their resumes. Be prepared to talk about any experience on your resume and stand behind it. In any case, enthusiasm is often more valuable to an employer than a specific skill that they can teach. So be bravely honest, claim what you’ve done, and state your skills and abilities accurately.

For more resume ideas and resume samples, check out CareerOneStop’s Resume Guide.

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