by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Need a quick and easy guide for writing your resume? Find the 10 steps to creating a strong resume -- with links to other articles, worksheets, and samples to enhance your efforts.
10 Steps to Writing a Great Resume
1. Understand core purpose of resume. Plain and simple, the function of a resume is obtaining a job interview -- and these days you have to accomplish this task in two different ways. First, your resume must pass muster with an applicant tracking system (ATS) that many larger employers use to store and retrieve relevant job-seeker resumes. Second, your resume must catch the eye of the hiring manager.
2. Gather background information. Complete this step even if you already have an old resume lying around. Your goal here is to develop detailed lists of your key accomplishments (from previous jobs, volunteering, and educational experiences), competencies and skills, and employment and education histories.
3. Determine core competency/focus. A strong resume must be laser-focused, so in this step you must decide the focus of your job-search, thus the focus of your resume. Do NOT be bound by previous experience, but organize and direct your focus on the job you seek to do now. Without a focus, your resume will NEVER achieve its purpose.
4. Research industry, employer keywords. Once you know the type of job(s) you plan to seek, the next step is conducting research on these jobs. Locate job descriptions and research industry and employer Websites and develop a list of commonly used keywords that are both job- and industry-specific. Using these keywords to describe yourself in your resume will be especially important in getting your resume through an ATS.
5. Decide on contact information. In an era of privacy issues and identity theft, it's best to follow a revised rule, skipping detailed information and including only key contact information. Most experts suggest at a minimum your name, phone number, and email address. Adding a town/state or area (e.g., Dallas metro) is suggested so employer knows you're local. Remember to use a professional email account, ideally a gmail.
6. Use a resume header. Working with the information developed from Step 3, develop either a headline and/or branding statement; both of these tools helps give a sharp focus to your resume -- and also gives the hiring manager a shortcut to understanding the job you seek (headline) and your promise of value (branding statement).
7. Create a Summary of Qualifications/Professional Profile section. In 3-4 bullet points, showcase the accomplishments that are most relevant to the job you seek. Use the keywords you uncovered in step 4 to describe your accomplishments; but remember that what you say in this section MUST be substantiated with specific details in the main section of your resume. [Use our worksheet.]
8. Format relevant experience. From your work in Step 2, develop your relevant experience section -- starting with your current or most recent experience and working backwards. Your goal should be 2-3 bullet points for each experience, with each point focused on a particular quantified accomplishment/achievement (ideally) or description of how you made the job your own. Do NOT include duties and responsibilities. Do not include older and non-relevant experiences on your resume, but you can include them in a supplement, if desired.
9. Structure your education. Include all degrees and relevant training experiences, and like in your experience section, start with most recent education and work backwards. If you have a college degree, do NOT include high school. If education is more than 20 years, consider leaving off the dates. Education only goes before your experience section only if you are a recent graduate of an educational program.
10. Present extra stuff. Include any other relevant sections and information on your resume. For example, some job-seekers include a skills section (which is a great place for relevant keywords) or professional affiliations (again, where relevant). Awards and honors that are relevant to the job you seek may be another possibility. Do NOT include references or salary requirements.
Final Thoughts on Creating a Great Resume
Once you have all the content developed, do not forget to format two versions of your resume in such a way that one version is attractive (i.e., acceptable) to ATS database searches and the other version attractive to human eyes -- which means readable fonts, normal margins, and plenty of white space.
Do NOT use a template to develop your resume, but do look at samples of good resumes and borrow parts that make sense to you. Be wary of others that suggest you include other information on your resume.
Finally, remember your resume is a marketing document, so make sure it expresses your brand. At the same time, do not pad or otherwise lie on your resume.
For a more detailed guide to successful resumes, see our articles: FAKTSA: An Easy Acronym for Remembering Key Resume Enhancers and How to Get Started on Your Resume: A Five-Step Primer for Established Job-seekers and Career-Changers.
Have additional concerns or questions? See our Resume FAQ.
Check out our wide variety of sample resumes.
Finally, see all of our job-seeker resume resources.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.