A résumé is not about your job history; it is about you and your accomplishments. A résumé is a document that promotes your accomplishments for the purpose of getting an invitation to a job interview.

Résumé basics

Take a few moments to do a self-assessment on paper. Outline your skills, abilities, work experience, and extracurricular activities. Thinking it through beforehand makes it easier to write a comprehensive résumé.

Include all your contact information at the top of your résumé: name, address, telephone, e-mail address, and website address (if your site reflects your professional accomplishments).

You will want to convey professionalism, so avoid nicknames, use a permanent phone number with area code and record a professional businesslike greeting on your voicemail. Also, use a permanent home address and select an email address that sounds professional.

Before you respond to any job posting, think about how your résumé and cover letter can convey what you bring to the table for each individual employer. In the next section of your résumé, below your contact information, include a bulleted list of the top reasons why you should be hired. Introduce your list with "Qualification highlights include." Do not use this valuable space on your résumé for a job objective; use it to sell your qualifications for the specific job. If you did not want the job, you probably would not be applying in the first place.

New graduates just coming into the workplace should then list their education information. Those who have been employed should list work experience first, followed by education. List your most recent academic information first, including your degree, major, institution and area of concentration. If your grade point average is higher than 3.0, include it and mention any academic honors.

Use action words and the active voice to describe the skills you have acquired from your work experience. List your most recent job first. Include the title of your position, the name of the organization and its location and dates of employment. Describe your work responsibilities with emphasis on specific skills and achievements.

Also list any key or special skills or competencies and leadership experience in volunteer organizations.

Do not include names of references on your résumé. Simply note "References furnished on request" at the bottom. Always ask people if they are willing to serve as references before you give their names to employers.

Show, don’t tell

Provide a two to three-phrase description of the basic job while keeping the focus on the key accomplishments listed in bullet points underneath. The best way to show your accomplishments is to use PAR statements: state the Problem, show the Action, and illustrate the Results.

You can make résumés more convincing by showing employers your accomplishments rather than leaving it to them to make assumptions. Mention any awards you have won (“Manager of the Quarter,” for example) or describe and quantify the results of major projects.

Grab attention

Employers can find themselves reviewing hundreds of résumés for a single position. With limited time to read, they tend to make quick judgments when glancing at résumés. The design of your résumé must highlight and draw the eye toward the most important information about your work experience, specific skills and education. A great way to do this is to use job titles and skill headings that relate to and match the job description or posting of the job you want.

These tips will make your résumé easier to read and/or scan into an employer's database:

  • Use a font size of 10-14 points.
  • Use non-decorative typefaces.
  • Choose one typeface and stick to it.
  • Avoid italics, script, and underlined words.
  • Do not use horizontal or vertical lines, graphics, or shading.

Make a lasting impression

Once you have completed your résumé, check for misspelled words. Ask a friend to review your grammar and ask another to proofread for typographical and spelling errors. You will also want to ensure that you have the correct format for electronic uploading and/or emailing.

It's also a good idea to have a version that is text based, with minimal or only HTML formatting that can be uploaded to a website, and one with standard fonts and minimal formatting that will look similar on various software and printer configurations. Some employers prefer a PDF file over a Word file, and the advantage to you of a PDF file is that is protects your text and formatting from changing.

Target your résumé and cover letter

Employers can tell if you have taken the shotgun approach to distributing your résumé. They will quickly zero-in on vague, unfocused letters and résumés and realize that you have not given any thought to the position itself and how your qualifications relate to the job requirements.

Update regularly

Keep your résumé updated, and for maximum impact, summarize accomplishments while they are fresh in your mind. Make a point of reviewing your résumé every few months so that it will always be ready.