During the last few weeks, I’ve fielded a number of inquiries from students preparing their first resume. Also, I’ve heard from experienced professionals planning their return to the workforce after COVID. Of course, I would enjoy writing resumes for everyone that calls or emails me looking for help. Not everyone chooses to have someone else write a resume for them. Many prefer the do-it-yourself (DIY) challenge. Those that do hire a professional resume writer should understand the process so they can provide the right information. So, whether you want to hire a writer or DIY, here are three steps that are essential for preparing a successful resume to get a job:
- Gather your data,
- Prepare worksheets, and
- Engage in the writing process.
Remember, it’s your resume, whether you write it yourself or someone else does the writing. Readers will hold you accountable for the contents so you must be fully engaged in the process, be prepared to explain every line, and proofread it thoroughly.
My first career was at a federal agency known as the GAOwww.gao.gov, where I gathered data, organized the information on worksheets, and then summarized the data into reports for our customers—Congressional committees and the public. When I was hired to help clients write resumes, I followed a similar process. The resume, I realized, is a short fact-based report about a job seeker’s qualifications—education, skills, and experience.
The resume, like any government or business report, has to be customer-focused. Your customers are prospective employers and your network of industry and professional contacts. Keep the customers in mind as you gather and summarize data about your career.
Gather your data.
The data for your resume is information about your education, business experience, and professional skills or competencies. Assemble whatever documents you have such as school transcripts and records of jobs, volunteer work, or internships. Scan the documents or put them in a binder for easy access. This will save time later.
Performance reviews from jobs, volunteer work, and internship experiences are especially valuable. Reviews provide reminders of accomplishments that managers and leaders valued. This is what your customers—prospective employers and industry contacts—need to know.
Next, you need to organize the data you have gathered.
Create worksheets to organize your information.
An accepted way to create an accurate and complete report of any kind is to build it from worksheets. Create worksheets for the major topics on your resume, including education, skills, reverse-chronological experience, and accomplishments.
Worksheets will be provided to you when you work with a resume writer. You will, of course, still need to gather your data to complete the worksheets.
Record Your Educational Information: The education worksheet can be relatively short, despite the time, effort, and money you have devoted to school and training. You should record the official title of your degree or diploma, any honors you received, and the award date for the degree.
Much of this information will appear on your official school transcripts. HR may request your transcripts when you start a job, so it’s a great idea to make certain you have them now.
Skills or Core Competencies: The skills worksheet can be more challenging. Create a 3-column table in MS-Word or a similar program, and then fill in as many “hard” core competencies as you can. Hard skills or core competencies are terms such as retail math, GAAP accounting, portfolio analysis, process improvement, legal research, etc. Employers search for candidates that have done portfolio analysis, for example, but they don’t necessarily search for people that say they have “great communications skills.”
We have covered the subject of hard skills and soft-skills in blog posts such as the article at this link.
Employers will want to know how you applied your core competencies in professional situations, so emphasize skills you used at jobs, internships, and volunteer projects instead of skills you studied in class and have not applied yet.
Work Experience: Next, prepare a reverse-chronological work history. It is essential to make certain you know the recognized names of places where you worked, completed internships, or performed volunteer service, and when you worked at each of these places.
For example, I worked for several years at an employment program known as WeCARE. WeCARE was an acronym for a local welfare-to-work program. The employer that operated the program was a company called ResCare, so this was the employer name I used on resumes.
Accomplishments: The most important and detailed prep document is your accomplishment worksheet. Create three-columns to describe each business problem or opportunity you were asked to address, the specific actions you took to address that opportunity, and the results you achieved.
You will find a more detailed discussion of problem, action, results, or PAR, analysis at this link.
My clients that are recent graduates usually find the accomplishment worksheet I send them to be their biggest challenge. The accomplishment worksheet is important because employers know or can find your job descriptions. They do not know what you contributed.
Even brief internships, I’ve found, can provide quantifiable business accomplishments for your first resume. For example, I spoke with a college student that did a paid summer internship with a big box store. The interns walked the aisles and sold merchandise. He sold more merchandise than the other interns during the last week of the program, so he has at least one accomplishment bullet for this brief assignment.
Write your resume.
It will be easier to write the resume if you have taken the time to gather your data, and then summarize it on worksheets. For example, your reverse-chronological work history can often be copied directly from the worksheet without additional research. Then, you can select the strongest problem-action-result items from your accomplishment worksheet and consolidate them into bullet points under each employer entry.
You will also be able to prepare an accomplishment-based resume summary, and then concentrate on strategic choices, such as whether your work experience is strong enough to place above your education on the page. Take a look at our resume samples to see how everything fits together. So, whether you chose to write a resume yourself, or ask a writer to work with you, you’ll save time and energy by doing your “homework” first.