The one document that defines you. That’s what I tell my clients when they come to me with resume questions. Although simple at first glance, 1-2 page document carries so much weight. It’s is the first thing people read when you come through on a job application. It’s where skills and experience are evaluated. It’s what decisions are based upon.
And it needs to be good.
But crafting a perfect resume isn’t as simple as finding the right template or adding the best buzzwords. Although short, there’s more than meets the eye. And as a writing coach, editor with almost a decade of experience, and active classroom teacher (who obsesses over correct grammar and punctuation!) here are the six steps to crafting that perfect resume (and hopefully landing the job of your dreams):
1. Create a ‘dump document’ of all your prior experience.
Whenever I’m working with a client on his/her resume, I always start with this! First, I have the person think back to all the jobs they’ve had over the years (relevant or not) and write them down on what I dub the ‘dump document.’
This is a scratch piece of paper or blank document where ideas are just spewed. The goal isn’t for perfection, but to get everything down in one place. Even if a job seems completely off-base, it’s useful to include it so that you can draw skills from it (ex: managerial experience, working under pressure, or even responsibility and organization).
From there you can start to sort through and highlight what you actually want to use in the resume vs. what’s useless.
2. Focus less on describing and more on selling.
If you read a job descritipion online, it will tell you all the skills needed for that position. You don’t want your resume to read like that. Crafting the perfect resume is about finding ways to sell yourself in that role.
Rather than saying, “Has X years of experience in social media,” for example, say, “Cultivated brand strategy, social media, and marketing for over X years.” (This is just a simple way to change the language to make you sound more appealing to potential employers.)
3. Don’t worry about design until the end.
I can’t tell you how many people get so caught up in making the perfect resume design that they forget to develop the content. You can have the best-looking resume in the world, but if it doesn’t have strong word choice, sentence structure, and content, it’s going to flop.
Don’t worry about the design until the end. Once you’ve polished your content you can add graphics, style, color, or other elements to make it look uniform (or stand out, if preferred).
4. Focus on relevancy and dates.
When your potential employer picks up your resume, you want he/she to know exactly what you’re all about and what you’ve done from the start. Be sure to put relevant work and order it by date.
Also include lines that are relevant to the position you’re applying for. You can even consider changing or adding to your resume each time you send it off, based on the specific job!
5. Read it aloud to catch errors.
One tool I suggest to all my clients (and always do myself!) is to read aloud. When you read aloud, you’re forced to slow down and have less of a tendency to skip errors. When you’re reading in your head, it’s easier to breeze through and not notice even things like omitted words!
If possible, have someone else proofread your work, too. (PSST! Like a writing coach!) These people are trained in catching errors and focusing on the language to help you polish before you send off. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than an unpolished resume.
6. Craft a cover letter that compliments.
Your resume should include your name, contact information, relevant experience, skills, education, and any special programs/awards, etc.
But beyond your resume, you have to have a cover letter that supports.
Think of it this way: your resume is the barebones of who you are. The cover letter is what truly brings out your personality and takes you off of the page. You’re not just your accomplishments; you’re also a person with a voice.
And that voice comes from your cover letter.
Be sure that your letter speaks directly to the hiring committee, is completely error-free, and showcases part of your personality (in appropriate ways, of course). When you’ve created one that really showcases you, put them together for a one-two punch.
Marisa Donnelly is a Midwest-born, West Coast-based writer, poet, essayist, editor, and founder of an independent writing coaching/editing services company, Be A Light LLC.
She is the author of the poetry collection, Somewhere On A Highway, and has published thousands of articles culminating over 21.2+ million page views for Huffington Post, Bustle, Thought Catalog, and Briar Cliff Review, among many others.