As the old saying goes, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” In today’s business world, of course, that first impression usually does not come from a face-to-face conversation, but from whatever you can tell your future boss about yourself on paper: your resume.
But knowing what information to put on your resume is a challenge. You want to tell your future boss about every noteworthy thing you’ve ever done, but your future boss only has a precious few seconds to look at your resume and the countless others that pass their way. How do you create a resume that makes a first impression that counts?
Of course, there are the basic things that any employer is going to want to know:
• Job objective, telling what kind of position you are looking for
• Work experience, with employers, positions, and dates listed
• Formal education, with schools and degrees or certificates listed
• Training and skills, really any ability that will set you apart from the rest
But in order to get beyond the boss’s circular file, you are going to need to go beyond the basics. Let’s start by talking about the forms that your resume might take.
The Chronological Resume
This is a resume where you tell your future employer what you’ve done over the course of your life that makes you the best choice for the position. The basic categories listed above form the skeleton of this resume, with lists for every school you’ve attended, job you’ve held, and training you’ve received, in chronological order.
The basic data is pretty standard. You can’t really change where you’ve worked, when you went to school, and what degrees you received (at least without risking being found out as dishonest and unethical). Where you can set yourself apart from the pack is in how you present that data.
The words you use to describe the tasks you’ve performed in a job can communicate much more about you and your capabilities than a bland description ever could. For example, using action words to describe your job tasks can say to your future boss that you are someone who can take initiative rather than someone who simply responds to circumstances.
Some examples of good, action-oriented ways of phrasing things are:
• “Implemented company business directives,” rather than “followed my boss’s instructions.”
• “Diagnosed and corrected problem,” rather than “figured out what was wrong.”
• “Promoted company products nationwide,” rather than “went on sales trips.”
• “Coordinated the activities of teams of employees,” rather than “received reports from different company departments.”
As you present the jobs you’ve held, the degrees you’ve received, and the training you’ve acquired in your chronological resume, remember to use action words and phrases to communicate that there is more to you than just the sum of your activities.
The Skills Resume
A different type of resume with different goals, the skills resume seeks to communicate the capabilities you bring to a job rather than what training and experience you have. The best course to take here is to show yourself in the best possible light.
The main sections of a skills resume are:
• Position: the job for which you are applying.
• Skills and Abilities: the traits and skills you have that make you the person for the job.
• Education and Training: the short version of your formal education and/or training for the job.
• Other: anything and everything that makes you stand out from the rest.
Sometimes, you may have traits that you consider negative, but that can be framed in a positive way for your future boss. Character traits that are complete opposites of one another can both be portrayed as positives. For example, do you think you’re “pushy”? In your skills resume, put that you are “assertive”. Are you a “push over”? In your skills resume, put that you are “easy to work with”.
But even more than discussing character traits, a skills resume tells your prospective employer what you think your best qualities are and why you should be given the job. The keys to this are identifying your most important skills and giving examples of how you’ve used them in the workplace.
These descriptions should always be kept short and simple. Remember, your future boss only has a few seconds to size you up. A short sentence that communicates the basic facts is far more important and helpful than a paragraph that gives every single detail of the story.
If you can think of positive ways of looking at the things you’ve accomplished in your life, there is no reason that you cannot communicate those things in exciting ways! Even if you don’t think your life has been all that thrilling, you can definitely make it sound that way by using the right words and phrases. The right words can make the qualifications you have sound absolutely indispensable to your future boss and can serve to draw their attention to the areas in your experience and character that will make you the obvious person for that position.