Writing a resume from scratch is one of the single most important talents not taught in schools. You can vet your potential organization, scope out your bosses-to-be, and conduct background research in such expansive depth the CIA will be astonished at your findings. None of it matters without a resume that screams, “CALL ME BEFORE YOU LOSE ME.”
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First of all, a resume is not:
A resume is:
Your resume is likely your first interaction with potential employers. The hiring manager for Company X will use this single point of contact as their sole deciding factor in whether you’re worth an interview and second round of deliberation.
This person may be a general manager, an HR rep, or a department head – whoever they are, the same thing is true: they own your a** now. Your one chance of scoring an interview and employment with Company X is about to be decided in the next…10 seconds, give or take.
That’s right. Most resumes are given a once-over for ten seconds or less before the hiring manager decides whether or not they go in the discard pile. In those crucial few moments, a cursory glance of your resume has to provide enough oomph to make the manager go “Hm” and sit back in their chair for a more in-depth exploration of the product called You. Writing a resume from scratch is one of the best ways to get their attention – as long as you put in the time to make it attractive.
If you’re sitting at your computer staring blankly at an empty page, chances are, you’re starting this process incorrectly. Most people have trouble spewing content into the void – it’s more constructive to instead fill in the blanks. This is especially true if you are writing your resume from scratch, as there is no pre-set template to guide you.
To that end, it’s helpful to start by constructing a simple outline. Visualizing where you have employment appeal versus where you’re lacking can be instructive and instrumental in determining your resume’s presentation.
This outline functions as a reference tool with which you’ll be able to design the perfect advertisement for You. The guideline below should be suitable for most needs.
Some critical elements include:
While employers want to see that you have a lot of position-related skills, extra abilities show a diverse, well-learned personality. Don’t be afraid to add your CMA license if you’re applying for a sawmill job or your childcare abilities if you’re going into memory care. A hiring manager wants to know the person they’re employing will go above and beyond – and maybe has the know-how to save their life.
If your marketable skills section looks a little shabby, it’s time to really spruce yourself up. (The downside of writing a resume from scratch, unfortunately, is that you have to do everything yourself. Tsk tsk.)
Maybe this is your first job, or you don’t have a lot of work experience.
Perhaps you’re three years into that bachelor’s degree and can’t officially say you are a marketing wizard.
Maybe you just don’t get out of the house much.
If any of these describe you, this is where your soft skills come into play.
Hard skills are the marketable abilities that have direct employment applications. To attain a hard skill, there is almost always higher education or on-the-job-training required, though a select few, such as SEO writing and some computer and programming skills, can be self-taught.
Soft skills, by contrast, are the capabilities and self-restraint practices you incorporate into your life to keep yourself running smoothly. In order to write an effective resume from scratch, you want a list of 3-5 soft skills that best represent who you are as an employee.
Some employer-friendly soft skills include:
After you have a visual of all of the skills you bring to the table (or don’t), you’ll be better equipped to select the format of your resume. There are three basic choices, not counting the nitpicky frills of visual appeal: reverse chronological, functional, and combination. Each comes with its strengths and weaknesses (just like you!). If you are writing your resume from scratch with no reference template, be sure you’ve chosen the format before you start plugging in information.
The reverse chronological format (also called the chronological format) is the most traditional of the three and the one you’re most likely to encounter. This resume is suited for most newcomers to the workforce as well as many mid-level professionals.
In a reverse chronological resume, the emphasis is on your history in working up the chain in terms of experience and responsibility – without significant interruptions or fallbacks. It shows hiring managers that your recent and/or majority work experience is relevant to the position(s) applied for.
The professional experience portion of a reverse chronological resume constitutes the majority of the layout. If you’re new to the workforce, this section may be a little short, but the prior experience will be featured front and center to catch the eye and convince hiring managers your work history is up to their snuff.
Reverse chronological resumes are good for:
Reverse chronological histories are not good for:
Functional resumes are ideal for those who are proven experts in a field. This format heavily emphasizes qualifications and ability over pure practice, although some experience –or formal education – is required to make a functional resume pop.
Functional resumes are best if you are trying to de-emphasize a spotty or crowded work history or a lack of experience. For these to work, you need some transferable skills, but may not have to have every skill usually required in the industry.
As such, functional resumes give you the option to sideline your work history, instead focusing on a detailed list of skills and overall readiness to the task. Your work history section will be minimal and should rarely include more than previous employers’ names and contact information.
Functional resumes are good for:
Functional resumes are not good for:
Combination resumes are an amalgam of reverse chronological and functional resumes. A combination resume takes a cue from the functional format to highlight career and industry qualifications while also emphasizing the strong work ethic of the chronological.
Combination resumes are best left to those who have several years of experience in a particular niche and want to highlight the skills utilized rather than the specific work done. It should be noted, however, that a stable work history is also usually required for a combination resume to stand out.
Chronological resumes tend to follow a particular format down the page:
Combination resumes are good for:
Combination resumes are not good for:
Once you’ve decided on an overall format, it’s time to go through and structure your personal reference information. Depending on the style of resume you choose as well as the job to which you are applying, some areas of your work history or skills lists may not be relevant.
There are now two ways to proceed: you can look up hundreds of guides and outlines online, or you can write your own resume from scratch. Since we are focusing on the latter topic, we will cover all of the basic design elements you’ll need to make your resume stand out from the crowd. That being said, I personally recommend keeping a template within easy access as a point of reference. Templates can serve as a reminder to keep it simple, neat, and concise.
As a rule, most resumes should be a single page; however, if you have an extended work history, skillset, or certification portfolio, two pages is acceptable. Additionally, if you’re writing a resume for an upper-level management or executive job, or if you have multiple publications to your name, two to three pages of resume is not uncommon.
Let’s cover some essential tips for an attractive resume:
Now that you have the basics of your resume ready to go, let’s review how the information should be placed into your selected format. As with everything else, all of the details are highly variable to provide you with plenty of options – and frustrations – to write a killer resume from scratch.
Let’s start from the beginning.
You have four basic introduction styles to choose from:
This section should be labeled with a fitting title, typically one of the following:
This is going to be the core of combination and reverse chronological resumes, so building a compelling, informational-yet-minimalist work history is crucial to your resume’s success.
While you don’t want to list every achievement and skill on every job, you want to highlight the most important from each. 3-5 bullet points is a good rule of thumb to follow to keep the section brief. (Unlike me. There’s no hope. We’ve tried.)
As to the definition of “most important,” you should only list the relevant skills and experience for the job you are applying for. That accounting firm really couldn’t care less about how quickly you can mop up a dirty bathroom, I assure you.
An effective work history looks something like this (specific formatting dependent upon the resume layout):
Name of employer – ****Your title/position at the company
Starting date – ending date (or “present” if currently employed)
To give a concrete example, following the above style parameters:
Jordan Blansit – Freelance Writer
January 2020 – present
If you’re a career professional applying to a select few jobs rather than a college graduate mass-applying for their first industry work, another piece of advice is to tailor your work experiences to your desired position. This is easily accomplished – especially when writing a resume from scratch – by including language from their want ads or main website into your resume.
For instance, take this screenshot of a Brand Marketing Specialist posting on Indeed.com:
From this ad posting, you could tailor your work experience to include information and phrasing used in this posting. Using our format discussed above, this would look like:
Amazing Marketing Talents, Inc – Marketing and Brand Specialist
January 2015 – January 2020
This example may be a little on the nose, but it shows a basic outline of how to sprinkle key language cues written throughout a job advertisement into a resume effectively.
If you have more education than professional experience, especially if you’re a recent college graduate, you can still get a great job if you build your resume right. It may be prudent to switch the order of your work history and educational achievements, if that’s the case, to highlight your most recent contributions and experiences in your desired field.
However, if you’re banking instead on your wealth of professional experience in an industry, or just as a member of the workforce, leave your work experience first and keep your educational section short and sweet.
Important details about each educational experience to include are:
Depending on the layout of your resume, you may include skills in a sidebar column, listed above your work experience, or placed with or below your educational experiences. If you have a lot of industry-specific or specialized knowledge, you’ll likely want to include your skills as front-and-center as possible to catch your future employer’s eye. You’ll also want to sprinkle iterations of your talents throughout your education and work sections where possible and appropriate.
From your pre-defined list of marketable/hard skills and your soft skills, you should select a grand total of no more than 10-12 most relevant capabilities. These should be listed as bullet points, in columns, or formatted in another aesthetically pleasing style to make them easy for your potential employer to peruse.
If you have industry-specific “sections” of skills, it’s a good idea to list them as bullet points with specific examples. For instance, those who are good with technology could express their proficiencies as such:
This helps to distinguish between the types of abilities and outline what, specifically, you are good at within those fields.
If you have extra information you believe will help you get a job but don’t know where to put it, this section is you for. Additionally, if you are in a field that imposes strict licensing regulations and standards, such as medical or maintenance fields, you’ll want to include a “Certifications” section near your education or skills sections.
Additional parts to include in your resume could be:
Or two, or three. The number isn’t important.
Cover letters and resumes go hand-in-hand, and if you write your resume from scratch, you should write your cover letter to match. The combination can boost your likelihood of being hired if you play your language and just write.
Your resume is your only line of marketing and contact with a potential employer. Your resume, in a ten-second glance, will inform the hiring manager’s decision on whether or not you could be a good fit for the company.
If you have even a single typo in your resume, it will stick out like a sore thumb to a detail-oriented executive. On the day you write your resume, take an extra ten minutes to edit it.
Edit it again the next day, too, just to be safe. Maybe two or three times.
Then, just to be extra, extra careful, check it at least once on the third day, too. Just in case.
This process will help you catch any errors, funky language, or undesirable formatting mistakes. Additionally, once you’ve edited your resume a few times, it’s a good idea to hand it over to a trusted friend or family member. Even if there are no errors to be found, they’ll be able to inform you of any weird formatting or hard-to-decipher language.
You should see a pattern now – repetition is the name of the game. Save your file as a Word Doc, upload it to Google Drive, and copy it as a PDF if possible. This ensures that you will have access to your resume even if one file or program experiences issues, and it will let you more easily send your resume to an employer who may not be able to access certain kinds of files.
That’s it! You’ve made it! All that’s left is to actually apply for your job. And then, well, you know, go and work for there, day after week after month after year…
The point is, you’ve gotten this far. Time to go out there and get that bread. I believe in you.