Common Resume Writing Questions Answered

This was published a few years ago when I was interviewed by a writer from the Army Wives Network.  The link isn’t active anymore, so I’m recycling the Q & A here, for YOUR reading pleasure ….

The time has come and you are ready to start a job search. Once you know what type of position you want, your next step is creating a professional stand-out resume. Many people are a little intimidated at the prospect of creating a resume.

Here are some common questions answered with firsthand knowledge of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to professional resumes.

Q: What are some of the biggest mistakes you see in resumes?

A: The first mistake I often see is using templates for a resume format. 

Templates make your resume to look like everyone else’s. But, you want to stand out. Your resume is the first impression a potential employer has of you, your work style and your professionalism.  Form letters and templates say, “I made a minimal effort here.”

You want a hiring manager’s first impression to be: “Wow, I want to meet this person!” Just type up and format your own resume in Microsoft Word.  If you don’t know how to use the program, have a knowledgeable friend help you. Or you can always hire a resume writer.

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The second mistake is forgetting to proofread.

Here are the steps I recommend for proofing before you send out your resume:

  • Spell check first
  • Read it through yourself to proofread.
  • Scan it backwards. It’s amazing what you notice when you’re not actually reading it. It’s easy to miss typos or errors when you read it because you know what it ‘should’ say. Reading it backwards forces you to look at each word so you catch mistakes you may have read over before.
  • Print the final version to scan it on paper. I often catch tiny things on paper that I missed on the computer.
  • Ask for a second set of eyes. A fresh reader can make all the difference.
Q: Is there a format or layout that works best?  

A: I like a simple, classic, easy-to-read style with no gimmicks.  Sticking to regular white paper, if you’re even printing it nowadays, is best.

It’s the content and easy-to-read format that makes the most important impression.

For most industries, using a different colored ink rather than black is never good idea because it may not be legible through a scanner system. Plus, color can be distracting and seem unprofessional (note: this is becoming more common recently with more graphic style resumes – all the hiring managers/recruiters I talk to say these ‘fancy’ things are not necessary.  The exception is of course an creative field, like graphic designers, who’s resume look should match their portfolio branding.

I also recommend sticking with recognized fonts such as Arial, New Times Roman, Garamond or Tahoma.

Q: Do employers prefer a chronological or functional resume?

A: The format choice depends on the applicant’s strengths, work history and experience, as well as the goal of the current job search.  Briefly, here’s basic info about the two chief styles and why/when to use each:

Chronological format: 

This traditional format shows your work history from most recent position. It focuses on  WHAT you did and WHERE & WHEN you did it.

Choose the Chronological format if you’re staying in the same field (especially if you’ve been upwardly-mobile on the career ladder).

Note:  Because this is the most known and traditionally used format, some managers prefer it.

Functional format:

NOTE:  These aren’t recommended for online applications because of the way resume scanning systems ‘score’ resumes.

However, it’s helpful to understand what they are,  to get an idea of what a combination style format is (see below for that).

Functional  format organizes your experience into “skill sets.” It lists your reverse chronological work history after these skill sets.  Its focus is on WHAT you did, but NOT WHERE OR WHEN you did it.

Choose a Functional format (or probably a Combination style explained below)  if you’re changing career fields. A skills-oriented format shows off your transferable skills better and takes the focus off your old job-titles.

Note:  Some employers have a bias against functional resumes because in the past they were known to be used to try to ‘hide’ something in someone’s work history.  This has changed a lot in recent years, as many job seekers shift careers/industries as our work climates shift and change.  Do not be afraid to use a functional format if it fits your needs.

A combination style (for example, with a longer Summary to showcase skills like a functional resume does) is my preference for career changers for the reasons explained above.

In addition to a more detailed Summary to ‘rebrand’ for a job change, I format the content in each job to focus on the transferable skills and the experience most applicable to the NEW industry/goals.

Achievements, contributions, anything that makes you unique (in a good way) should be included – showcased – in any format you choose!

Q: Should volunteer work be included? What other types of unconventional “work” experience can be used?

A: If the volunteer work is relevant to the position, then include it. Just make sure to note that it was a volunteer position in your title.

Don’t forget about those unofficial projects you may have done that used your unique skill set.  Maybe you use your graphic design skills to help friends with brochures, but moving around has kept you from getting a full time design job. Treat this type of experience as if it were freelance work.

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Or, maybe you supervised the complete remodel of your former home, which included ordering all supplies, hiring and coordinating various home-improvement professionals, and keeping the contractor on schedule and on budget. These types of tasks can be included under Project Management skills. Don’t sell yourself short by discounting unpaid or ‘informal’ work.

Q:  What’s the best advice you can offer to do-it-yourselfers who are ready to create a professional, effective resume? 

A. Top Tips:

  • If you feel comfortable going for it on your own, I’d say again, no templates (or hire someone if you don’t know how to or don’t want to write your resume in MS Word yourself)
  • Do some research online about format options and styles you like and suit your needs.
  • No more than two pages, but don’t feel limited to one.
  • Make sure you highlight your accomplishments and special projects so your resume sells your unique skills and contributions.
  • Skip objective statements in favor of “Summary of Skills” or “Professional Summary” or “Selected Highlights”
  • Don’t be “notoriously modest” on your resume.  Make sure communicate your skills concisely, but liberally: past jobs, volunteering, school projects and knowledge, etc.  This is not arrogant, it’s smart.

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Do you Really NEED a Resume Writer? Take the QUIZ!
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Summaries Made Simple
One page or two? Oh, what to do? and other great resume debates