The resume guide was developed to help Missouri adults write their resumes, including descriptions and examples of the most widely used resume formats. You will also find suggestions on how to deal with special aspects of your background and how to target your resume toward your chosen career field.
What is a resume, and why do I need one?
A resume is an honest, easy-to-read impressive summary of your “occupational self” on paper. It tells:
- Who you are as an employee
- What your employment history has been
- What your strengths and accomplishments are
- What skills and abilities you have
- Why the prospective employer should contact you for an interview
The information you choose and how you present it should boldly (but not arrogantly) build an argument as to why an employer should consider you as a prospective employee. The resume is a screening device for the employer. The average resume gets about 30 seconds of attention in the employer’s initial review, so you must represent yourself briefly and concisely. Every word must count. Be precise and toot your own horn. The resume is the tool that you should use as your best opportunity to be an advocate for yourself.
Remember, the purpose of the resume is to get an interview for the type of job you want and make the kind of wage or salary you need to make. Always assess whether it is “working” or “not working” and don’t be afraid to change it. If it isn’t working, try something different until you can make it work. If it works, think in terms of “how can I change it to make it better.” Remember, it is your resume. Everyone that writes resumes has their own style based on their education, experience, training, etc. Get others’ input, but then YOU make the decision for your own resume.
The key to a successful resume … skill identification and presentation
There are many important aspects to a resume. Everyone has a different way of putting one together and, in most cases, there is no “right way” or “wrong way.” However, some common characteristics appear to be most successful in getting people job interviews and jobs.
The strongest, most important, and most effective difference in a successful resume that works is how you describe your skills, abilities, and responsibilities from previous employment.
Think about the jobs you have had. What were your responsibilities? What did you do? What skills and abilities did you utilize? List all of your previous work experiences and what you did on the job. Don’t take anything for granted. Be specific. Whenever possible, incorporate value into your statements by explaining not only what you did but how well you did it. For example, consider the following two situations:
- Answered phone
- Greeted plant visitors
- Made appointments
- Sorted incoming mail
- Received incoming calls on three business lines, determined the nature of the call, and effectively transferred caller to destination with 99 percent accuracy.
- Maintained log of phone calls, time of call, nature of business, and the person called upon.
- Monitored the coming and going of staff, ensuring callers and walk-in customers were directed to appropriate and available personnel.
- Collected, sorted, and distributed mail and messages to staff members at regular intervals throughout the day.
- Greeted visitors to the plant and issued visitor passes when necessary.
- Arranged future appointments for staff upon request.
Who are you more impressed with … receptionist ABC or XYZ?
Different types of resumes for different uses
There are several different types of resumes used for different situations. It is important that you consider what your situation is and what your goals are before picking the resume type that works best for you.
A. Chronological resume
A chronological resume puts the focus on your previous work experience and the responsibilities you had while there. It draws from the advancement and vertical moving you have done and accounts for the majority of time during the past 15 or 20 years. It is primarily “fact-based” and tells who, what, where, and when. It should never exceed two pages. Only print or copy on one side of a page.
You probably should use a chronological resume if
- You have a good work history.
- You have had no time gaps.
- You have not had numerous job changes.
- You are looking for another job in the same field or a related one.
- You have worked for a prestigious company that carries some weight in your community.
- It is the most common type and is preferred for most situations.
- It is very easy to follow.
- It shows job stability.
- It can show steady growth in responsibility.
- It emphasizes job titles and the companies you worked for.
- It describes duties and accomplishments.
- It can emphasize “job hopping.”
- It can infer too much about your age.
- It can show a lack of experience.
- It can draw too much attention to gaps in employment.
- Example of a chronological resume
B. Skill/functional resume
A skill/functional resume puts the focus on the professional skills and experience that you gained from your employment, your formal education, and training, and generally on the transferable skills/functions you have previously acquired. Primarily, this is the “how” type. Many are only one printed page in length. However, if the information is relevant, one-and-a-half to two printed pages is acceptable. Only print or copy on one side of a page.
You probably should use a skill/functional resume if
- You are reentering the job market after an absence.
- You have had long time gaps between employment.
- You have had numerous job changes.
- You are looking for another job in a very different field or industry.
- You think your age is a barrier (too young or too old).
- You haven’t shown advancement in responsibility or have had lateral moves.
- You have had several unrelated occupations.
- You are a mature individual with a varied background and numerous areas of expertise.
- You are a new graduate from high school or college.
- You are a dislocated worker who is retraining and/or has retrained and wants to use newly acquired education to make a career change.
- You have skills and abilities other than those you are currently using, and you desire to make a change.
- You have extensive military background and experience.
- You are self-employed and operate your own business.
- It highlights accomplishments and strengths.
- It allows you to organize your skills in a way that best suits you.
- It eliminates repetition and redundancy of similar jobs. It allows flexibility in how you present yourself.
- It is an excellent resume to use for circulating through networks.
- It allows you to draw from a diverse volunteer experience, interests, and skills that have not been a part of your past employment.
- It de-emphasizes specific job titles and companies you worked for.
- It de-emphasizes longevity.
- It shows limited job duties.
- It may be unfamiliar to some employers.
Limit the skills you include in your resume to current ones relevant to the job you’re seeking. Listing retired operating systems and software tells your prospective employer you’re 50+. (Although it isn’t fair to get filtered out due to age, people who screen resumes may pass on yours, and you won’t get a chance for an interview to demonstrate your skills.)
C. Targeted resume
A targeted resume is written for a very specific job in a very job-specific manner. It is very similar to a skill/functional resume listing skills, experience, and accomplishments that are specifically targeted to a given job announcement.
You probably should use a targeted resume if
- You are willing to do a number of different resumes — one for each specific job or direction you have in mind.
- You have skills and capabilities but no direct work experience in a specific area.
- You are applying for a position within the company or department where you are currently employed.
- It shows that you have a very clear understanding of what you want to do and the related skills necessary to do the job.
- It can include a “selected achievements” category highlighting important accomplishments and recognitions that you have received.
- You need to create a different resume for each specific job. This requires time and money.
- It eliminates information about your skills and experience that might exclude you from consideration for another job within the same company.
What do I include in my resume?
A. Personal data
- First name, middle name, or initial and last name This is an important document so you should use your legal name. If you prefer to be known by another name, put it in parenthesis. For example, Wilbur (Bill) Smith
- City and state
- Telephone number with area code Use a number where you can be reached during business hours. If the number is something other than your home, identify it as other such. For example, “message phone,” “work,” “cell,” etc.
- Email address If you have an AOL email address, it is smart to get a gmail account, one from a professional society or alumni association, or get your own domain (such as billsmith.com). The email address you use for a job search should be your personal email rather than your current workplace address.
It is no longer necessary to include a street address on a resume. Where you live could influence a prospective employer (commute length, economic profiling, etc.). If an employer needs your home mailing address, they can request it. Never include your Social Security number.
An objective is a statement of your search intentions and is an opportunity to demonstrate that you know specifically what you want to do. It should always go on a skill/functional resume and, in many cases, on a chronological. If it is not utilized on the actual resume, it should be a part of the cover letter. Some people prefer to put a header before the statement such as “Objective,” “Position desired,” “Career objective,” “Employment objective,” “Summary of skills,” etc. You should choose the one that you feel most comfortable with. In an objective and be specific, using only two or three lines maximum. Avoid being too general — it would be better not to have one. Consider these:
“Desire a job that is more stable than my last job.”
“Seeking a career that offers potential for advancement.”
“I want full-time employment allowing me to provide for my family.”
“Seeking an assembly-line manufacturing position utilizing my technical training and welding experience.”
“Seeking a home-health nursing position utilizing my education, training, and previous nursing experience.”
“Seeking a teaching and research position utilizing my communication skills, classroom management background, and abilities to conceptualize research models.”
C. Work experience or work history
Account for your work history for at least the past 10 to 15 years. Start with the most recent first and work back. List the job title, employer’s name, city, state, and dates of employment. If you have no gaps in your history, you can list the month and year.
- Supervisor, K-Mart, Inc., Sedalia, Missouri, December 2012 to present
- Assembler, Vickers Inc., Rolla, Missouri, May 2005 to June 2012
- Waitress, Shoney’s, Columbia, Missouri, August 1998 to April 2005
If you have any gaps, list only the year.
- Supervisor, K-Mart, Inc., Sedalia, Missouri, 2012 to present
- Assembler, Vickers, Inc., Rolla, Missouri, 2005 to 2012
- Waitress, Shoney’s, Columbia, Missouri, 1998 to 2005
As a rule of thumb, don’t list a job that was for less than three or four months unless it helps you. What if I worked at one place for 15 years or longer? We have already stressed the importance of duties, responsibilities, and skill identification for this portion of your resume. Remember to:
- Use bullet statements (see samples).
- Avoid excessive pronouns (such as I, me, my, mine, etc.).
- Begin each statement with an action verb (see samples).
- Quantify and add value whenever possible (see samples).
- Eliminate as many prepositions as possible (such as if, the and a).
If you’re stuck or having difficulty describing your duties, an excellent resource is the D.O.T. (Dictionary of Occupational Titles), found online on the U.S. Department of Labor website, or check with your local library or state employment office for a copy.
D. Education and training
Use reverse chronological order (list the most recent first and work your way back).
If you have attended a four-year college or university or have received a college degree, there’s no need to list your high school. Otherwise, it’s better safe than sorry.
Begin the entry with the name of the completed degree or certificate. Following that, list the formal name of the school, the city it is located in or the campus you attended, and the state.
What about the year of your graduation? List it if you think it will work to your advantage or help you in some way. Otherwise, leave it off.
If you don’t have a high school diploma or GED but do have extensive work experience, don’t list education unless you are enrolled in GED courses.
There are various levels and types of education.
- General educational development diploma, currently enrolled
- General educational development diploma received
- High school graduate
- High school graduate and slight amount of specialty training
- certificate from a vocational-technical school
- Professional development courses
- Some college — no degree
- College graduate — Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree
- College graduate — Master’s or other Graduate Degree
E. Activities, organizations, and community service
You should be cautious about whether you should list any organizations. Some affiliations might not work in your favor. When you do list these, list broad categories rather than specific ones. A few good examples:
- Active in local church activities
- Member and vice-president, County Daycare Center, Inc.
- Active in Local United Way Annual Fund Drive
- Member, Forsyth Chamber of Commerce
F. Professional affiliations, associations and military
State whether these are current or not. A few good examples:
- Member, American Sociological Association, 2015 to present
- University of Missouri Alumni Association, member
- Parent Teacher Association, Greentop Public Schools, 2002 to 2005
G. References available upon request
You may put this phrase at the bottom of the last page of your resume, but it isn’t necessary. In the same way a period ends a sentence, this line says “this is the end of my resume.” A separate reference page should be available if requested. Do not mail with resume unless requested. Take along reference sheets to an interview, in case requested. References should include:
- Mr./Mrs./Ms. first and last name
- Company name or affiliation with job title or position
- Mailing address
- Email address and/or area code and phone number (Ask your references which they prefer.)
Who should you use for a reference? Use someone who can talk directly about your work ethic, production capabilities and personal commitment to your employment. Contact this person and ask their permission before using them as a reference. Some examples of who to ask:
- Supervisor or foreman
- Plant superintendent
- Assistant manager or manager
- Pastor, banker, or lawyer
- Co-worker or community contact
Writing a cover letter
Whenever you send a resume to a prospective employer, you also should include a cover letter. The cover letter should accomplish three things:
- Explain the purpose of sending your resume
- Get the employer interested in your resume
- Target the resume to a specific position or career field
Effective cover letters are clear, to the point, and brief. The cover letter should achieve its purpose in three to four paragraphs consisting of the greeting, the opening, the body, and the closing.
Address the letter to a specific person. Never use “To whom it may concern:” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” You can often find out the name and title of who will be hiring or interviewing for a position by making a simple phone call to the company or business. However, it is sometimes impossible to do this, or the ad may state, “no calls, please.” In these situations, either use the “Re:” approach or address it to the position as in: “Dear Director of Manufacturing” or “Dear Human Resource Manager.”
Begin your letter by directly stating why you are writing the employer. If you are applying for a specific opening, indicate the position you would like to apply for and how you learned of the opening.
“I would like to apply for the mechanic position advertised in the September 28th edition of The Kansas City Star.” If you are writing to inquire about job openings, simply state why you are writing and give the employer an idea of the type of position in which you are interested.
“I am interested in prospective mechanic openings with A & C Auto.” An effective opening would also get the employer’s interest by touching on your qualifications or skills.
“I would like to apply for the mechanic position advertised in the September 28th edition of The Kansas City Star. I believe my experience in repair and maintenance of farm machinery and equipment qualify me for further consideration.”
Don’t repeat all of the information in your resume. Direct the employer’s attention to the skills, characteristics, and experience that make you right for the job. Point out what you can contribute to the company or business. You should also mention that your resume is attached for further review.
“As indicated in my enclosed resume, I have 20 years of experience maintaining and repairing a variety of equipment and have recently completed a vocational course in engine repair. In addition, as a community leader, I am experienced in serving the public and working as a team. I believe my skills and experience would enable me to be an immediate asset to your organization.”
Indicate that you would like to meet with the employer. Take the initiative and let the employer know how and when you will contact him or her to set up an appointment. Use phrases like “get together” or “meet with you” instead of “interview” in the closing.
“I would like to meet with you to discuss my qualifications. I will call you next week to find out when we might get together. Thank you for your attention and consideration.” Final points about cover letters
- Keep your letter short, clear, and businesslike. Flashy or gimmicky letters do not impress most employers.
- If your materials are printed, use paper for the cover letter that matches your printed resume. Check carefully for typographical errors, punctuation, and spelling errors.
- Do not use two spaces after a period, which will immediately tag you as 50+ years of age and could penalize you. (Age discrimination does exist in the job market today.)
- Keep a copy of the letter for your records.
- Put the cover letter and resume together in a large letter-size envelope — do not fold or staple them and print out or type the label. Mail with first-class postage to the same person and address as is on the cover letter.
- Even if you hand deliver the resume, utilize a cover letter for additional “impress-ability.”
- Be sure to follow up as indicated in your letter. If you said, “I’ll call your office next week,” call the office next week.
Utilize the cover letter to highlight the matches between what you have to offer and what the employer is seeking. The cover letter is an opportunity to describe your skills, abilities, and personal qualities and how they would benefit the employer.
Bonus tip: It won’t hurt to set up your LinkedIn page, aligning your work history and skills with your resume and cover letter. Many recruiters scout LinkedIn pages for people with the skills they are looking for in an employee. Include a link in your resume to your LinkedIn page. And don’t forget to cleanse other social media outlets you use (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) of anything you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to learn about you. Recruiters often check social media to learn more about candidates.