Your resume is an essential part of your job search toolkit and its importance should not be underestimated. You will need one for whatever kind of job you are looking for. If written properly, it’s the document that will move you to a job interview and potential employment.

Do not approach the task of writing the resume lightly. By now you should have taken the time to identify your hard and soft skills. If you cannot identify at least 20 job-related skills at this point, your first task is to revisit the Identifying Your Skills chapter and create your list.

Be aware that your resume is never really done. You have to customize it to match the qualifications and skills sought by employers for specific jobs.

Job seekers start out at different points when preparing resumes. Some will have a resume a few months or a few years old. Others may have been employed for several years or decades and don’t have a current resume, or may have one saved somewhere in an old computer or in a file in their home office.

Get Started

Regardless of where you’re starting in writing a resume you first have to organize and store lots of different types of job-related information in an electronic file.

1. Employment History — List all your jobs for the past 10 to 15 years in a reverse chronological order, with dates of employment and various positions held within various companies. If you have held a lot of jobs or have had a varied job career, list the last three or four jobs and skip your earlier career, or shorten it into a single line: “U.S. Bank, Minneapolis, MN, teller, 2005-2010.”

2. Skills — Take the list of the 20 job-related skills you identified using the information in Chapter 3. Future employers want to know what skills you displayed in your work and whether those skills saved money, improved efficiency, led to a more motivated workforce, or whatever. Ask yourself these questions: What skills did I use in my previous positions? Are they important to the employers or jobs that I am considering?

3. Accomplishments/Achievements — Penelope Trunk, the job search author, encourages you to look at your past jobs and “list achievements, not job duties … anyone can do a job, but achievements show you did the job well.” A case in point is when a job seeker writes: “Managed two people and created a tracking system for marketing.” Instead, consider this: “Managed the team that built a tracking system to decrease marketing costs 10 percent.” The second example obviously sounds more impressive.

Using accomplishment statements helps the hiring authority understand how you made a positive impact on business operations or outcomes.

Mark Zappa, who works in the Ramsey County North St. Paul WorkForce Center, points out that an accomplishment can be an actual testimonial from a supervisor — a nice break from the usual standard resume information. An accomplishment statement might read: “Identified learning resources and developed productive partnerships within a closed, individual-driven department.”   

4. Job Search Goals — Establish clear objectives for your search. What kind of company do you want to work for? What size? In what field? What sorts of jobs are you seeking?

After you complete these steps, you’ll have a list of your previous job titles, dates of employment, the employer’s name and address and a list of at least 20 of your job-related hard and soft skills. 

Write It

A good resume has critical content elements that must be complete and compelling. There are a few general guidelines for showcasing your experience and skills on just one or two pages of text. Resumes are fairly predictable in features and information, but some choices have to be made. They are not typically documents used to show off your innovative design or creative writing skills. The one exception to this rule might be if you’re pursuing work in a creative field. Yet even then these resumes must remain cautiously creative.

Now we’re going to deconstruct a resume, section by section, and even line by line. We’ll start at the top, end at the bottom. Don’t worry about the final look or format of your resume just yet. Start with the core content. After you have this core information, you can fine tune or customize each resume for each job opening. This is called “targeting” your resume.    

Font Selection

There are two types of fonts, serif and sans serif. Serif fonts have tails or feet and sans serif fonts do not. Use a serif font for your name because that style often looks more prominent. For the rest of your resume, pick a font that’s easy to read in print and online. Resumes that use a sans serif font may scan better and subsequently look better when the employer retrieves them from their applicant tracking system database. 

Name Block

Put your full first and last names on its own line at the top of the page. Choose your favorite professional-looking font. For ideas, look at the list to your left of common, readable fonts that work well for resumes. Your name can be in a different font than the body of the resume. Type your name in bold or CAPITAL LETTERS to make it stand out, and make it larger point type than the body of the resume.

Your address should not contain abbreviations. Include all 10 digits of your landline phone or mobile number. It should be a number where you can be reached at all times. Use a professional personal email address. Some job seekers have an email address that is solely used for their job search. If applicable, also include your LinkedIn profile address. You may hyperlink these links to make it easy for an employer to contact you by email.

Elizabeth Applicant
1443 HireMe Lane
Employmentville, Minnesota 55555


Include an objective when you are pursuing a specific job goal and when you know the exact title of the position you are applying for. The objective statement helps target your resume. When applying for a specific job, use the title in your objective and even add the name of the company as in the following example: “Objective: Landscape Design Specialist at Creative Environments Inc.” Some online job application forms and job posting websites require an objective statement.

Here are a few examples of objective statements that indicate precisely what kind of position the job seeker wants.

  • Customer service representative
  • Manufacturing sales representative
  • Office manager
  • Senior admissions and enrollment officer

Summary Section

Your resume should include an effective Summary Section that briefly highlights your recent work experience (including industries you’ve worked in), applicable certifications, achievements and skills that best match the position for which you are applying. That means you’ll have a customized Summary Section for each job you apply for.

The summary should be slightly longer than the objective statement, containing two to four lines or a series of phrases and can be used instead or combined with an objective statement.

Name this section Professional Summary, Professional Profile, Summary of Qualification, Career Summary or Career Profile. Below are two examples:

Objective: Landscape Architect
Summary: Certified and innovative Landscape Architect with extensive knowledge in construction, engineering and design. Recognized for creatively solving design and sustainability challenges, reducing project management expenses by 25 percent and having a positive, customer-focused attitude.

Professional Profile
Certified Nursing Assistant with over two years long-term care experience caring for elderly and vulnerable adults. Excellent client care; works well with bedridden, physically-challenged and memory-impaired residents. Commended for superior safety and attendance record. Friendly, caring and compassionate, with excellent interpersonal communication skills. Flexible: available days, evenings, weekends and holidays. Maintains confidential information.

Skills Section

Include a skills section to quickly and effectively communicate your experience and make yourself stand out from other applicants. Match your skills (used in volunteer and paid positions) from the list you have already created with the requirements and preferences included in the job posting. Formats for skill lists include:

1. Bullet Point List with Results
Format your skill section as a list of bullet points— that is three lines to five lines long. Limit each entry to two lines. Choose action verbs that demonstrate responsibility. For example, “managed,” “coordinated” or “designed.” Vary the action verbs that you choose. This helps make your abilities sound more diverse and adds depth to your resume. Use the list of action verbs provided in this chapter and in the job opening itself for ideas. Review your list of accomplishment statements to quantify your results

2. Grouping Skills by Topic
Consider grouping your skills as job-specific qualifications below headlines such as Accounting Qualifications, Consulting Qualifications or Teaching Qualifications. Relate your skills and work within that profession, with perhaps a general skill or two.

3. Skill List
This format is often used to list your competency using computers. Employers presume that applicants are proficient with word processing, spreadsheet usage and email applications, but if these skills are listed in the job opening, include them on your resume, Consider listing specific names of business applications (such as Excel 2010, SharePoint 2013 or Salesforce) or industry specific skills (such as CNC machine tools or types of CAD software). Use a bulleted list, three to five lines long.

Employment History

List your most recent employment first. A general standard is to chronologically list in reverse order the last three to four jobs or those you have had over the past 10 years. Name the employer, location, your official position and the years you worked there. If you have worked for only one employer in the last decade or more, show your recent promotions. If your job title did not change in the last decade you can still show job progression by showcasing how you took on more complex job tasks and increased responsibilities.

How much information should you give about your past jobs? Focus on what you did and your accomplishments in various positions. Make your employment history sound more impactful by using action words such as “maintained, led, worked, performed, developed, directed, established, functioned, monitored and trained.”

Use bullet points and make your sentences one line. Sentence fragments like “specialized in training employees to use proprietary software that resulted in a 15 percent reduction in data entry errors” work fine. List no more than four to six bullet points in describing your last job. Then use two to three points for subsequent positions.

Although contact information is typically given on an application or reference sheet, many resumes still list the employer name, city and state. Other job seekers might limit this information to keep the resume focused on skills, accomplishments and qualifications that best match the job opening. The choice is yours. There is no single standard that fits all situations.

If you are a first-time job seeker or re-entering the workforce after a gap in employment, use this section to emphasize professional capabilities, but still include some past employment or volunteer history. Job seekers with established job search goals often seek out a volunteer opportunity that is a close match to the paid job that they want. 


If more of your skills and experience come from employment, list employment first and education last. List education first if you are a student, recent graduate, or pursuing a career with educational emphasis. Include the name of the institution, location (city and state), graduation date or projected graduation date, degree(s) earned, field of study and GPA (if over 3.0).

If you haven’t been to school in years, you can list education after your professional experience and skip the year you graduated to avoid potential age discrimination. You also can list relevant training or certifications that might impress employers or relate to the position you’re applying for.

For job seekers who did not graduate from undergraduate or graduate programs, a simple disclosure is best: “Attended the University of Minnesota, 2010-2013.” It shows you have ambition even though you didn’t graduate.

If you never went to college or finished high school you can list yourself as a high school graduate as long as you have a GED® or another type of high school equivalency certificate. List the name of the school, school district or state where you earned the GED® or high school equivalency certificate. Do not include an education section if you did not finish high school and had no formal training either in school or from an employer.

Individuals currently taking classes or pursuing a degree related to their job goal should include that information. List the skills acquired, academic accomplishments and the projected date of completion.


List organizational memberships related to your job goal. Avoid using non-employer-related or controversial organizations. Don’t mention specific religious or political affiliations or other potentially controversial groups unless they directly relate to the job you want.

Military Experience

Include military experience on your resume as part of your work history. If you are targeting a job within the defense industry, feel free to use military jargon. The defense industry likes candidates who understand the lingo. If you are targeting a job outside of the defense arena, you will need to “civilianize” your military language to show that your skills and experience match the employer’s needs. See the Transferring Military Skills document in the Templates/Samples section below for a list of military-to-civilian job skills.

Volunteer Experience

Volunteer experience can fill in any gaps in employment. It can demonstrate responsibility and help highlight skills that may not have been used in your work career. Served as an officer of the PTA? Or a coach at your children’s school? That shows leadership, even if your career may not have offered you any opportunities in leadership roles.

Hobbies/Personal Interests

Include hobbies and personal interests if they’re employment-related, not controversial, and show skills and experience.


Do not include your references or the phrase “references available on request” on the actual resume. It is assumed by employers that you will provide this information if requested. Once an employer asks for your references, provide the names and contact information of three to five people who can speak favorably about your attributes.


Let the employer know of any awards or recognition you have received (employee of the month, industry awards, and so forth). Those are accomplishments worthy of mention.


Target It

Targeted resumes are a necessity for most job openings. Why? Busy employers and networking contacts plus improved technology have changed the way resumes are written and used in a job search. Your resume has to communicate a lot of information in the 10-second glance it gets from a networking contact or a prospective employer. If the employer uses an applicant tracking system (ATS) it first has to successfully pass electronic screening and resume ranking before it is read by the hiring authority. Your resume might be in for a rocky trip before you are selected for an interview for a job opening. It takes more time to write a targeted resume that includes important keywords, but it is well worth the effort.

Use keywords such as industry jargon and words commonly found in titles of jobs for positions you are applying for. The keywords in your targeted resume will help you stand out in an ATS because it’s set up to identify specific skills of applicants. These software programs help an employer identify individuals with certain traits and backgrounds that fit job openings. Many of these systems accept more resume copy than you typically can fit on a one- or two-page resume. Use this opportunity to include more of your relevant experience and skills. Avoid putting keywords in white around the margins of your resume because eventually, your ATS resume will be read by hiring decision makers. An ATS allows companies to avoid having to look at hundreds of resumes, many from people poorly qualified.

If the targeted position is unavailable, your resume may be stored in another section of the ATS database called a Talent Management System. Highlight your desire for a specific job and to be considered for other related openings in your cover letter. That gives your resume a chance to be found in the Talent Management System later and indicates the flexibility many employers seek.   

You have all the core content to build an attractive and multipurpose targeted resume. Use any one of a number of resume templates to create a visually pleasing and easy to read resume document. After you have completed the resume, you will have the flexibility to distribute your resume in plain text, save it as a PDF, send it as an email attachment, cut and paste sections of it for online job applications, or print it for networking meetings, postal-mail job applications or an interview.

Networking Resume

Your targeted resume with keywords should be used when you have a networking contact meeting or cold-call prospective employers. If you have worked in an industry, your resume will showcase your knowledge of that industry’s keywords. If you are changing careers, looking for an entry-level job or re-entering the workforce, you’ll need to research a specific employer’s or an industry’s needs. Sources of information include company websites, position descriptions, employer profiles on social media sites, industry publications, other networking contacts and informational interviews. Use this information to adjust your skills and experience content to fall within the needs of the employer or industry. 

Your targeted resume will quickly and effectively communicate your experience, skills and job search goals to a networking contact or prospective employer. Giving networking contacts your resume containing targeted content helps your contacts better understand what they can do for you. These contacts are pipelines to what is called a “warm referral” — that personal connection to another contact or an employer who has a job opening. Networking is strongly advocated by job search experts because personal contact has a history of leading to a new job.  

Job Application Resume Format 

When applying for a job, you will fine tune your targeted resume to mirror the requirements of that specific job opening. Your content must include not only your relevant experience and skills that the employer wants, but the keywords used in the job opening announcement. Your job is to show that your qualifications and experience match what the employer is seeking because employers look for resumes where the applicant has all (or nearly all) of the qualifications and experience that are in the job posting.

Start by carefully reading the job posting. Job postings tend to follow a pattern. Employers usually summarize the job responsibilities followed by the required and preferred qualifications for all applicants. Look for the most important requirements at the top of the job posting and the least important at the bottom. Targeted resumes that use the same words that the employer used to summarize the job responsibilities, qualifications and skills have a better chance of moving forward through an ATS or a manual candidate screening process. 


Best Practices

Resumes should be sent to a specific person. Use their name. Avoid sending the resume to a job title such as “Production Manager.” It will take extra effort, but do your research and find out the name and title of the appropriate person to whom your resume should be sent.

If asked, send your resume to human resources. Then also send a resume to the person in charge of the department in which you want to work. Most of the time, human resources do the screening, but it’s the department manager who is the final hiring authority.

When mailing your resume, always send it with a cover letter. Mass-mailing your resume to employers does not work. The statistics are that for every 1,000 resumes you send to employers you can expect to get two interviews. Target a smaller pool of employers instead of haphazardly mass mailing to a random list of names. 

Follow up your resume submissions with a phone call to the employer. Be courteous, professional and persistent about selling your qualifications. Be sure to ask for an interview.

When directly contacting employers, always have a copy of your resume available and take the initiative to offer it to them. Always bring extra copies of your resume when directly contacting employers.

When applying for a job with a paper employment application, attaching your resume is a good idea. The resume will add impact and should complement the application. If you’re asked to fill out an application, never write on it “See resume.” Filling out the entire application is still required.

Give a copy of your resume to your references. It provides them with information about you and will help them to talk to an employer about your qualifications.

Hand or send emailed copies of your resume to all networking contacts. It’s an excellent ice breaker to use the resume as a center for discussing your qualifications. Ask your contacts to critique your resume.

Finally, follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. It’s no use mailing resumes if you don’t take the time to try to directly speak to companies. The true test of an effective resume is that you’re offered interviews. If you aren’t getting responses or interviews from your resume, you may want to re-evaluate it.