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I've been writing/editing on a freelance basis for over 4 years now. At first, I was looking for a way to make extra money, and I took any sort of job that came my way. I edited essays for high schoolers, wrote for a holistic health doctor, wrote resumes, cover letters, and a few white papers. I edited marketing copy for websites and brochures, and helped someone finish a memoir. But one of my favorite things to help people with are resumes. Resumes are, in a lot of ways, similar to poetry. They should be succinct yet comprehensive. Every word and line matters. It's easy for us all to leave things on our resumes that aren't altogether important. Audience matters always, but especially for resumes, which recruiters only look at for an average of seven seconds. Brevity has never been more apropos.
Writing a really good resume doesn't take that much time, but it does require a solid understanding of what to include, what to exclude, and what recruiters care about. Here are my best tips to write a damn good resume.
1. Use the reverse chronological order format.
The format of a resume is important. The most relevant details should come first, and the "extra credit" stuff should land at the bottom. Here's the order of items I like best:
Achievements should only be included if they're relevant to whatever job you're applying for. Sometimes people will include information about their children (and sometimes even their children's achievements) and I always remove it. The resume is not a place to brag about your personal life.
2. Get rid of the "objective" or "summary" and add relevant skills instead.
Hate is a strong word, but I really, truly, specifically dislike the objective/summary sentence at the top of resumes. We all know that you're looking for a job. We all cringe writing an objective and I guarantee you that most recruiters or hiring managers don't care whether it's there or not. I like to start with the skills section instead. Keep in mind that you should add and delete skills as they relate to whatever job you want. It's a good idea to locate the skills/tools under the "must have" or "required" sections of a job posting and add them to your resume (if you actually possess those skills).
Here are some examples from my own resume. I add and subtract as necessary.
Skills: Salesforce, Microsoft Office, prospecting, sales cycle, fundraising, stewardship, creative writing, teamwork, Adobe Suite, data analysis, Google Analytics, Wix, Wordpress, Canva, volunteer management, pipeline management, content creation, copy editing, grant management, research, problem solving, time management, communication, adaptability, efficiency.
3. Only include relevant work experience.
The keyword here is “relevant.” If you are applying for a financial position, be sure to include any work experience you have done that falls into that category. Likewise, choose to leave out any inconsequential positions you have held (like your college summer job at a plant nursery) or any jobs that you left after only a few months. If you only have a few years of experience, find creative ways to make your work experience shine. For example, if the bulk of your work experience is waitressing, you might focus on your ability to manage a point-of-sales-system, effective communication, food safety, or creative problem solving. Add plenty of keywords to your job descriptions and use past-tense words for every job except your current one. Utilize bullets to make to make your job descriptions readable. Here is an example of my job description from my time at the American Red Cross:
American Red Cross: Regional Philanthropy Officer
Orange County, CA | October 9, 2017-October 21, 2021
- Exceeded monthly and annual fundraising targets: raised nearly $1M in one fiscal year
- Raised more than $250,000 from new donors in one fiscal year
- Managed a portfolio of 100 foundations, corporations, and individual donors
- Created individualized grant proposals and reports ahead of deadline
- Assisted marketing team in email campaigns, blogs, press releases, and client testimonials
- Executed timely prospecting and stewardship activities
- Created custom stewardship pieces and donor communications
- Developed reporting system for grant management, reporting, and stewardship
4. Utilize keywords related to the role you're applying for.
Keywords are words or phrases that relate to particular requirements for a job. They are the skills, abilities, credentials, and qualities that a hiring manager looks for in a candidate. The closer a match, the better your chances are of being selected for an interview. A lot of recruiters use applicant tracking systems (or talent management systems) to screen potential candidates. These systems eliminate resumes that are missing certain keywords, so if your resume is missing them, there's a good chance no human eyes will ever see your resume. By embedding keywords in your resume or cover letter, you will demonstrate, at a glance, that you fit the requirements of the position. Some keywords I put in my resume include: "grant management," "pipeline management," "sales cycle," "stewardship," and so forth.
5. Education/educational accomplishments matter less the older you get.
If you're right out of college, your GPA and academic achievements will carry more weight. But the further you get from graduation, the more weight your job experience carries. If you just graduated and have little to no job experience, you can put your education at the top. Don't add your GPA unless it's above a 3.5, and add any continuing education or certifications to this section as well.
Questions to Ask Yourself :
- Is your resume readable? It should be professional, clean, and have uniform fonts/spacing.
- Is there anything you can remove? Take out the inconsequential stuff
- Did you include keywords and are they relevant to the job you're applying for?
- If you were the hiring manager, would your resume catch your interest? - Are there spelling/grammatical errors? Have someone else look your resume over before using it to make sure it's as clean and readable as possible.