Preparing to Write a Resume
PURPOSE OF A RESUME
Your resume is an advertisement of you and your brand. It is a forward looking document and should convey who you are and where you want to go. The resume:
- is an introduction used for networking and informational interviews;
- lands interviews when combined with a cover letter (and networking);
- is used as a reference piece during interactions; and is
- a take-away reminder used during a department’s decision-making process.
Determine who you are, what you can do, and what you want to do:
- What do you have to offer?
- What have you accomplished – are you results-driven? What have you achieved in your previous roles?
- Who is your audience – what do they need?
- What are your interests, strengths, skills? Only incorporate skills that align with your target department’s needs.
- Learn as much as possible about the role/function that you are targeting.
- Research criteria and skills that this deparment/school is typically recruiting for. Do they value creativity? Research Skills? Analytical skills? Leadership? Team work?
- Learn your audience’s language. What is the department lingo?
STRATEGY AND TARGETING
Your job search determines your approach to your resume. If your objective is a career enhancement then maybe your resume is 90% ready. However, if you are a career/department switcher (particularly in terms of job function) then major changes may be necessary.
- Analyze components of past projects. Identify relevant and transferable skills/accomplishments relevant to your target role.
- Translate what you’ve done into what you can do for your department/target organization – what value you will bring.
- Filter out less relevant work (i.e. college internships, part-time jobs, skills not needed for new work, etc.)
- Highlight UCLA Luskin School accomplishments (if applicable)
Content and Formatting Tips
A resume is a forward-thinking advertisement – it is marketing your successes and value to your target audience/department and not just describing tasks that you performed on a daily basis. It is NOT laundry list of past responsibilities; it is promoting your transferable skills.
S-A-R – Situation, Action, Result
Write accomplishment statements focusing on achievements, rather than just describing the situation. Prove what:
- Challenges you overcame
- Goals you surpassed
- Problems you solved.
Prove that you added value: Show results, quantify when possible, demonstrate that you are contribution focused.
Start bullets with action verbs not passive phrases like “responsible for,” “worked with,” “assisted,” etc. Passive phrases are unclear and do not market successes.
Prioritize bullets based on their relevance to targeted company/position (most important at top).
Strategize: What are the five to seven key skills you are marketing that are relevant to your audience? Determine if each bullet is clearly selling one of these skills. Remember the reader is thinking “What’s in it for me? Are you selling what I need and value?”
If you are struggling with bullets, try writing at least three accomplishments for each of the skills (e.g. on a separate piece of paper, not looking at the resume).
Ex. Problem Solver (skill)
- Identified tracking problems (Situation)
- Monitored____, Researched_____, Analyzed____, Recommended____, Presented____ (Actions)
- Improved tracking operations by______ (Result)
Update your resume and make sure it is current. New events, awards, projects – if they are relevant, include them.
Bullet points are best if limited to one to two lines.
Be concise and avoid redundancies. Consolidate related bullet points when possible. Every word counts – are you really saying what you mean to say? Are you saying it as concisely as possible?
Formatting: Keep it simple, do not overuse italics, underlines or bold and avoid decorative bullets. Quantify (#, %, $), scale, scope results wherever possible – these stand out.
Watch for consistency throughout each section of the resume both in terms of format and content (e.g. If the months are written out, then make sure all months are in this format)
Make sure there is a balance of white space – this helps to direct the reader’s eyes and makes the resume easy to scan.
Proofread resume for typos, inconsistencies and proper syntax. Errors are the easiest ways for employers to eliminate your resume. Get multiple reviews – the more eyes that see your resume, the better.
Focus on accomplishments, skills and results.
Never include statements or accomplishments that cannot be proven.
Your resume should be attractive and easy to read; good spacing, margins and appropriate fonts. Avoid overcrowding.
Do not use abbreviations when there could be doubt as to the meaning.
Keep it short. A good resume will be no longer than 1.5 to 2 pages.
Do not use personal pronouns (i.e. “my first job”, “I went to school at…”)
Use action words to describe each accomplishment.
Whenever possible, show results in numbers.
- Number of customers served daily/weekly
- Number of dollars managed/budgeted
Be sure there are no misspellings, typographical errors or inconsistencies in formatting. Proofread carefully. Have others review and edit your work.
Do not include any personal data such as marital status.
It is not necessary to use fancy binders or boldly colored papers.
Do not include salary requirements or past salaries.
Tips for Students and Recent Graduates
I’m a student who has little applied experience. How do I go about writing a resume that will emphasize my strengths even though I lack experience?
The approach for a student resume is really no different than the approach of a resume of a CEO with 30 years of experience:
1. Identify the type of work you want to do.
2. Identify the skills and criteria prospective employers are hoping to secure in potential candidates (information usually learned via job ads, networking, company and industry research, etc.).
3. Include everything about yourself that is relevant to the above.
4. Leave everything else off.
Potential employers don’t expect students or new graduates to possess vast amounts of hands-on or applied experience. Employers view education as a training ground.
As an entry level candidate, your new employer expects to invest in your training, in order to prepare you to successfully perform the functions necessary for the position. The expectation is that you’re capable of accomplishing this training in a specific period of time and will be a contributing employee as soon as possible. What your college degree shows is that you’re trainable and that you’ve secured the rudimentary skills and knowledge necessary for a particular field.
What to include:
Personality characteristics and work ethics important to the job.
Keep in mind that employers are looking for “attitude,” “character,” “motivation,” and “leadership” traits in the entry level positions they fill.
So even if your only job was flipping burgers at the local hamburger joint, if you showed up for work on time, applied your best efforts, treated the work like it mattered, were an asset to your employer and the customers you served, and you worked well with your co-workers – then you can show a prospective employer that you are the “type” of individual who is well suited for the job.
You can achieve this by leading your document with a summary section that highlights those skills and characteristics you possess that will allow you to excel in the position or industry you’re targeting. These can include: communication or interpersonal skills, time management abilities, problem solving skills, analytical abilities, computer proficiencies, etc.
Look at the ads you’re targeting – what types of characteristics are they hoping to secure?
Another very good way of helping to identify these natural abilities is to ask yourself “What made me choose this field? What is it about this type of work that appeals to me? What part of this work do I look forward to doing most? Why do I think I’m going to be well suited for this role or industry?”
People who hate working with numbers and calculations are unlikely to pursue an education or position as a Certified Public Accountant. There must be something about the field you chose, the education you pursued, and the type of work it encompasses that attracted you.
Most people excel by doing work they enjoy – work which encompasses some natural ability, interests or inclinations.
Educational achievements – including course lists.
If your primary selling feature is your education, then it makes sense to lead your document with your educational achievements, even if you have unrelated work history to include.
Including courses completed can give your reader a greater sense of the value of your education. Including your GPA, if high, can also add value.
Later, as you gain more relevant, valuable career experience, including this type of information will become less important.
Drake University, Des Moines, IA
- Bachelor of Science degree; Accounting
Minor in Business Administration / GPA 3.4
Coursework included: Cost Accounting; Advanced & Intermediate Accounting; Business Finance; Corporate Accounting; Income Tax; Auditing Principles & Procedures; Sarbanes-Oxley Act; Government Accounting; Not-for-profit Accounting; Marketing; Database Management; Business Administration; Ethical Decision Making.
Jobs, internships and all relevant experience.
This includes experience gained through internships and/or any positions held where your primary responsibilities included skills directly relevant to the positions you’re now targeting. Think about skills that may be considered “transferable.”
Imagine, for example, someone who has decided to change career direction from the medical industry (previous positions held in medical office administration) to computer programming and information technologies. He or she has gone on to get a degree in computer science. If this person now decides to focus their search on IT positions within the medical industry, then all his/her previous medical experience has some direct relevance, and actually gives this individual an edge over other new IT graduates who are targeting positions in the medical market, but who have no applied experience in the medical field.
Unrelated paid experience with a focus on transferable skills.
If you’ve held unrelated positions, chances are you have still gained relevant, transferable skills. When you are writing your statements of responsibility for these positions, focus your statements on those skills and responsibilities that contain the greatest value and relevance. Don’t forget to include your achievements.
For example, if you held positions in the past that included “customer service,” and customer service skills are valuable to the positions now being targeted, then this is a transferable skill. If you were able to increase sales or profits because of your skills in customer service, or if you were able to secure long-term customer commitments, this is an achievement. Other transferable skills can include “time management,” “problem solving,” “team projects,” etc.
Unpaid experience, such as community or college service, with a focus on transferable skills.
Related experience doesn’t have to be paid experience. What matters is that you possess the applied skills, not that you were paid for your services.
Your reader will be interested to learn how your efforts and contributions benefited those you served, and how the skills gained through these experiences may now benefit future and potential employers. If you’re a finance major, for example, and held the position of Treasurer for a campus organization, that’s related experience – even if it’s unpaid experience.