What is a resume, really? When created thoughtfully, it's a fantastic personal marketing document that gets employers to notice you in a crowd.
According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, a resume is “a short account of one's career and qualifications.” Investopedia calls it “a document that job applicants use to summarize their work experience, educational background, and special skills.”
A resume provides the first (and sometimes only) chance to make a good impression on a prospective employer or hiring manager and prove that you are a well-qualified and hirable candidate.
And while these definitions are technically correct, a well-crafted resume is so much more. It's actually a personal marketing document that can be targeted to a specific job/career/industry and provide the most relevant information about your ability to succeed in that unique role.
If you're ready for a new perspective, read on for more answers to “What is a resume?”
It's choosing the right formatting
How you format your resume also plays a role in how well you can market yourself to employers.
There are four generally accepted resume formats: Chronological, Functional, Combination, and Targeted. Your own personal history and the specific job you want will generally determine which resume format you should use.
Here's a breakdown of each format's pros and cons and the situations in which they work best.
This format has a professional summary or introduction at the top followed by your work history starting with your most recent job, which is called reverse-chronological order. It then can move on to special skills, professional affiliations, and educational history.
A chronological resume is probably the most-used format because it's appropriate for many scenarios, including people with various experience and skill levels.
It's also the format that's most familiar to recruiters and hiring managers so they immediately know where to find details on work history, education, and competencies.
You really can't go wrong using this format.
If you are changing careers or have some gaps in your work history, this format is a good choice because it's designed to focus attention on your skills and applicable experience rather than your chronological work history.
Sometimes called a hybrid resume, a functional resume leads with a more detailed introduction and is followed by a list of specific skills that show your fit for the position. After that comes a brief overview of your work history with just general details because you want your skills to get all the attention.
It's important to note that this type of resume needs to be done well to make a good impression on a hiring manager, so it might be worth using a professional resume writer who knows how to present any work gaps or career changes in the best possible light.
This format uses the key aspects of both a chronological and functional resume.
It's best for anyone with a long work history or a set of specialized skills that deserve attention because both skills and work history are equally highlighted to show the strength of your qualifications for a particular position.
As the name implies, this is a resume that's specifically targeted to each job you apply for.
The first step is to review the job description for the skills and experience that a company wants in a candidate. Next, tailor your resume so it clearly shows off your relevant skills, making you well-qualified for the role. You can use the same structure as a functional resume or stick with the chronological format.
You may want to consider a professional resume writer to help with this format, too, since it can be tricky to get it just right.
Remember that there are other resume formats specifically for people in education, the arts, and even certain technical or business areas, so do your research to be sure you choose the format that will get you the attention you deserve.
It's highlighting your “soft skills”
The information presented thus far is about presenting your “hard skills” which are any skills that you've gained through hands-on experience or an educational process. These are generally what people think of when asked “What is a resume?”
However, you also want to present your soft skills to a potential employer--which can be a little tricky at first.
Soft skills are the traits, qualities, thought-processes, and ideologies that help you put your hard skills into practice. Examples of soft skills can include communication style, leadership abilities, motivational skills, and team-building strategies which are shown by listing specific achievements you've met.
For example, you can highlight motivational skills with a statement such as: Consistently kept my team meeting or beating deadlines through daily, weekly, or monthly rewards and open communication policies.
It's using sections wisely
The following sections should be on every resume, regardless of the format, and should be as tailored to the job as possible no matter what layout you choose.
Contact Information - Name, phone number, email address are standard. You can also add your Linked-In profile and website links if they exist.
Introduction - This can be a professional profile, a job or career objective, a summary of your qualifications for the job, or an overall summary of your resume. Keep it concise!
Skills - Be sure to also include soft skills. Just a list here; you'll highlight them through your achievements.
Achievements - These are actual examples of milestones you've met that have helped the company in some way. Another option is to include these as part of your work history.
Work History - Starting with the most recent job, list your job title, time worked, location, and specific duties, making sure to include what's most relevant to the job application.
Education - List the highest degree you've earned, the school name, and majors/minors if appropriate.
If you don't have a ton of work experience, you can also add a section for volunteer experience or professional associations that might highlight your ability to succeed at a particular job.
It's marketing yourself as a solution
A resume isn't just a document for you to toot your own horn.
It's a vehicle to show potential employers how you can help them and their organizations to succeed because you're the best qualified person for their role.
So, what is a resume? It's a personal marketing document that, when used effectively, will make you stand out from other candidates in a huge way--and get you hired.
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