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Writing your resume -- the basics

There is no perfect resume format. There are hundreds of books with resume information in them and the advice varies dramatically. How you lay out your resume is really up to you, but the best advice is to keep it simple. Look at the resumes of friends or relatives or find samples in books and on the Internet, and choose a style you like.

Use readable fonts such as a roman serif font for normal text and a san-serif font such as Arial for headings. Don't use speciality fonts, including cartoon or handwriting styles. Use basic formatting such as all caps for your name, bold for your headings and italics for other emphasis. Indent items under their headings and use simple bullets with lists. The normal text should be about size 10 or 11, with headings in 11 or 12. Your name can be larger -- up to 20, with your contact information closer to the normal font size.

Try to leave a lot of white space and don't crowd text on the page. Use the paragraph features on your computer software to add space between lines of type -- no more than 1 1/2 times normal though. Too much spacing between lines can look amateurish or as if you're trying to make a small amount of information seem like more.

When designing your resume take into account that you should be modifying it for different employers -- focusing on things that a particular employer will value. Don't do one static resume and then print off 500 copies to distribute. Print a couple to have on hand for emergencies, and then print off customized ones for each employer you apply to.

Functional vs Chronological
A chronological resume lists your experience in chronological order, with the most recent first. Chronological resumes have a large section for employment or work history, with one or two insignificant sections tacked on to refer back to education or other achievements.

A functional resume uses a different approach to presenting information, breaking it down into sections other than employment history -- sometimes omitting dates altogether. Chronological resumes are the easiest to write but not always the most effective. And as a career starter, you resume will most likely become a functional resume by default.

One of the advantages of functional resumes is that you can include volunteer experience and schoolwork together with any co-ops, internships or regular jobs by presenting the experience in the skills or achievements sections. By including it in these sections it isn't necessary to make note that it was volunteer or school related. Wait until the employer asks about it in the interview before you point out that the skill was acquired from a hobby or from a one-time summer job.

Chances are that the employer had made up his mind about you with the first few seconds of the meeting - so anything you say during the interview probably won't affect your chances of getting the job as much as you think. By the time you get to those details the employer will have already decided how you'll fit in and will be willing to make adjustments based on that.

The controversy over resume length has gone on for a very long time and the jury is still out -- and probably will be indefinitely. Most specialists, whether recruiters or career advisers, will agree that a two-page resume is a good length. If you choose to do a two-page resume, ensure that the second page is filled. Don't have a paragraph of information at the top with the rest blank.

Spread your information out evenly over the two pages so they are balanced. But since recruiters will probably scan the front page only in the first screening, all the important information should be on the first page, with background information or more details on the second page. In the second screening they will read the first page and scan the second; the second page might not be fully read until the interview.

Your contact information should be on the first page, and your name should appear again on the second page in case the two are separated -- resumes are often photocopied and passed on through a recruiting chain.

Contact Information
Contact information should be on the top of the first page. It doesn't matter whether it's centred or on the left or right -- your layout and design can determine that. Just make sure that it's the first item seen by the reader.

Use your first name, middle initial if your name is common or if you use it normally, and your last name. Avoid using Mr., Ms., Miss or Mrs. Salutations are too formal, particularly for someone beginning a career. The only time you might want to use a salutation is if you first name is gender-neutral and you want the recruiter to know that you are a man of woman. But even in that case it's probably better to use you middle name.

However, if you don't want a recruiter to know if you are a man or woman from your resume and don't have gender-neutral name, use your initials. But be prepared to surprise a recruiter, because they will form an opinion one way or another about your gender and may get it wrong.

Ensure that the mailing address you use is a permanent one where mail won't be returned. If you won't be around due to temporary work or vacation, arrange for mail to be forwarded or sorted through by someone else, who can call you if something important arrives. Don't assume that all mployers will contact you by telephone. Some employers prefer to arrange interviews, especially if group testing is involved, through the mail and will send a letter informing you of the time and place requesting written confirmation. You need to get your mail.

If mail is a problem, ensure that this is explained clearly somewhere (possibly in a covering letter) and request that contact be made by telephone, email or however you can be sure of getting the message. Remember that recruiters don't have time to "track you down."

The telephone number(s) should always include an area code. In the past job hunters who were searching for work in a place other than where they lived often used the phone number of friend or relative who lived in the area to avoid the inconvenience of the prospective employer having to call long distance with the idea that the employer would leave a message. Don't. Recruiters expect to make long distance calls in their search for employees -- and it's better to have them call you direct than your Aunt Shirley.

And don't offer to have them call you collect either. If they're interested in you, they're willing to spend the money on a phone call. Ensure that whatever telephone number(s) you use won't just ring on endlessly. If someone isn't available to answer the phone all the time, make sure it is attached to an answering machine or voice mail service. Recruiters may try calling a second time after getting no response, but they probably won't try a third.

Using a mobile cell phone during your job search will ensure that recruiters can find you no matter where you are -- just ensure that there is land-line telephone number on the resume as well in case you are out of range. Again, they'll probably try a second time but not a third. Make it easy for them to find you or leave a message.

Objective vs Summary
Do you need an objective statement on your resume? Not really. An objective statement is basically an explanation to an employer of why you are applying for a particular position -- or what kind of position you are applying for if the resume is not in response to a posted position. If you are applying to an organization that is doing work related to your degree area, then an objective statement isn't necessary. Without it the employer will assume that you are open to different opportunities in the field.

And an objective statement might work against you in one of two ways. First, if it is too specific, it may rule you out for the position the employer has in mind for you by indicating that you aren't interested in any position that doesn't fit your exact objective.

Second, if it is too broad, vague or clever it may turn the employer off. Unless you are looking for a position that is not directly related to your degree, then there is no need to explain why you are applying to this particular organization.

Instead of an objective, write a summary as your first item. In one statement describe your skills, education and experience as briefly as you possibly can:

Bilingual civil engineering graduate with extensive computer skills and two internships in public works.

This isn't just formal education. In addition to your degree, which should include your area of specialization or major, you should include any other training you've had in your life. Of course, the degree should go first. Don't list the full address of the university or college you attended, just the city is fine -- and that's not necessary if the university has the name of the city in it (University of Calgary) unless you attended a satellite campus in another city.

Use the initials for your degree rather than writing it out in full. As a new graduate you should put the month and year of your degree no need to put the range of dates from when you began your degree program -- just the completion date. Include your GPA only if it will help.

If you have more than one degree at the same level -- i.e. two undergraduate degrees in completely different areas (one in fine arts and the other in computers), you may want to leave off the one that doesn't apply to the career area you are entering. Showing both may send a message to the recruiter that you are indecisive about your career.

You can include any seminars you attended during workstudy or co-ops.

For career starters, this is the difficult section. If you've had any previous jobs, whether internships, co-ops or just summer jobs, they should go here. Although you may see resume samples with the dates of jobs first, it is the position that is the important part -- and if you've had short-term jobs then downplaying the importance of the date by putting it second or third will work to your advantage.

Research Assistant,
ABC Corporation: June-August 1999
Managed data analysis for special project, developed reports, prepared data presentation charts and conducted inventories.

If you've had a lot of short-term, you might leave off any that are totally irrelevant to you career, or group them together:

Summer Employment, 1995-2000:
Held several summer jobs at fast-food restaurants including Bob's Burger Barn and Charlie's Chicken Chuckwagon where I rose to assistant duty manager.

If you have virtually no work experience, then leave this out completely. Instead try to take any other experience and skills you have and present them in the following sections.

As a career starter, this section may be a way to "pad" out your resume and show that even though you may not have a great deal of work experience, you have skills that the employer can use. Take your skills from anywhere in your life: hobbies, sports, school, etc. You don't need to identify the source of the skill, just show that you have it.

Most graduates have computer skills and you should list them here. Rate your skills with words such as: excellent, good and strong. Skills can be presented in a list or grouped by category: organizational skills; computer skills; technical skills; and inter-personal skills.

Scholarships based on achievement can be shown here, along with any awards. But we aren't talking about a swimming award you won in grade 7. The only time hobbies or sports should be included is if they show transferable skills such as leadership or teamwork.
If you were captain of a successful team, then include it. If you belonged to a debate or speech club, put it down here. If you ran a marathon, noting it may show discipline or commitment.

You can combine the sections on skills, awards and achievements if one or both sections have only one or two items. Try to have more that just two headings on your resume though, for example: education and skills only. Try to get a third category at least. But you don't want more than five categories. That's breaking the information up too much.

Personal Information
In North America, the following items are not required or expected on your resume: age or date of birth; height or weight, marital status, military service details, health status, salary requirements, credit history, political or religious affiliations. In most cases it is not only unnecessary to include this kind of information but also to your disadvantage.

If the resume screener (who may not be the actual hirer) has a picture in his or her mind of the ideal candidate, and your personal information doesn't fit this, then you won't make it past the first screening. If you put that you're single and the recruiter feels married people are more stable, you may get screened out. If you think that the recruiter is looking for a single candidate, it's probably because of demands of the job. Therefore making notation somewhere on your resume that you are willing to work shifts, travel and relocate, and have a very flexible schedule should do the trick.

Again, there should be no hobbies or sports listed anywhere except as noted in awards and achievements above.

There are two reasons too include references on your resume. The first is because your references are so impressive that anyone seeing them will be, well, impressed. The second reason is that your resume is very short and you want something to "pad" it out. In either case it is acceptable to include references. Just the name, title, organization and contact information are all that's needed -- along with whether they are personal, employment or academic references.

If you aren't including references on your resume, you can skip the notation: References available on request. It is assumed that you have some sort of references. If you don't, chances are you won't get hired. Even if a company doesn't check your references (some do, some don't; there's no way of telling which are which), they'll want you to provide some at some stage -- and you'd better have them lined up in advance.

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