Career Tips

Back to the Basics: How To Get Started On Your Resume

By Calvin McDaniel

Resumes are intended to be a snapshot of who you are professionally with a small dose of who you are personally.  Ideally, an employer should be able to look at this document and determine whether you would be a good fit for the job…in about 10 seconds.  So you’ve got a very short amount of time to make a good, lasting impression before even coming face to face with the employer.  This is why it is so important to be as concise yet but detailed, creative yet professional, and results oriented. 

Before I begin let me define what a core competency is:

Competencies are skills, experiences, or qualifications you have acquired, learned, or utilized in past experiences.  Examples of functional competencies include public speaking, familiarity with research laboratories, writing press releases, managing marketing plans, supervising manufacturing production lines, etc

Here are some good tips for writing a stellar resume:

Header: There should be some type of attention getter at first glance of the resume.  This can be a professional title or even a tag-line.  This will immediately specify who you are professionally and differentiate you from the competition.  For example: suffixes such as MSW, PHR, CPT.  Also be sure to include your name, address, telephone number, e-mail address and even your linked-in web address.  The worst thing that could happen is the employer not being able to get in contact with you if they are interested!

Introduction: There should be a section that represents some form of introduction.  This could include a listing of your relevant core competencies, an objective, specializations, etc.  Remember, all core competencies should be relevant to the positions being applied to and what they are looking for.

Relevant Experience: Try to list at least 3 relevant work experiences that showcase your knowledge, skills, and abilities.  They should be focused on core competencies that future employers are looking for.  There should also be a focus on results.  Instead of just listing a bunch of tasks or job duties, touch on the results and outcomes that were accomplished specifically because of your efforts and input.

Education: Make sure to include all relevant educational experiences on your resume.  This includes undergraduate, master, professional and doctoral degrees.  If you have any awards and honors associated with a specific degree or if you have a high grade point average, make sure to include that.  Remember, any special accomplishments and experiences that are on your resume will set you apart from your counterparts!

Other things to include:  Other things that you may want to consider including are sections regarding: additional professional development, awards and honors, community involvement, certifications, organizational involvement.

 Tips to consider:

-Try to be a little creative with formatting.  Use easy to read fonts such as Arial or Times New Roman and regular black text, but try to use bolds, italics and underlines to add visual interest and break up the monotony of words.

-A motto that you may find useful is K.I.S.S.  Keep it simple stupid.  Employers don’t like too much info.  So being concise and to the point will keep you from being overlooked.

-Remember that there are different styles of resumes and some are more appropriate for some positions than others. The “standard” resume most people think of is a reverse chronological resume (most recent job listed first, usually using bullet points). It is probably the most generic, and fits most people and occupations. However, if you have gaps in your experience, work history, education, etc. it may benefit you to use a functional resume that highlights competencies instead of work history or a combination resume (a mix of reverse chronology and functional styles). Also, consider that a federal resume, executive resume, academic/teaching resume, and C.V. (either academic or international) can be very different and it is worth learning the differences if you are aiming for occupations that deviate from the need for a more standard “business” resume.


Calvin McDaniel is an Alumni Career Services Assistant in the MSUAA and a graduate student in the Human Resource and Labor Relations program at MSU. He has a passion for helping people to reduce conflict, manage change, and grow toward their potential.


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