March 24, 2015

How to write your first resume

Last week, I happened to be sitting at a coffee shop and I overheard a group of friends talking about finding their first summer job. Here's a brief snippet of their conversation:

Friend 1: "So I really want to work where Jamie works, but I don't have a resume."

Friend 2: "Well make one. It's not that hard."

Friend 1: "And what experience do I have, other than volunteering with the church? How do I make that sound good?"

Friend 3: "Just copy Jamie's resume then!"

They all broke out laughing at the last comment - thank goodness, because I would never recommend copying a friend's resume.

So today, I thought I would share my thoughts on how to write your first resume. In particular, I will break down the four main sections of a resume and offer tips on how to complete each section.
First, you need to download one of my free resume templates (.DOC format).

Once you have downloaded the template, let's take a look at each specific part of your resume ... 

Part One: Your Personal Letterhead

This section is quite simple - it contains your name and your contact information. Most importantly, ensure that you include a phone number that has a professional voicemail message, and an email address that is professional (e.g. or You can style it many different ways, but just be sure that it includes your name, your address, your phone number, and your email address.

Part Two: Your Objective

To be honest, I'm on the fence about whether you need an objective on a resume. After all, the purpose an objective is to state the job you're applying for, which should already be clear from your cover letter and/or application form.

If you choose to include an objective, use the section to list the job you're applying for along with one or two skills that you bring to the role. So for example, "Seeking a part-time Cashier position where I can utilize my math and customer service skills". 

Part Three: The Heart Of Your Resume

This section is the bread and butter of your resume - it's where you list your skills and experience and it's the section you'll want to spend most of your time working on. It's also likely to start on the page's 'prime real estate' - about a third of the way down the page, which is where eyes naturally fall on a page. 

If you're using a functional resume, pick two or three of your best skills and under each skill, provide examples on how you've demonstrated that skill or experience related to that skill. And if you're using a combination or chronological resume, list two or three of the most recent places you have worked and under each position, include some of your job duties or accomplishments.

Regardless of whether you have a functional, chronological, or combination resume, be sure to start each bullet point under your main skill or former position with a power word, also known as a verb that packs a punch. For example, use words like "accomplished", "elected", "selected", "helped", "worked", "volunteered", "assisted", "operated", and so on, rather than a sentence starting with "I ....". For a list of power words, check out my previous post on how to to add pizzaz to your resume with power words.

Now, if you're using a combination resume, you'll also have a section devoted to your skills, independent of your previous experience. In this section, you can highlight specific skills that are relevant to the job you are applying for. So for example, you could say "Excellent customer service skills", or "Able to operate a cash register and Interac/credit card machine". I call these power phrases and check out my previous post on how to use power phrases in your resume.

Part Four: The Conclusion

This section is also one that's subject to debate about whether additional information belongs on a resume.

Personally, I advocate that those just starting to work should include additional information under headings like "Hobbies and Interests", "Activities", "Accomplishments", "Awards", or "Additional Courses".

Using these sections is not only a great way to fill up empty space, but it can provide additional context and can demonstrate additional skills. For example, if you have an "Activities" section and list that you've been on a sports team or part of school club for the last two years, it not only shows teamwork and collaboration skills, but also time management and organization skills.

Of course, any additional information you include must be professional. So while you might enjoy partying with your friends or shopping at the mall, don't include activities like that. Only include information that demonstrates a skill or experience and is professional - sports teams, school clubs, awards, online courses, and certificates earned are great things to include in this area.

And know that if you're running out of space, you can make this area quite small or eliminate it altogether. For example, if you've listed your experience and your section on "Activities" bleeds into the next page, just eliminate the "Activities" section altogether - unless one of your activities directly relates to the job itself.

And as I've talked about before, you do not need to include references on your resume. It's assumed you have references available if requested.

Once all four sections are complete, review your spelling and grammar. Ask a friend or family member to review - they can help catch errors you might not spot. And once you've had it reviewed, you're good to go!

Good luck!

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