Outlining and Creating the Backbone for Your Resume

Whether you’re new to the job search game or you’ve been in it for so long you could be considered a professional job seeker, chances are you’ve seen dozens of resume templates, guidelines, things to avoid and things to add. You may not need to tweak your resume, but it may be the thing holding you back from landing an interview for that huge career change you’re so desperately wanting.

Before you write out your resume, or rewrite it, outline what information you need to put on there so that you don’t miss anything. The outline will serve as the backbone for your resume. It will help you lay everything out correctly while giving you a structure and template to work from. Write out which sections you want on your resume. Contact information, experience, education, relevant skills, awards and certifications are common resume sections worth mentioning, but only if you have relevant information to put in each. For example, if you never attended college, don’t put an education section on your resume.

After you’ve written out which sections you want on your resume, start writing down the information, gathering the dates for the information and selecting what you want or don’t want your potential interviewer to see (Tip: Never lie about anything on your resume. If there’s something you want to withhold from your first contact at the company, choose wisely what you leave off of your resume).

Once you have everything written out, it’s time to situate the information in a professional, concise manner. Headline your sections with appropriate section titles and create your resume so that it looks great and is easily readable. Your contact information should be somewhere at the top, either center or offset depending on the overall look of your resume. After that, your sections don’t necessarily have a firm order, order them to your liking and highlight the strongest sections.

While creating an outline may seem like a pointless step, it can help you sort out which details you want on your resume and what to leave out. The outline can also help you decide which way to organize your resume. If your resume has been falling flat, it may be worth a shot to create a new outline and rewrite your resume.

Polishing Your Cover Letter

Your cover letter can mean the difference between landing an interview and having your application tossed into a rejection pile. While your resume is an outline of your greatest career accomplishments, experience and skills, the cover letter is your chance to truly introduce yourself to your potential interviewer. You can expand on your resume while highlighting your ability to communicate effectively through written word.

Like your resume, one of the easiest mistakes to avoid is spelling errors. Nothing turns off potential employers more — especially during the application stage — than gross spelling or grammatical errors.

While there are many spell-checkers online, even in common word-processing programs, beware that they won’t catch common spelling confusions such as transposing letters or homonyms. Advanced spelling/grammar checkers can help you out, but you’ll still need a dedicated eye to catch where you put “hear” instead of “here,” “fate” instead of “feat” and so on. Having another person read it over can help, as well, so call up that one friend who happens to be particularly skilled in the writing department.

Your cover letter should be professional-yet-personal, business-yet-casual. Don’t try to be funny and steer away from puns. Your letter should start out with a personal greeting (Tip: Make a call or research to find out the head of the department or human resources), offer relevant details about the position and introduce you in a professional manner.

Your cover letter shouldn’t just spell out your resume in paragraph format, it should, ideally, explain your resume and add to it. This is your opportunity to shine, so to speak, so do so. Explain any training you’ve gone through or special achievements. Like your resume, your cover letter is a tool in helping to sell yourself to your potential employer.

After you’ve written your cover letter, go over it with a fine-toothed comb. After you’ve read it, read it again. After that, have someone close to you read it and ask them for their honest opinion on your writing, mistakes and content. The cover letter needs to make an impact and is not an accessory to your resume, but a complementing partner to it.

5 Ways to Impress Employers at the Top of Your Resume

This post was written by Laura Smith-Proulx and was originally seen on CareerRocketeer.


Ever leafed through stacks of resumes, looking for critical skills or words to catch your eye? Ever sat at a job interview and wondered why the company representative seemed lost going through your work history?

If you’ve experienced these situations, you already know why the top half of your resume is so important: it’s difficult to absorb much, if anything, from a quick scan, and the details often don’t register until the interview begins!

Even though most companies have automated the process of scanning your resume from among hundreds, managers eventually turn to the tedious work of sorting through each document, looking for signs of intelligent life.

Instead of fighting this trend, embrace it – and take steps to make your resume pop, right from the beginning:

1 – Tell employers what’s new or relevant.

Just earned your MBA? Fluent in more than one language? Able to relocate wherever you’re needed?

These are details that are meant to be put up front in your resume, as they quickly distinguish you from candidates who are less willing to move, or have a more limited repertoire.

As an example, “Cornell graduate pursuing Executive Leadership certificate at Northwestern” helps demonstrate a commitment to education.  “Canadian citizen; no sponsorship needed” is another example of how to answer an employer’s critical questions (before they begin).

2 – Show your career progression.

If you’ve consistently been promoted, worked at a string of prominent companies, or quickly progressed into roles that show your unique blend of competencies, consider adding a short Career Progression section right up front in your resume.

For executive candidates, this may mean showing “Board of Directors,” “Committee Chairman,” “CEO,” and“Senior Vice President” in a Career History listing on the first page.

A rising star in banking could also list “VP, Strategic Programs at Citibank”  and “Management Associate at HSBC Bank” in a resume summary—quickly showing how you’re qualified to move to the next step.

3 – Give your resume a title.

Instead of launching right into Professional Profile or Qualifications Summary (yawn), consider cutting to the chase with a title that spells out your goal.

Don’t protest; you’ll need to make your ultimate job target obvious to employers, or they WILL pass you by.

You can, of course, straddle the line between career levels with a general title such as “Business Development / Account Executive,” or try going for broke with specifics (“Director, Cloud Services & Managed Hosting Alliances”).

Either way, a bold title tells employers where to categorize your skills, and points them to seek out the reasons you’re uniquely qualified—by reading further, of course.

4 – Try a branding headline.

Also referred to as a tagline, a branding headline does exactly what it should: frame your peak value-add to employers.

Placed front and center on your resume, the branding statement can be as dynamic or conservative as you believe it needs to be, based on the audience for your skills. Keywords or references to your desired career level will help employers hone in on what you offer.

As an example, if you’re pursuing a new position in a highly regulated field such as the audit industry, an appropriate tagline could be “Municipal Audit Leader Behind Large-Scale Cost Recovery & Compliance.”

A sales professional, on the other hand, might try a headline with more energy, such as “Aggressive Retail Sales Expert Creating Multimillion-Dollar Deals.”

5 – Present your ROI right away.

There’s no law of resume writing that says you must hide the good stuff until later in the document. In fact, you can start off with a bang by describing achievements within the first few lines of your resume.

“$400M+ growth with launch of Cloud Partner offering in Q3 2012, leading to $800M forecasted 2013 results”says more about your ability to get results than a list of sales skills.

In short, don’t settle for writing your resume the same way, hoping for different results!

Recruiters and hiring managers are crazy-busy looking for the perfect candidate, with little time to read your resume and absorb every detail. The top part of your resume can be as important as the remainder of the document – all put together.

Make it easier for them to spot key qualifications by trumpeting core facts front and center, where they’re much more likely to land you a coveted interview.

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Laura Smith-Proulx, award-winning executive resume writer and founder of An Expert Resume, is a former recruiter who partners with CIO, CFO, CCO, COO, CTO, CEO, SVP, and Director candidates to win top jobs at Fortune-ranked corporations. A credentialed Professional Resume Writer, Career Management Coach, Interview Coach, Social Networking (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter) Career Strategist, and Personal Branding Analyst, she is the author of How to Get Hired Faster: 60+ Proven Tips & Resources to Access the Hidden Job Market, with work featured in 8 career bestsellers. She serves as a media source to Wall Street Journal FINS, CIO.com, AOLJobs.com, LocalJobNetwork.com, and other outlets.