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How to Set Yourself Apart: Tips and Tricks for Resume Writing

Regardless of what type of position you’re hoping to apply for, a basic, properly-formatted resume is a great place to start for ensuring getting your foot in the door.

Have you considered applying for an entry level job? Or have you thought of trying out for a prestigious internship? Or, maybe you are wanting to secure a leadership position in a school club?

As you may have discovered, most opportunities in life require a resume. A resume comprises a person’s educational background, work experience, qualifications, and other skills or talents you can offer. Providing a succinct document with all the essential components that comprise you allows the company or individuals you’re hoping to work with to get a better sense of what you can offer their organization. The resume gets you through the door. But creating a resume can be overwhelming, so this brief guide will review the necessary parts of a successful resume, and help you get started.

Take a Look at Some Templates

Formatting is one of the most important parts of a resume, and is the first thing the viewer notices when looking at it online or in hand. A clean, organized, easy-to-peruse resume is preferred. Research states that, on average, a resume screener will spend 7 seconds looking over a resume to determine if the candidate goes to the next step. Additionally, software called an Applicant Tracking System is sometimes used that removes certain resumes from consideration if they include graphics, headers, footers, or other items, so be sure that your template suits your fancy while meeting the needs of company standards. The goal is not to have the fanciest resume, but the simplest one to set yourself apart. Make it easy for them and spend the time upfront to ensure success later.

Start with a simple Google search. Thousands upon thousands of templates are available at the simple press of a button, and you can either pick your fancy there or use it as inspiration for your own resume and build your own from what you see.

Here’s a good example

Make sure your template of choice has an information section at the top, featuring your name, phone number and/or email for contacting you about the position, potentially a LinkedIn if you’d like to set one up (that further allows employers to look at your experience without even including it on the resume!), and a job title of the position you’re going for. It should be immediately visible and acts as the information hub so your employer can grab your contact information with ease and call you to move forward in the process.

Create a Summary

Next up is the summary. The summary should comprise no more than three sentences, but two is preferable, explaining who you are and what qualifications you have without listing your jobs or education since that comes later. Just a brief synopsis of you as a person without extensive specifics. Make sure to use some buzzwords– keywords for your position like dedicated, communicative, etc– to show you know about the industry you’re entering and what they’re looking for. Your summary shouldn’t sound too foreign to who you really are, because the goal of a resume isn’t to exaggerate yourself to appear to be what a job wants, but to see if, as you are, the job would be a good fit.

Identify Your Skills

Then, we move into skills. On some templates, skills and summary might be combined, while other formats will have the summary centered at the top and have skills below it separately. In either case, what you think looks best is up to your discretion, but you ought to put between four and six skills into this section (bulleted format, not sentences). Speak a foreign language? Throw it in! First aid certified? Terrific! Certifications, talents, and everything of the sort should live in this area. This isn’t the spot for calling out awards or accomplishments, but skills the screener can see in a second to determine a match.

Highlight Your Experience

As we descend into the meat of the resume, this part should have some thought before being hastily inserted into the document. Once you’ve decided you’re a fan of your template by filling in the first three parts, your experience and education areas should fall into place similarly. For a beginning resume, education is usually put at the end. For those with extensive education, it’s good to put that at the beginning.

Alright– so you know what job you want to have, and you know what experience you already have. If you’re applying for an entry-level position lacking any actual experience, that’s ok. Look at experience you have elsewhere that targets similar skills, and you can position that as related experience.

In my first resume, I was applying to work at a movie theater. I had never worked anywhere formally, but I listed my participation in Tutor Club at my school as it showed I taught students. I also included volunteer work with my church to demonstrate other leadership opportunities and planned activities. In both of these positions, I shared how I worked with leaders also, able to take direction. I also noted that I was involved in speech and debate, which highlights my communication skills that I could bring to the job.

In short– club participation, leadership positions, babysitting/housesitting/petsitting, tutoring, or any volunteer work can be used to highlight skills that apply to the position you are seeking. Sometimes you could even talk about classes you’ve taken. For example, I took a community cooking class and put that in my resume because the position had some food handling aspects to it. This could be included in the skills area also.. Target 3-5 experiences if possible.

Fill in the Details

Speaking of detail– once you’ve narrowed down the items you want to talk about in your resume, you want to explain what you did in each of those things and how it pertains to what you want to do. You should have a minimum of two bullet points of explanation, with each bullet comprising one line (unless you have a lot of detail, this could range from one to two line bullets and up to five bullets!). The bullet should employ those buzzwords and elaborate on what you’ve done with everything you want to say. Separate ideas that are similar by leaving them on the same line with commas, or put them on different lines.

An example from my first resume:

Speech and Debate – Captain July 2018 – Present

  • Lincoln-Douglas debate captain 2 years: mentor novice debaters; teach debate philosophies, judge and participate in practice rounds and provide feedback

  • Write lesson plans, present and instruct information in class and after school

  • Research and write cases; debate on both sides of numerous topics

So here, I used one of my school clubs, wrote the position title, noted the dates I held the position, and left three bullet points of what leadership I did and what I personally did myself for competition.

After each of your experiences has been determined you can order them either in reverse chronological format or in a skills based format. It sounds exactly like what it means– reverse chronological order puts your most recent work experience at the top and the oldest at the bottom. Skills based puts the items that pertain most to the job foremost and then either orders by time or continues to be autonomously ordered by choice.

Add the Final Details

Now, you’re left with only a few sections: Education/Certifications and Awards. The education section should be right below the experience part. This should list your high school, and your GPA in parentheses on the side, if you so desire. You could also include any classes you’ve taken or certifications you’ve acquired. This section will grow and become more meaningful as you gain further education through college or vocational school.

Finally, we have awards. Some awards are more important than others if you have a laundry list of accomplishments, and you might have to pick and choose what should reside here. Awards look flashy, but listing forty very similar awards does not accomplish as much as two highly pertinent honors that can impress the screener and show your skill or diversity in different sectors.

Edit and Pare Down

A first resume might not need paring down, but if yours is longer than two pages, you need to edit and reduce. If you need to reduce, think of how much detail you have in your experiences section. Should some be removed? Can some awards be removed? The target is 1-2 pages.

After you have the right length, the most important part that most people forget is to edit their resume. In fact, have someone review it for you. You’ve been looking at this for a while and might miss elements. Always try to use the least number of words to describe the thought. Remember, the person screening reviews hundreds, so a concise resume is better than a wordy one.

Additionally, have your friends, teachers, and parents look over your resume and see if it sounds like who you are, and if it’s professional enough for your hopeful work environment.

Improvement and Tailoring Your Experiences

You have officially completed your first resume! Two final tips:

Keep it up to date. Creating a resume is a lot of effort, and it’s much easier to just keep it up to date with each added position than waiting years and having to repeat this process. A good habit is to update your resume every year with different responsibilities, jobs, skills, etc. Then it is always relevant when you need it.

Customize. For entry-level positions, this might not be as critical, but a customized resume will always beat out a generic one. Even if you have a finalized resume, you shouldn’t use the same exact resume for every position because each position entails unique requirements and duties. When you approach each position, you should make a copy of your resume and make additions to it that specifically are best for that job. Tailoring your resume to the job might mean having one base file with many different experiences and choosing which fit best for your position, or simply rewording a few things of your experiences and submitting your application. This isn’t being dishonest, it’s highlighting the specific skills you have to the skills noted in the job description. Use key words they use. For example, a customer support position might use MS Word specifically and have that listed. You would want to list that in your resume if you have that skill. The job description might use terms like “customer satisfaction” where you had “customer service”. If it applies, change the wording to better align. Be careful not to use all of the key words, but using particular vernacular of an organization is better than sending your generic resume as ATS systems often capture those. Redoing your resume for differing positions sets you apart by showing your relevance to the company and taking the time to truly make your application special.

Without meeting you, your resume is the only way a prospective employer determines if your skills match what they are looking for. Your resume should be succinct, feature words that highlight your relevance to the company, and constantly changing. As you continue to hone and add to your resume, it will grow to mirror you better and better and demonstrate how essential you can be to the success of the organization.

Lesson Summary

  • A resume is comprised of an introduction, summary, skills, experiences, education, and awards

  • The format of your resume is key, and you can pick a template or create your own with all the essential parts and fill it in the impress your employer

  • The experiences section should include details on leadership positions, work, or internships and how it relates to your workplace using strategic keywords

  • The 1-2pg document can be used in applying for internships or jobs and should be customized for each potential opportunity

Try It!

Now that you’ve learned the key components to your first resume, put your newfound knowledge to the test! Try your hand at creating your own, by starting slowly just filling in the top few sections and think about what relevant experiences you have and how you might phrase those for the document.


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