Your Guide to Writing an Effective Resume

College Confidential/YouTube

When you get ready to write or update your resume, it may be helpful to think of it as a process with two stages. In the first stage, your goal should be to create a master resume if you don't already have one. In the master, you should compile all the possible content you may need during the job search process. In the second stage, your goal will be to create a targeted resume for each job application that is customized to the specific opportunity.


If that sounds like too much work, it may be helpful to recognize the positive downstream effect of this strategy. If you allocate time to creating a master resume, it will make the targeting stage a lot faster, allowing you to quickly choose which parts of your master resume to include. And if you take time to target your resume for each opportunity, you will be increasing your chances of getting called for an interview, which is the essential goal of the resume. Both stages together will add ease and efficiency throughout the job search. Let's have a look at what to do in each stage.

Creating a Master Resume

In this stage in the resume writing process, get ready to conduct an analysis of your target job type and compile information about your professional and educational backgrounds. Don't be too concerned yet about resume formatting, since this stage starts with compiling all the information you need to have on hand.

State Your Job Goal and Professional Brand

Ensuring that you have a target job in mind will provide direction as you compile information about your skills, abilities and experience. Take it a step further by using that target job to create a brand statement. This statement can become the headline for your resume, or it can be woven strategically throughout.

Use this brand strategy creation formula: Descriptive Words + Your Target Position + The Value You Bring to Employers.

Consider these samples of brand strategies that work well:

  • Influential, innovative HR manager, specializing in building a culture of community and high performance.
  • Energetic, thorough market research analyst, supporting businesses to make informed product decisions

Target Job Analysis

Pull two to three job descriptions that interest you. Use these job descriptions to get oriented to the language, qualifications and desired experience employers are seeking when recruiting for people with your job interests. Highlight the common language, skills and qualifications that these employers state they are seeking and that you offer. At the end of this process, you should have a list of five to 10 skills and abilities that are valued across employers, along with a list of keywords to integrate into the sections of your resume.

Headline and Summary of Qualifications

For a master resume, you might want to give yourself some options. Document a few headlines that might work for you. As mentioned above, you can use a brand statement as a headline. You can also pull out the job title you are aiming to land. Employers may use different job titles for the same job, so you can document these now if you know them.

For your summary of qualifications, using the list of skills that you compiled in the job analysis, select four to seven skills or abilities that you can elevate to this important section in the resume and create a description for each.

Professional Accomplishments

Your professional experience section will document your work history in reverse chronological order. If you have been working for many years, you may want to stop documenting your work history at about the 15-year mark. Also, you definitely can include volunteer work and possibly even academic experiences in this section, treating them exactly the same way that you would an employment experience. Document each job, your employer, job title, and the years you spent working in that role. Next, write three to five accomplishments for each job. Follow this structure: Action Verb + Result + Actions. For example, "Recruited over 20 new employees for early-stage startup by developing an open jobs advertising program and social media campaigns."

Create an "Ugly" Resume

Following the steps outlined above, you will have the majority of your master resume contents in place. You will still need to document your education and any achievements that want to promote. With all of this information in hand, construct a simple resume with sections that you can easily cut and paste either into a targeted and formatted resume or into an application system that may require you to input your information section by section.

Targeting Your Resume

Choosing a format College Confidential/YouTube

When it comes time to submit a resume for a job opportunity, follow these steps to ensure the resume speaks directly to the opportunity.

Optimize Your Headline, Summary and Accomplishments:

Using the job description, the employer's website and profiles of employees at the target employer, review the language used to describe the job and the company's mission. Select the appropriate headline for your resume and match up your language with the employer's throughout the resume. For the summary, identify three to five skills or abilities and about three to five accomplishments per job. All of your selections should be directly relevant to the opportunity.

Use this Resume Optimizer to uncover additional language opportunities for improving your resume.

Formatting Considerations

Your finished document should be one or two pages long, and should look neat and uncrowded. Resumes may be longer for senior-level or academic positions. Unless instructed otherwise, it's best to save and send your resume as a PDF (Portable Document Format).

Resume Sample

There are so many options for how to approach resume writing and presentation. Here's one example to help you visualize the concepts shared above.

College Confidential