Resumes For Dummies book cover

Resumes For Dummies

Published: March 19, 2019


Polish up that old resume—and land your dream job

We've all been there: it's time to apply for a job or internship and you have to create or revise your resume. Many questions pop in your head. What do employers want? What skills should I highlight? How do I format this? How do I get noticed? But resume writing doesn't have to be a daunting task.

The latest edition of Resumes For Dummies answers all of these questions and more—whether you're a resume rookie, looking for new tips, or want to create that eye-catching winning resume. In this trusted guide, Laura DeCarlo decodes the modern culture of resume writing and offers you insider tips on all the best practices that’ll make your skills shine and your resume pop. Let's start writing!

  • Write effective resumes that will stand out in a crowd          
  • Understand Applicant Tracking Systems and how to adapt your resume
  • Keep your resume up with the current culture
  • Position a layoff or other career change and challenge with a positive spin
  • Leverage tips and tricks that give your resume visual power

In order to put your best foot forward and stand out in a pile of papers, it’s important to have an excellent and effective resume—and now you can.

Polish up that old resume—and land your dream job

We've all been there: it's time to apply for a job or internship and you have to create or revise your resume. Many questions pop in your head. What do employers want? What skills should I highlight? How do I format this? How do I get noticed? But resume writing doesn't have to be a daunting task.

The latest edition of Resumes For Dummies answers all of these questions and more—whether you're a resume rookie, looking for new tips, or want to create that eye-catching winning resume. In this trusted guide, Laura DeCarlo decodes the modern culture of resume writing and offers you insider

tips on all the best practices that’ll make your skills shine and your resume pop. Let's start writing!

  • Write effective resumes that will stand out in a crowd          
  • Understand Applicant Tracking Systems and how to adapt your resume
  • Keep your resume up with the current culture
  • Position a layoff or other career change and challenge with a positive spin
  • Leverage tips and tricks that give your resume visual power

In order to put your best foot forward and stand out in a pile of papers, it’s important to have an excellent and effective resume—and now you can.

Resumes For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Your resume is you in paper (or electronic) form. It’s the first glimpse employers get of the value you can bring to their company. Your resume should tell a compelling story of who you are and what you can do, especially in a tough economic environment or when you’re moving from one career to another. Show your skills by creating a focused resume that shows point for point how you fit into the company’s big picture.

Articles From The Book

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Compare and Contrast the 3 Main Resume Formats

How much are you worth to employers? Your resume inspires an employer's first best guess, so you want to ensure that it’s a compelling portrait of how your strengths and skills benefit the enterprise that you’re hoping will write your next paycheck. One key element that comes into play is how you present information in your resume. You don't have to limit yourself to presenting your experience using the traditional reverse-chronological resume. In fact, unless you’ve had a traditional career history of rising through the ranks, this standard resume could hurt your chances of getting an interview.

Formats for resumes make a difference

Resume format refers not to the design or look of your resume but to how you organize and emphasize your information. Different format styles flatter different histories. At root, formats come in three styles:
  • The reverse-chronological format (or traditional format), which lists employment beginning with the most recent and working backward
  • The chrono-functional format, which most frequently emphasizes skills and accomplishments first and chronology timeline second
  • The hybrid format, which lets you customize how you emphasize both the functional skills and the chronology depending on your unique needs

Yes, there is such a thing as a functional resume that focuses primarily on skills and leaves out company names and dates where the work was performed. However, this format presents a big red flag for prospective employers, so don’t be tempted to use it under any circumstances.

This table gives you a breakdown of which of the three formats enhances your personal curb appeal. Your Best Resume Formats at a Glance

The big question to ask yourself when you’re considering different formats is: “Does this format maximize my qualifications for the job I want?” The format you choose should promote your top qualifications, so make sure to select a format that helps you present your top-pick value.

Reverse-chronological resume format

The reverse-chronological (RC) format, shown in the following figure, is straightforward: It cites your employment history from the most recent back, showing dates as well as employers. You accent a steady work history with a clear pattern of upward or lateral mobility.

The RC format's strengths and weaknesses

Check to see whether the reverse-chronological resume’s strengths work for you:
  • This upfront format is by far the most popular with employers and recruiters because it puts the emphasis on what you’ve been doing most recently in your career and lets your career progression easily be seen.
  • RC links employment dates, underscoring continuity. The weight of your experience confirms that you’re a specialist in a specific career field.
  • RC positions you for the next upward career step.
  • As the most traditional of formats, RC is a good fit for traditional industries but is the resume of choice for all industries when you can demonstrate solid progression in your career.
Take the weaknesses of the reverse-chronological format into account:
  • When your previous job titles are substantially different from your target position, this format doesn’t support your objective. Without careful management, the RC reveals everything, including inconsequential jobs and negative factors.
  • RC can spotlight periods of unemployment or brief job tenure.
  • Without careful management, RC reveals your age.
  • If you aren’t careful, RC may suggest that you hit a plateau and stayed in a job too long.

Should you use the RC resume format?

Use the reverse-chronological if you fall into any of these categories:
  • You have a steady work record reflecting constant growth or lateral movement.
  • Your most recent employer is a respected name in the industry, and the name may ease your entry into a new position.
  • Your most recent job titles are impressive stepping-stones.
  • You’re a savvy writer who knows how to manage potential negative factors, such as inconsequential jobs, too few jobs, too many temporary jobs, too many years at the same job, or too many years of age.
Think twice about using the RC under these circumstances:
  • You're a new graduate with limited experience in your target profession.
  • You have work history or employability problems such as gaps, demotions, stagnation in a single position, job hopping (four jobs in three years, for example), or re-entering the workforce after a break to raise a family.
  • You're trying to change careers.
  • You're trying to re-enter a profession you worked in many years ago that isn’t showing up front and center with an RC.

How to create a reverse-chronological resume

To create an RC resume, remember to focus on areas of specific relevance to your target position. For your work history section, you typically want to concentrate on your last four jobs or your last 10 to 15 years of employment. Be sure to include for each the name of the employer and the city in which you worked, the years you were there, your title, your key responsibilities, and your measurable accomplishments. To handle problems such as unrelated experience or early experience that could date you but is too relevant to leave off, you can group unrelated jobs in a second work history section under a heading of Additional Experience, Previous Experience, or Related Experience.

When it comes to including dates on your resume, you have multiple options:

  • If your jobs were extremely fluid, meaning you left one company and immediately started with the next, you can use months and years. However, if you had gaps of several months between one job stopping and one starting, it is perfectly acceptable to just list the years employed.
  • When you have held multiple progressive positions with an employer, you don’t have to list the employer all over again. Instead, create an umbrella for the positions, listing the employer only once and the total dates, and then show your reverse chronology below. This figure shows how to present multiple progressive positions with the same employer.
  • If your positions were similar and varied little, or you had the same job with a different title, it’s okay to group them versus describing them twice. The following figure shows an individual who had progressive positions with the same employer, but some of the jobs were similar enough to group instead of listing redundant information in two places.

Chrono-functional resume format

The chrono-functional (CF) format, shown in the following figure, is a resume of ability-focused topics — portable skills or functional areas that position you best for your new job target (or to overcome some challenge in your timeline). It ignores chronological order or even whether a particular skill came from employment. However, the chrono-functional format backs up all listed skills with a chronology that might come from employment, courses or education, volunteer work, and paid or unpaid internships.

The CF format's strengths and weaknesses

The following are the strengths of the chrono-functional format:
  • A CF resume directs a reader’s eyes to what you want him or her to notice. It helps a reader visualize what you can do instead of locking you into when and where you learned to do it. CF resumes salute the future rather than embalm the past.
  • The CF format — written after researching the target company — serves up the precise functions or skills that the employer wants. It’s like saying, “You want budget control and turnaround skills —– here’s where I offer budget control and turnaround skills.” The skills sell is a magnet to reader eyes!
  • It uses unpaid and nonwork experience to your best advantage.
  • The CF format allows you to eliminate or subordinate work history that doesn’t support your current objective.
The weaknesses of the chrono-functional format include the following:
  • Recruiters and employers are more accustomed to reverse-chronological formats than other types. Departing from the norm may raise suspicion that you’re not the cream of the crop of applicants. Readers may assume that you’re trying to hide inadequate experience, educational deficits, or who knows what.
  • Functional styles may leave unclear which skills grew from which jobs or experiences.
  • This format doesn’t clearly describe your career progression.

Should you use the CF resume format?

The chrono-functional resume is heaven-sent for career changers, contract workers, new graduates, ex-military personnel, and individuals with multitrack job histories, work history gaps, or special issues. Job seekers with perfect backgrounds (no gaps, career changes, or the like) and managers and professionals who are often tapped by executive recruiters should avoid this format.

How to create a chrono-functional resume

Choose areas of expertise acquired during the course of your career, including education and unpaid activities. These areas become skill, competency, and functional headings, which vary by the target position or career field. Note accomplishments below each heading. A few examples of headings are: Operations Management, Sales, Budget Control, Cost Cutting, Project Implementation, Growth, and Turnaround Successes. List the headings in the order of importance and follow each heading with a series of short statements of your skills. Turn your statements into power hitters with measurable achievements. The easiest way to do this is to always write CAR statements — the challenge you faced, actions you took, and results you obtained.

It’s important to note two key elements that allow a chrono-functional resume to work:

  • Your resume has a work history listed either above or below the experience and accomplishments section.
  • Each top skill lists the role in which it was attained.
If you do not make these key connections in your resume, prospective employers will question the validity of your skills and become confused about where or when they were used. By providing this small bit of connective data, you make a chrono-functional a safe choice when navigating career challenges on your resume.

Hybrid resume format

The hybrid resume format may likely be something you haven’t encountered before. While it has been in use by a handful of professional resume writers for over a decade with great success and employer acceptance, it has rarely been shared with job seekers before now. A hybrid resume format takes elements from different resume types so you can maintain an employment chronology as well as use creative functional characteristics to overcome your career challenge without raising any red flags. This strategy works great if
  • You want to highlight jobs from earlier in your career that might otherwise not be seen.
  • Your most recent job was not as strong or as close a fit to your target.
  • You have a gap in employment.
Essentially, with the hybrid format, you’re addressing employment circumstances in which there are challenges but a full chrono-functional adaptation would be overkill. Such challenges might include
  • You held the target experience or industry experience previously in your career.
  • The position experience or industry experience most relevant to your target is earlier in your career and will be hidden on page 2 of the resume.
  • You were demoted with your current employer and wish to make that less obvious.
  • Your recent employment is lower level, irrelevant, or covering a gap but your prior history is right on target.

The hybrid format's strengths and weaknesses

Check out some of the strengths of the hybrid format to decide whether it’s for you:
  • It quickly points prospective employers to early experience you have that matches your target, and it makes it seem more relevant.
  • It can cleverly mask a gap in your employment history.
  • It allows you the flexibility to put your best foot forward even if your most recent employment was not in line with your current target.
When crafted correctly for job seekers with these kinds of challenges, there aren’t any weaknesses to using a hybrid format.

Should you use the hybrid resume format?

A hybrid resume helps you position your relevant experience and work history more effectively when you have gaps, demotions, career changes, career back-tracking, or haven’t worked in the target industry for many years. Although the hybrid resume looks neat and is highly efficient at what it does, those with strong career progressions in their chosen industry should steer clear. You don’t need to get fancy when you’re already on track.

How to create a hybrid resume

Some employment challenges require the lightest of tweaking to make them blend in, and others require more of a major renovation. You can decide on a case-by-case basis how much work your resume needs when you look at the job target and compare it to your work history. If your career progression is all lined up for the job you want but the industry experience is hiding on page 2, all you need is a light tweak to help draw the eyes of prospective employer to relevant career information. You can stick with your reverse chronology and all the other elements that make an RC successful, but add a little summary line at the top of your professional experience section that connects your prior positions or industries with the target, as shown here. But what if you’re facing one of those challenges that make it more crucial for you to play up a job from earlier in your career but going to a chrono-functional resume would be overkill? That’s when you go heavy with the hybrid! You have room to be creative here as long as you adhere to two simple rules:
  • Always include a timeline, either before the professional experience section or after it.
  • List jobs in the order they best serve you, but without the dates (since those appear elsewhere in the chronology). Feel free to leave out descriptions that don’t serve you.
The following figure shows you how you might present the timeline and job list on a resume. After you decide on which resume format you're going to use, see "
Why Creative Resume Designs Are Game Changers," for ways to make your resume pop.

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How to Customize Your Resume for a Job

Today's employers are inundated by resume submissions in a world where multitasking and information overload are already the norm. If you try to use a Core, one-size-fits-all, resume, your resume will end up in a black hole. Even though the computer age is upon us, fully customizing a resume remains a time-suck in busy lives — like preparing a five-course meal from scratch. That’s why you want to check out the OnTarget approach to customization described here. Here’s how you can get started transforming your one-size-fits-all resume into a targeted resume:

  1. Read the job description to determine exactly what the employer needs. Mirror back what you find in each section of the OnTarget resume. Specifically, tweak your objective header statement and the contents of your summary, keywords, and employment history sections.
  2. Cut out irrelevant content from each section of your Core resume. Keeping this content won’t make you look better; instead it makes you look like you’re overqualified and not likely to stay — or uncommitted and likely to leave.
  3. Tweak wording to speak directly to the targeted position. This step may require crossover language if you are going from working with physicians and surgeons as your clients in the healthcare industry to executives in the IT industry. Look at the language used in the job description and use it in your OnTarget resume.

Staying OnTarget with your resume is a very simple process as long as you aren’t making a major life change such as returning to work after a gap or entering the workplace for the first time as a new graduate.

Draw words from job descriptions for your targeted resume

In order to spoon-feed a prospective employer directly what he is seeking in a position, take a look at the job description. If you find the description to be vague, perform an Internet search for that job title and look at other descriptions to get a deeper sense of what is desired. For example, if you have a background in retail sales, retail management, and customer service, the Core one-size-fits-all resume you have developed positions you to use all these skills. But now you are targeting a job in outside sales. When you review the job description, you’ll see no emphasis on retail or on management. From the description you can typically surmise:
  • The objective header statement you need to use to show you are applying for this position.
  • What the employer values in a candidate, which you can play up in your summary section and in your results-focused job descriptions.
  • The key skills that you need to list and emphasize in your keyword section and then later connect with responsibilities and CAR stories in your professional experience section (job descriptions).
  • The wording you need to adopt to make your experience feel as relevant as possible. This is crossover language where you speak in the new profession’s language and not in your old profession’s language.
This figure shows a Core one-size-fits-all resume for a job seeker who is overqualified for her target position. In the following figure, the same job seeker appears perfectly qualified for this job.

Use crossover language to be OnTarget

Imagine you need to cross a bridge to reach your prospective employer, have him open the door, and welcome you in. When you reach that door and he speaks the language of healthcare and you speak that of engineering, your interaction will be as if you are from two different countries. He’ll close the door, unsure of why you came knocking, and you will go away feeling frustrated. But it never has to be that way if you discover how to use crossover language when writing your OnTarget resume. Luckily, crossover language is easy to apply when you have looked at the job description for your target position. Does the employer refer to clients as “patients”? Are their customers called “members” or “key decision-makers”? Do they “sell” or “consult”? Are their products “cardiothoracic medical devices” or “high-tech equipment”? After you have a feel for this language, you can begin changing the wording in your Core resume to reflect the target for your new OnTarget resume.

When choosing crossover language for your OnTarget resume, don’t use words that you don’t have the knowledge to support in an interview. You must truly understand the language you’re using in your resume. Be sure to dig deep, do your homework, and be able to talk in the language of your target industry. Otherwise, you may find yourself embarrassed in an interview.

The following figure shows a great example of using crossover language to target a new type of position. The job seeker’s before language pigeonholed him to home cabinet projects; after he targeted his resume, the specific crossover language demonstrated his match for project management.

Job descriptions aren’t the only place you can learn about language when targeting a position that may represent a change in industry or responsibility. Look at the Occupational Outlook Handbook, perform general searches by job title, and visit the professional association for that industry. You can uncover a lot of key language, core responsibilities, and strengths a particular type of position and industry require to help you make your resume a strong OnTarget match.

Going OnTarget with your resume can seem time-consuming. However, you will rapidly find that if you are targeting the same type of position over and over again, you only have to change a few words after the first customization. So be sure to save a copy of each new target you create. That way, when the next sales position or operations manager position comes along that you want to target, you can open that file, perform any needed customization, and be ready to go in a matter of moments.

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Why Creative Resume Designs Are Game Changers

The formatting, content, and presentation of a creative resume can give you an edge during a job search. Desktop publishing and design software, first made widespread in the 1980s, has enabled some people to elevate the marketing and advertising strategy in their resumes. Anyone can use some creativity in a resume to help it stand out in a stack of plain resumes. Here, you'll see examples of when to go all-out with design and when to be more restrained.

It’s important to recognize that the fancier your resume, the less chance it has of being scannable. If resume content appears on a colored background or pertinent data is in a chart or box, computers can't read it. But don’t discount these creative resumes — they don’t replace your regular OnTarget resume. Instead, use your creative resume for targeted mailings, networking, job fairs, and any time you can put a resume directly into the hands of a decision maker.

Submit both formats and include the following in your cover letter: “For your convenience, I have also included a plain, scannable copy of my resume.” This approach solves the problem and gets your resume seen.

What is a creative resume?

A creative resume can be as simple as a resume with a logo of your initials at the top or pops of color. It can also be a full-out design project. Here are some more extreme examples of creative resumes:
  • A chef looking to land a position on a private yacht used a resume set up to look like an elegant, full-color, folding menu. He used fancy script fonts for headers and creative titles for sections, such as The Experience instead of Professional Experience. The chef currently sails the Mediterranean on a gorgeous sailing yacht.
  • A fine artist looking to break into advertising painted an original work, scanned it into the computer, overlaid it with sections of her resume, and then cut them into puzzle pieces. Those were placed in a paint can with a custom marketing wrap branded to advertise her. The cans were delivered to agencies following a four-week postcard teaser campaign about solving your company’s advertising puzzle. After interviews with many companies, she became a creative director with the then WB television network.
  • A tugboat captain wanted to land a position as a captain of a casino cruise ship. His resume used a line drawing of a cruise ship down one side of the page. He also positioned his qualifications for the change. Despite his lack of direct experience, he applied for one job and landed it.

The yes and no of creative resumes

It’s critical to match your creative resume to the situation and make sure it is appropriate for the industry. Don't be creative just to be creative. Give the creativity a purpose. Think about the example resumes described previously. Lower-level, blue collar, or technical jobs can be appropriate for a creative resume. For example, gear-shaped text boxes can run across the top of an engineer's resume to highlight his strengths. Not a lot of design, but a thoughtful, applicable design. There really are no absolutes regarding the use of creative resume techniques as long as you pause and make sure that they won’t oversell you for the position or industry or be seen as inappropriate. However, do consider the following few no-no’s:
  • Neon or bright colors that burn the corneas: Instead, opt for soothing, professional shades or ones specific to the industry.
  • Company logos: You must have permission before using a former employer’s company or product logo.
  • Irrelevant, tasteless, or vulgar graphics or images: Your graphics should be relevant, such as a custom logo of your name or initials, representative design elements (images, icons, or text boxes) for the industry, or charts and tables.
  • Fancy, illegible fonts: Creative resumes don’t provide an excuse for using unreadable fonts. Choose an appropriate shape for non-relevant content such as headers; be elegant, bold, edgy, or fun. But make sure the font is readable and use a recommended font for the body text of your experience, skills, and accomplishments.
  • Busy layout: It’s fun to add creative elements to your resume, but don't make it crowded and overwhelming. Less is more, so plan carefully.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and play. Remember, blank page syndrome is the biggest enemy in creating your resume. Just jump in and get started with ideas.

Professional resume writer Cheryl Lynch Simpson of Executive Resume Rescue is a pioneer of creative resumes. She advises that you look at print marketing for ideas. Keep your eye out for mailers you receive, brochures at companies, and magazine ads. Keep the ones that appeal to you and use them to drive your ideas when creating your resume.

Creative resume designs strategies that pop

When approaching your creative resume, don’t be afraid to play with layout, colors, and
MS Office tools. With an open mind, and the Insert and Design menus, just about anything is possible when creating a visually distinctive resume. The process requires thought, practice, and play. Special thanks to resume writers Posey Salem of Radiant Resume Career Services and Marie Plett of Aspirations Career Services, Inc., for their ideas, strategies, and contributions, which are highlighted in the following examples and ideas.

When you want to perform a task, such as insert text shading or insert page border, perform an online search, and include your version of MS Word. You'll find step-by-step instructions with screen shots and even videos.

Lines and shading on a resume

One of the easiest design techniques is to apply lines and shading to offset content in your resume. You can use lines and shading around or over section headings, your name, or other body text to make it stand out. Or do something as simple as changing your bullets from black to a color. For an elegant look, use the page border function in MS Word to create a border around the entire resume. Experiment with single and double lines of different weights (widths) to create a custom look. Check out the following figure for some examples of lines and shading.

Text boxes draw the eye on your resume

Text boxes are an easy way to draw the eye to content and make it stand out. You can add a text box in several ways. A favorite method is to choose the Insert menu, click Shapes, select the one shape you like, and insert it into the document. Hover your cursor over the shape and then right-click to display a menu with the option of adding text. After you add text, experiment with adding color, shadows, and shading and changing the color of your font, as shown in the following figure. A black font on a light background or a white font on a dark background can make a nice contrast and increase legibility.

Be careful when selecting the content you include in a text box or other closed image, such as charts and graphs. This data can be rendered invisible by computer resume-scanning systems. Always choose data that would help the reader but would not count specifically toward meeting the requirements of the position. A great choice for a text box is a testimonial from a former employer. Also, you can highlight top content in a text box as long as it is repeated in text elsewhere in the resume.

You can add charts and graphs to your resume

Charts and graphs make great additions to your resume when you have numerical data to display. By including the data visually, you draw the eye to the return on investment you can offer by demonstrating your ability to make money, save money, maximize resources, or maintain satisfied customers. Graphs and charts are a power-packed way to demonstrate this growth or savings over time, as shown here. The most commonly used charts and graphs are pie charts, column charts and graphs, and bar graphs and charts. But as you can see, many others are available. Which one you use in your resume depends on the type of data you want to convey. Experiment with MS Word’s offerings by choosing the Insert menu and looking at the SmartArt and Chart options.

If you don’t have concrete numbers, you may still be able to use a chart or graph in your resume. Explore the SmartArt and Charts options and you will uncover a variety of formats that can lead to unique data visuals.

Monograms and logos on your resume

If you want to spiff up your resume without worrying about content scanability, consider creating a monogram or logo for your resume. The easiest way to do this is in a header at the top of your resume. Every logo example in the following figure was created in MS Word using the Insert Shape menu along with some tweaking. Creating your own logo for your resume can be a fun way to get creative without detracting from your content. Resume writer Marie Plett designed the header (at the top of the figure) by using multiple overlapping shapes, shading, and background art. You're unlikely to create something like this on your first try, but with some patience and willingness to play with MS Word tools, you too can create dynamic monograms and logos.

Graphics and icons can make a resume pop

Have you earned an industry certification and been given permission by the granting organization to use the logo in your self-marketing? If so, including that logo would make a great addition to the header of your resume, as shown. Likewise, you might use icons in place of your bullets to represent an industry profession or a functional responsibility. These would be great in a key word list or the summary section at the top of a resume. Although you can insert images in MS Word, you probably won’t have to take that step. When you go to insert a new bullet into your resume, select Define New Bullet. Then look at the Symbols menu for various webdings and wingdings. Yes, those are funny names, but that's how MS Word refers to its symbol bullets. You have many choices that may be an appropriate match for your profession. For instance, pilots might select an airplane to represent bullets in the summary section of their resume. Or customer service representatives might select a phone for the bullets in their summary section. Whatever you do with graphics and icons in your resume, keep it simple and choose to include strategies only if they further your positioning for the target job.