Writing a resume from scratch is one of the single most important talents not taught in schools. You can vet your potential organization, scope out your bosses-to-be, and conduct background research in such expansive depth the CIA will be astonished at your findings. None of it matters without a resume that screams, “CALL ME BEFORE YOU LOSE ME.”

So, What Is a Resume?

First of all, a resume is not:

  • A log of your entire employment history
  • A simple summation of your skills
  • Adherent to any one format, standard, or style
  • Absolute proof of your abilities and qualifications
  • Automatically a job guarantee

A resume is:

  • An advertisement of you as a worker and a human being
  • Your most direct line of marketing
  • A flashy grab-and-go where the most visually appealing wins first prize

Why is Writing a Resume Important?

Your resume is likely your first interaction with potential employers. The hiring manager for Company X will use this single point of contact as their sole deciding factor in whether you’re worth an interview and second round of deliberation.

This person may be a general manager, an HR rep, or a department head – whoever they are, the same thing is true: they own your a** now. Your one chance of scoring an interview and employment with Company X is about to be decided in the next…10 seconds, give or take. 

That’s right. Most resumes are given a once-over for ten seconds or less before the hiring manager decides whether or not they go in the discard pile. In those crucial few moments, a cursory glance of your resume has to provide enough oomph to make the manager go “Hm” and sit back in their chair for a more in-depth exploration of the product called You. Writing a resume from scratch is one of the best ways to get their attention – as long as you put in the time to make it attractive.

Firstly, Visualize

If you’re sitting at your computer staring blankly at an empty page, chances are, you’re starting this process incorrectly. Most people have trouble spewing content into the void – it’s more constructive to instead fill in the blanks. This is especially true if you are writing your resume from scratch, as there is no pre-set template to guide you.

Build an Outline

To that end, it’s helpful to start by constructing a simple outline. Visualizing where you have employment appeal versus where you’re lacking can be instructive and instrumental in determining your resume’s presentation. 

This outline functions as a reference tool with which you’ll be able to design the perfect advertisement of You. The guideline below should be suitable for most needs. 

Some critical elements include:

  • Employers with start/end dates and primary duties
  • Educational institutions attended with start/end dates and degrees earned
  • Any special certificates or licenses 
    • A class C (regular) driver’s license does not count; licenses such as CDL or chauffer’s permits do
  • Any accomplishments in the workforce, as a volunteer, or during your educational career
    • Prestigious scholarships or awards
    • Honors granted from membership, scholarly, or government organizations
    • Competitions won based on skills (lottery tickets don’t count)
  • Marketable and “hard” skills, including but not limited to:
    • Computer skills, including MS Office and specialty computer programs
    • Working in niche and industry-specific fields
    • Public speaking
    • Proficiency in multiple languages
    • Accounting and finance
    • Writing, especially niche writing such as technical, medical, or SEO
    • Programming and SaaS
    • Marketing or sales experience

While employers want to see that you have a lot of position-related skills, extra abilities show a diverse, well-learned personality. Don’t be afraid to add your CMA license if you’re applying for a sawmill job or your childcare abilities if you’re going into memory care. A hiring manager wants to know the person they’re employing will go above and beyond – and maybe has the know-how to save their life.

If your marketable skills section looks a little shabby, it’s time to really spruce yourself up. (The downside of writing a resume from scratch, unfortunately, is that you have to do everything yourself. Tsk tsk.)

Time to Let the Soft Skills Shine

Maybe this is your first job, or you don’t have a lot of work experience. 

Perhaps you’re three years into that bachelor’s degree and can’t officially say you are a marketing wizard. 

Maybe you just don’t get out of the house much. 

If any of these describe you, this is where your soft skills come into play. 

Hard skills are the marketable abilities that have direct employment applications. To attain a hard skill, there is almost always higher education or on-the-job-training required, though a select few, such as SEO writing and some computer and programming skills, can be self-taught. 

Soft skills, by contrast, are the capabilities and self-restraint practices you incorporate into your life to keep yourself running smoothly. In order to write an effective resume from scratch, you want a list of 3-5 soft skills that best represent who you are as an employee. 

Some employer-friendly soft skills include:

  • Communication abilities
  • Situation diffusion and mediation
  • Leadership skills
  • Management skills
  • Team building and stress management
  • Organization
  • Time management skills
  • Adaptability
  • Creativity
  • Keen to take initiative
  • Willing to take responsibility for actions/teams

Secondly, Format

After you have a visual on all of the skills you bring to the table (or don’t), you’ll be better equipped to select the format of your resume. There are three basic choices, not counting the nitpicky frills of visual appeal: reverse chronological, functional, and combination. Each comes with its strengths and weaknesses (just like you!). If you are writing your resume from scratch with no reference template, be sure you’ve chosen the format before you start plugging in information.

Reverse Chronological Resumes

The reverse chronological format (also called the chronological format) is the most traditional of the three and the one you’re most likely to encounter. This resume is suited for most newcomers to the workforce as well as many midlevel professionals. 

In a reverse chronological resume, the emphasis is on your history in working up the chain in terms of experience and responsibility – without significant interruptions or fallbacks. It shows hiring managers that your recent and/or majority work experience is relevant to the position(s) applied for. 

The professional experience portion of a reverse chronological resume constitutes the majority of the layout. If you’re new to the workforce, this section may be a little short, but prior experience will be featured front and center to catch the eye and convince hiring managers your work history is up to their snuff. 

Reverse chronological resumes are good for:

  • Vertical careers and upward mobility
  • Prospects in the same or similar fields
  • No extensive or excessive work history gaps

Reverse chronological histories are not good for:

  • Patchy or inconsistent work histories
    • Some freelancers/self-employers
    • Stay-at-home parents
    • Those on extended medical leave
    • Those who exit the workforce mid-career to obtain higher education
  • Individuals who switch jobs frequently
  • Horizontal career movement

Functional Resumes

Functional resumes are ideal for those who are proven experts in a field. This format heavily emphasizes qualifications and ability over pure practice, although some experience –or formal education – is required to make a functional resume pop. 

Functional resumes are best if you are trying to de-emphasize a spotty or crowded work history or a lack of experience. For these to work, you need some transferable skills, but may not have to have every skill usually required in the industry. 

As such, functional resumes give you the option to sideline your work history, instead focusing on a detailed list of skills and overall readiness to the task. Your work history section will be minimal and should rarely include more than previous employers’ names and contact information. 

Functional resumes are good for:

  • Switching industries
  • Large or plentiful gaps in employment history
  • Promoting select or niche skillsets

Functional resumes are not good for:

  • Upward career mobility
  • Entry-level candidates
  • Individuals with limited transferable skills 

Combination Resumes

Combination resumes are an amalgam of reverse chronological and functional resumes. A combination resume takes a cue from the functional format to highlight career and industry qualifications while also emphasizing the strong work ethic of the chronological.  

Combination resumes are best left to those who have several years of experience in a particular niche and want to highlight the skills utilized rather than the specific work done. It should be noted, however, that a stable work history is also usually required for a combination resume to stand out. 

Chronological resumes tend to follow a particular format down the page:

  1. A resume profile, summary, or detailed list of qualifications
  2. Core skills
  3. Detailed work experience
  4. References

Combination resumes are good for:

  • Highlighting skills in an industry or niche
  • Horizontal mobility
  • Experts in a particular field 

Combination resumes are not good for:

  • Emphasizing education
  • Spotty work histories
  • Entry-level candidates
  • A lack of qualifications or transferable skills

Thirdly, Layout

Once you’ve decided on an overall format, it’s time to go through and structure your personal reference information. Depending on the style of resume you choose as well as the job to which you are applying, some areas of your work history or skills lists may not be relevant. 

Time to Design Your Resume

There are now two ways to proceed: you can look up hundreds of guides and outlines online, or you can write your own resume from scratch. Since we are focusing on the latter topic, we will cover all of the basic design elements you’ll need to make your resume stand out from the crowd. That being said, I personally recommend keeping a template within easy access as a point of reference. Templates can serve as a reminder to keep it simple, neat, and concise. 

Length Matters

As a rule, most resumes should be a single page; however, if you have an extended work history, skillset, or certification portfolio, two pages is acceptable. Additionally, if you’re writing a resume for an upper-level management or executive job, or if you have multiple publications to your name, two to three pages of resume is not uncommon.

Lay it Out

Let’s cover some essential tips for an attractive resume:

  • Keep your resume left-aligned.
  • Use two columns
    • For chronological and combination resumes, your work history should dominate the page. Your skills and certifications should be in a smaller column on either side. (Right is my preference). 
    • For functional resumes, the reverse is true: your work history should be laid out bare-bones in the smaller column, while your relevant skillsets should be detailed in bulk. 
  • Use .63” left/right margins with a 1” top/bottom margin. This allows you to include the most information on a page without looking unprofessional. 
  • Split sections with vertical or horizontal lines. This makes it easier to distinguish between key points and sections and makes your resume more attractive.
  • Proper font style and size are vital!
    • Stick with traditional fonts: Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, Cambria, Georgia, and Trebuchet MS. Didot is recommended for section headers.
    • Your font shouldn’t exceed 12pt or sit smaller than 10pt, even if it means adding a second page. 
    • Make sure any title/headers fonts are distinct from your body through bolding, coloration (blue and orange are decent options), or separate fonts.
  • Your name should be the largest font on the page. You are selling a product: you. Make it known. 
  • Put your contact information at the top of that page. The point of a resume is to get an interview, and that can’t happen if the hiring manager can’t get ahold of you. Do not place your contact info in your header, as online tracking systems may not read the data. Typically, your data will fall in this order:
    • Name
    • Mailing address
    • Phone number
    • Email address – make sure you use a professional and appropriate address; your xxxyhoe69@gmail account will serve to disqualify you from any job except the explicit immediately
    • Links/address to online profiles and portfolios

Finally! Time to Write Your Resume

Now that you have the basics of your resume ready to go, let’s review how the information should be placed into your selected format. As with everything else, all of the details are highly variable to provide you with plenty of options – and frustrations – to write a killer resume from scratch. 

Let’s start from the beginning. 

Your Introduction

You have four basic introduction styles to choose from:

  • Career Objective. This is a short paragraph, typically 2-3 sentences, designed to provide a brief overview of relevant experiences and skills. Career objectives are the introduction of choice for most entry-level candidates, including recent college graduates. However, a career objective should not be used if you are writing a cover letter.
  • Qualifications Summary. This is a bullet point exhibition, 4-6 points long, of your outstanding career achievements and skills. These are good for those who have years of experience in multiple technical or niche abilities. 
  • Professional Profile. A professional profile is an amalgam of your objective and qualifications summary. The formatting is flexible as a paragraph, bulleted list, or combination of the two may be used. These are good for a blend of career expertise, achievements, and academic education, but may not work well on some horizontal career choices. 
  • Professional Summary. Professional summaries are constructed as 4-6 bulleted points that use quantifiable data to advertise your achievements. Each sentence should include a 1- to 2-word bolded subheading to alert hiring managers to the intended trait or ability. Such headings can include trustworthiness, negotiation, team management, or organization. These are best left to those who can quantify their data with hard facts and numbers. 

Your Work History

This section should be labeled with a fitting title, typically one of the following:

  • Professional Experience
  • Relevant Experience
  • Work Experience

This is going to be the core of combination and reverse chronological resumes, so building a compelling, informational-yet-minimalist work history is crucial to your resume’s success. 

While you don’t want to list every achievement and skill on every job, you want to highlight the most important from each. 3-5 bullet points is a good rule of thumb to follow to keep the section brief. (Unlike me. There’s no hope. We’ve tried.)

As to the definition of “most important,” you should only list the relevant skills and experience for the job you are applying for. That accounting firm really couldn’t care less about how quickly you can mop up a dirty bathroom, I assure you. 

Writing A Work History from Scratch

An effective work history looks something like this (specific formatting dependent upon the resume layout):

Name of employer – Your title/position at the company 

Starting date – ending date (or “present” if currently employed)

  • Selling point 1: action verb, quantifiable point, relevant duty
  • Repeat 2-4 times

To give a concrete example, following the above style parameters:

Jordan Blansit – Freelance Writer

January 2020 – present 

  • Interns for FinancialProfessional.com, writing 1 article per week on personal finance, responsible for following basic guidelines and making finances fun. 
  • Edits for content and style on 2-3 incoming FinancialProfessional.com articles per week, responsible for guaranteeing engaging, quality information for all readers. 
  • Freelances on Upwork.com, completing nearly 50,000 words per month for various clients on a variety of briefs. 

Tailoring Your Resume to the Job

If you’re a career professional applying to a select few jobs rather than a college graduate mass-applying for their first industry work, another piece of advice is to tailor your work experiences to your desired position. This is easily accomplished – especially when writing a resume from scratch – by including language from their want ads or main website into your resume. 

For instance, take this screenshot of a Brand Marketing Specialist posting on Indeed.com: 

From this ad posting, you could tailor your work experience to include information and phrasing used in this posting. Using our format discussed above, this would look like:

Amazing Marketing Talents, Inc – Marketing and Brand Specialist

January 2015 – January 2020

  • Developed marketing and brand strategies that improved annual revenue by 20% 
  • Brainstormed and devised 13 creative marketing campaigns that targeted our market audience 
  • Improved engagement with our consumers by 45%
  • Built effective communication channels between teams, upper management, and outside agencies

This example may be a little on the nose, but it shows a basic outline of how to sprinkle key language cues written throughout a job advertisement into a resume effectively. 

Your Education

If you have more education than professional experience, especially if you’re a recent college graduate, you can still get a great job if you build your resume right. It may be prudent to switch the order of your work history and educational achievements, if that’s the case, to highlight your most recent contributions and experiences in your desired field. 

However, if you’re banking instead on your wealth of professional experience in an industry, or just as a member of the workforce, leave your work experience first and keep your educational section short and sweet. 

Important details about each educational experience to include are:

  • The name and location of the educational institution
    • Don’t include your high school unless you didn’t attend/are fresh out of college
    • Your location should include city and state
  • Month and year of graduation
  • Degree(s) earned
  • GPA 
    • Do not include if your GPA is under 3.0
    • Round to X.X: 3.0, 3.6, 4.0, etc
  • Any special honors, awards, certificates, or scholarships won

Your Skills

Depending on the layout of your resume, you may include skills in a sidebar column, listed above your work experience, or placed with or below your educational experiences. If you have a lot of industry-specific or specialized knowledge, you’ll likely want to include your skills as front-and-center as possible to catch your future employer’s eye. You’ll also want to sprinkle iterations of your talents throughout your education and work sections where possible and appropriate. 

From your pre-defined list of marketable/hard skills and your soft skills, you should select a grand total of no more than 10-12 most relevant capabilities. These should be listed as bullet points, in columns, or formatted in another aesthetically pleasing style to make them easy for your potential employer to peruse.  

If you have industry-specific “sections” of skills, it’s a good idea to list them as bullet points with specific examples. For instance, those who are good with technology could express their proficiencies as such:

  • Software: Microsoft Office Suite, Oracle, Salesforce
  • Programming: HTML, Python, C++

This helps to distinguish between the types of abilities and outline what, specifically, you are good at within those fields. 

Your Certifications, Awards, and Honors

If you have extra information you believe will help you get a job but don’t know where to put it, this section is you for. Additionally, if you are in a field that imposes strict licensing regulations and standards, such as medical or maintenance fields, you’ll want to include a “Certifications” section near your education or skills sections. 

Additional parts to include in your resume could be:

  • Certifications
    • Industry-specific
    • Medical/first responder
    • Specialty driver’s licenses
  • Publications
    • “Works in Progress” or “Submitted for Publication” are also acceptable
  • Industry awards
  • Educational achievements
    • Grants and scholarships
    • GPA 
    • Academic honors
  • Extracurricular activities, especially volunteer work
  • Professional affiliations

One Last Thing

Or two, or three. The number isn’t important. 

Consider a Cover Letter

Cover letters and resumes go hand-in-hand, and if you write your resume from scratch, you should write your cover letter to match. The combination can boost your likelihood of being hired if you play your language just write.

Edit. Maybe Once More. Then a Third Time.

Your resume is your only line of marketing and contact with a potential employer. Your resume, in a ten-second glance, will inform the hiring manager’s decision on whether or not you could be a good fit for the company. 

If you have even a single typo in your resume, it will stick out like a sore thumb to a detail-oriented executive. On the day you write your resume, take an extra ten minutes to edit it. 

Edit it again the next day, too, just to be safe. Maybe two or three times. 

Then, just to be extra, extra careful, check it at least once on the third day, too. Just in case. 

This process will help you catch any errors, funky language, or undesirable formatting mistakes. Additionally, once you’ve edited your resume a few times, it’s a good idea to hand it over to a trusted friend or family member. Even if there are no errors to be found, they’ll be able to inform you of any weird formatting or hard-to-decipher language. 

Saves Your Files. Then Save Them Again.

You should see a pattern now – repetition is the name of the game. Save your file as a Word Doc, upload it to Google Drive, and copy it as a PDF if possible. This ensures that you will have access to your resume even if one file or program experiences issues, and it will let you more easily send your resume to an employer who may not be able to access certain kinds of files. 

And Voila! You’ve Written Your Resume from Scratch!

That’s it! You’ve made it! All that’s left is to actually apply for your job. And then, well, you know, go and work for there, day after week after month after year…

Point being, you’ve gotten this far. Time to go out there and get that bread. I believe in you. 

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