How to write your resume (or a section of your resume) from scratch


You’ve already seen lots of resume hints and tips here. But isn’t the hard thing about resume actually starting…from a very intimidating blank page? It’s like that adage about how to eat an elephant (one bite at a time..and who doesn’t want to eat an elephant…uh oh, I think I just upset Jane Wiedlin…sorry, I won’t eat it…I promise). It’s so easy for me, as a recruiter, to give tips to someone else on writing their resume. But we have the same challenges as everyone else…we have to have resumes too. Thinking back on the times that I have had to write a resume (you are totally expecting a “Heather” explanation on how to do this, right? You won’t be disappointed). I’ve got some recommendations on how to get started:

1) Don’t try to do it all at once. Put a pad of paper and pen next to your couch, next to your bed, wherever you spend your time. If you are anything like me, your mind wanders a bit when you watch TV. As you think of major responsibilities in your position or results you have driven, write them down. At this point, don’t even start to think about format. Just get down every little thing. Don’t worry if it’s a minor deliverable…you can align some of these when you do your bullet points.

2) Know someone that has done the same job as you? Can you ask them for their resume? (Perhaps if they have left your group, for example)

3) If you have a description of the job you were hired into, or one like it, pull it

4) Also pull any info from your HR department that details career development and defines positions or job categories

5) Have a list of goals and commitments for the year?…pull them

6) Ditto with your performance reviews

7) Get all this stuff together and sit down with a highlighter. Highlight the stuff that you think looks like it describes your role. Or phrasing that you like.

8) Then start to make a list of your responsibilities with the most strategic/impactful at the top. Sometimes it’s good to do this on post-it notes because you can rearrange. No formatting yet please.

9) Edit…ideally, your current role is the most detailed. The farther back you go, the less detail that is necessary. It’s likely that you are just writing the portion about your current job because you probably had a resume that you used to get that job that has your previous positions on it. If that is the case, don’t forget to change the tense (Current job=present tense, previous jobs=past tense…we’re talking about verbs here). Make sure your current role is the only one that has the term of employment that includes “to present” (lots a folks forget to make this change). I also see a lot of “till date” which isn’t really proper (and ’til is actually a contraction of until…but I digress).

10) At this point you should have all the verbiage you want to include. Now your goal is to put it into a format that highlights the most important elements and is clear, scannable and well…pretty to look at (I don’t recommend pictures, as I’ve mentioned before). If you don’t have a format that you have used in the past, you are now on a search for something that appeals to you. First, look for resume templates, like these on our Microsoft Office site. This is just for general format. I’m sure there are other resources online that a simple web search would uncover.

11) Consider looking at resumes of people on the internet with similar jobs. Just do a web search using keywords and include “experience AND education” to find resumes (there are other ways to get to resumes but I’m trying to keep this part simple). This might give you some ideas of how you want your resume to look. Also, you might find some verbiage that you want to use…so you can go back and edit what you already wrote…but I like the idea of getting down what your job is (your bullet points) BEFORE you start to look at other peoples’ resumes. Now put the content on the page.

12) Run spellcheck. Walk away for a day…come back…review/make changes (I recommend the walk away thing a couple times during the process…it’s really easiest to do this in little chunks)

13) Find your most detail oriented friend/spouse/whatever and hand them a copy of your resume and a pen. Ask them to be brutal. If you have a friend you refer to as the “grammar police” (in my circle of friends, I’m afraid that’s me), this is the time to buy them a glass of wine. It’s great, too, if you have someone that does not work at your company take a look. They’ll be able to tell you what is real and what is intra-company mumbo jumbo (your ear gets used to it but it sounds strange to the rest of the world).

14) Walk away from said resume for a few days.

15) Look at it again…fresh eyes help. If you still feel really good about what you’ve got, I believe you are finished.

See…that wasn’t so hard…especially if you tackle these steps one at a time. Now that blank page doesn’t freak you out as much.

Comments (17)

  1. Jeff Clark says:

    This may come off as incredibly stupid, but humor a college kid for a second:

    Let’s say (hypothetically of course!) that I started my own little freelance graphic design business. How exactly would I list that on my resume? Under work experience? I’m far more proud that I started and ran a business than my actual designing, so would an "entreprenual experience" section be appropriate?

  2. Heather says:

    Jeff-that is a great idea. I know it’s hard to write a resume with you are a "college kid". I remember looking at the blank page and thinking "well, taht just about sums it up!" You could call it experience and then mention that it was your company, or use the title Founder/Graphic Designer or Freelancer/graphic Designer (good fo ryou, by the way)….something like that. That way you don’t have to separate it from any other work experience.

  3. Brian Korzeniowski says:

    Heather – Here is one to stump you. What do you do if you are always strategically about 10 steps ahead of everyone else on a job and they let you go because they are either threatened or feel technically inferior? I have had many cases where I was just too passionate for the company and they let me go. Hence, I have a few short contract jobs that could have gone longer than they did. The problem is, the short contracts cloud my true talents in design and coding work as a software developer.

    Any thoughts or suggestions on how to write my resume? Oh yeah, in March, 2005 I will have 10 years experience as a Software Developer/Engineer. So then maybe I could sumamrize my experience on 2 pages instead of 6!!!

  4. Heather says:

    Brian-yikes…I don’t know that I have any specific advice on writing a resume when you have been let go from a number of contract roles. I would just make sure you have an explanation for why this happened and make sure that some humility and introspection is injected into the answer. Otherwise the potential employer could be worried about having a hard-to-manage contractor/employee on their hands.

  5. Brian Korzeniowski says:

    Heather – Just to clarify… It happens all the time in contract work when budgets run out at companies. The new mantra of consulting is "So sue me." Check out http://www.realrates.com and look at some of my colleagues experiences in this area. It might be an eye opener for you.

    I have a theory as well – the "hard to manage" people, the ones with the truly great ideas – these end up being self-employed people.

    I am beginning to wonder if there really is a place at the table for someone as entrepreneurial as myself or if people saying Microsoft values that kind of spirit is all hype. :-)

    If not, I will have to start my own company and attack one of their core lines of business and put the fear of God in thm again! *lol* And ask Gretchen – I am the PERFECT person to do it.

    Last, did Gretchen ever give you my idea about Wal-Mart? Ask her. :-) I am curious to know what happened to my idea or if it got stuck in the Redmond Red Tape. :-)

  6. Heather says:

    Brian-Excuse me for saying but I’ve been doing this for a while. I know the difference between a project losing funding and someone being "let go" because they feel like they are "strategically ten steps ahead of everyone else" or "too passionate" or feel they are technically superior. Especially as a contractor, to survive, people have to want to work with you. Some of the things that you have said here (and on Gretchen’s blog), I could see seriously alienating managers/co-workers. And having an unhappy team is a big deal for a manger and a situation which they will try to avoid.

    Being great doesn’t equal being hard to manage. There’s a difference between being entrepreneurial and being difficult to work with. Can exist in the same person but they don’t have to. The question isn’t whether Microsoft appreciates entrepreneurial people…we have proven that we do (and they run some of our businesses). It takes more than that to get hired here.

    It sounds like your passion and interests suggests that you would be happy starting your own business. Not everyone has the confidence to do so…I think you should consider it. Maybe you could start a blog and detail your efforts.

  7. Rick Bennett says:

    Hi Heather. Can I start out and say that your advice to Brian was spot on the mark and I think that Brian should take some time to really understand your words (especially the ones about what it takes to make a happy team). About 5 years ago I use to play professional baseball in America (minor leagues) and I really had a wonderful opportunity to understand the difference between a great team and a team of great individual players. A great team (with less talented individuals) would always beat a team of great individual players when there was a really pressure game to be played. Players from a great team do what is right for the team (all the little things that amount to a lot) and a team full of great individuals players does not have anyone that wants do the little things, they only want to do the big things to help themselves look good. The question that Brian (and other people of the striving and passionate nature) really need to ask themselves is – "am I passionate or striving for the benefit of the team or for my own benefit". If people are passionate and striving for the benefit of the team then shall they never lose such a priceless skill and they are well on their way to become a success. If they are not doing it for the team then they will never find true success and neither will the people involved with them. It is great that there are people out there like you Heather that can tell the difference between the team player and the individual. With recruiters like you I think the progress of Microsoft is in safe hands. :-) Shall Microsoft always be a great team (which I think they are through the great work of their recruiters – congratulations) instead of a team of only great individuals!!!

  8. Heather says:

    Thanks Rick…I’ve experienced some similar things on some teams I’ve been on here and frankly, this is where I REALLY learned to be a good team player…I guess is just comes with business maturity. Many people don’t realize that being part of a successful team can be better for their career and more satisfying than being the hotshot on a mediocre team. Besides, people should want to surround themselves with others who challenge them to be better. That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning…wondering what new thing I am going to learn each day. The day I stop learning from the smart people around me is the day I retire.

    Anyhoo, thanks for your nice words and support!

  9. Brian Korzeniowski says:

    *lol* Lest ye all beat me up for no reason… There was a reason I asked the question. A close friend of mine told me I make a better employer than employee. They challenged me to start my own business. And so I am. Heather’s answers enabled me to see I need to be my own boss.

    Regarding your comments about being part of a team – If you are commenting on my abilities technically, socially or professionally, your comments are simply dismissed. I think you are far underestimating your future competition. I think you are underestimating me. If I were you, I would take me seriously as I am a verocious competitor. And I am coming after the bottom line of some critical Microsoft product lines. How will I do that you ask? Ah now…I cannot tell you everything. :-)

    Thanks for the comments though. I have a tough skin. I can take it. :-) Some good thoughts to think about.

  10. Heather says:

    I am simply commenting on what I have seen here and on Gretchen’s blog…simple as that. I didn’t make any estimation of your technical abilities. I also didn’t say I was afraid of competition. ; )

    Good luck with your new endeavors!

  11. Brian K. says:

    Thanks Heather.

  12. Jennifer Neumann says:

    Hi Heather,

    Great Blog! I just found your site after reading an article that included your name in it and mentioned that Blogging is a great way to find a job. I’m not here to ask you for one, but I was wondering if you could maybe forward on a couple of tips in regards to resume’s?

    I decided to change careers. This will be my third change – from Interior Designer of 5 years, to Outside Sales for 2 years and now after soul searching I have come to the conclusion that Marketing/Advertising/Public Relations is more my "cup of tea".

    My issue is, I’ve spent the past couple of weeks putting my resume together (functional style) and I have done a bunch on research on the web as to what not to include and what to include, which format to use and such…well after all of that effort I have been happy with putting together a functional resume that is focused on my relevant skills from my past experience but no I am reading in a couple of fairly respectable sites from HR depts. that Chronological formats are all that recruiters look for. If I have no formal experience in the field then I’m confused as to how I can format my resume that will be relvant and be seen by recruiters as well.

    I’m asking you because I have been reading your site tonight and really respect your answers and advice. i’m hoping you’ll have a sec to help me out.

    Cheers!

    Jenn :)

  13. Jennifer Neumann says:

    By the way…I apologize for the run on sentenses….it’s late here in the east coast…about 4:15am…I’m a wee bit tired but can’t sleep….dreaming of resumes doesn’t make for a peaceful rest 😉

    Jenn :)

  14. Heather says:

    Jennifer-no worries about the sentences…I have those late nights/early mornings myself.

    I think you are doing the right thing under the circumstances. If you don’t have date of employment that relate to the role you are seekeing, there’s no point in going chronological.

    Ideal scenario being that you have specific experience in the field you are entering which isn’t your situation, you are doing what you need to do to at least represent your skill set.

  15. Aracelis Martinez says:

    I need help writing my resume

  16. Therise Daniels says:

    Hi Heather,

    For the past 7 or more years I have work several contract positions well attending college.  Also, I worked a second job.  Currently I am working full-time permanent, and I need to update my resume. However, I think the contract positions I worked is a red flag for most employers.  Most of the time when I am call for an interview, and  my resume is truly evaluate….it seems as though I moved around alot.  I have no stability. From 6 months to 1 year, but it was very convenience, and sometime hard to find permanent position.  I truly prefer permannent over contract.  Any suggestion on how to format my contract work on my resume?

    Thanks