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Resume Writing

The resume has five distinct parts -- an objective, qualifications, skills/achievements, work history and education.

There are two types of resumes -- functional and chronological. [©Jupiter Images, 2010]
©Jupiter Images, 2010
There are two types of resumes -- functional and chronological.

Resume Writing

For people looking to switch careers or return to work after a period of unemployment, resume writing is an important first step in the job hunt. Along with the cover letter, the resume gives a job hunter a chance to capture an employer's attention and secure an interview, if not a position with the company. The two main formats for a resume -- functional and chronological -- allow people to highlight their skills, experiences and qualifications in the best possible way, without including unnecessary information that might distract employers from their unique strengths.

Using the Functional Format

Both CareerBuilder.com and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) suggest using a skills resume instead of a traditional chronological resume. Also called a functional resume, the skills resume focuses solely on displaying the applicant's skills, particularly those that apply to different careers or fields of work. In addition, this format allows applicants to highlight skills gained outside of a paying job. For example, an applicant may have learned building techniques or other construction skills while working on a volunteer homebuilding project for the community. Including this information on a skills resume not only documents the applicant's technical knowledge and expertise, but also demonstrates the ability to work with a team and share responsibility, two characteristics many employers value.

Using the Chronological Format

Some job candidates will choose to write a chronological resume where they list each job they have held in reverse chronological order, rather than clustering their skills under major areas of expertise. This is fine for people who have no gaps in their job history and want to remain in the same career. In addition, some people use a combination of both the skills resume and the chronological resume.

Highlighting Transferable Skills

Because they can start a new job with little or no training, many employers are looking for applicants with transferable skills. Also, since such large numbers of workers in the United States switch careers over time, transferable skills are becoming increasingly important to employers and recruiters. To show these skills in the best light, professional resume writers often suggest compiling a separate resume for each potential job, allowing the applicant to choose the experiences and skills that best meet the employer's needs. When following this format, applicants should also leave out unrelated skills, so as not to draw attention away from their most relevant qualifications.

For some people, it is difficult to see how a particular skill in one area of expertise can transfer to another. Career coaches suggest starting by listing all broad work skills, such as leadership, research, planning, communication and organization, and then moving onto the smaller skills that fall under each of these categories.

Resume Sections

The job candidate's skills resume will include the following five parts:

  • Job objective
  • Summary of qualifications
  • Skills and achievements
  • Work history
  • Education


The job objective should state type of work the applicant intends to do (e.g., a position in editing or a job in marketing). The summary of qualifications should briefly explain the applicant's personal attributes, talents and capabilities that are relevant to the job. The sections on skills, work history and education should provide a more detailed account of the applicant's accomplishments and training. Workers who have taken time off from work should list the number of years they held each of their previous jobs, instead of the specific dates.

One of the best ways for new applicants to learn how to write a resume is by looking at pre-written samples. Virginia Tech has a good assortment of basic resumes online, and Susan Ireland offers an even wider selection of sample resumes organized by format (e.g., chronological or functional) on her website. Studying samples not only teaches applicants how to format resumes, but it also helps them develop a descriptive, professional style of writing that highlights their skills without seeming overconfident or cliche.

Editing for Grammar and Style

An expertly written resume, whether skills-focused or chronological, must be easy to read and should draw the reader's attention to the applicant's qualifications and accomplishments. Because it is a reflection of the applicant's communication skills and attention to detail, the resume must also be free from grammatical, typographical and stylistic errors (this rule applies to cover letters and other professional correspondence as well). The University of Georgia Career Center also recommends applicants write their resume in the active voice, making sure to use plenty of action verbs throughout the different sections.

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