Writing an Effective Resume

Alison Green, who runs the popular blog Ask A Manager and has written several books, including the How To Get a Job e-book, suggests that job-seekers ask themselves one important question when deciding what to put in their job application documents: “What did you accomplish in this job that someone else wouldn’t have?” (Green, pg. 15). Basically, she is suggesting that you focus on your accomplishments, rather than your job duties.

In many positions, you might have 10, 20 or even 50 job duties over the course of a year. Following this advice doesn’t just help you decide what job duties to include in your resume, but it also helps you be more specific and persuasive. Let’s look at an example:


Job Duty: I prepared tax returns for customers.

Job Duty That Focuses On Accomplishments: I had a 99.5% accuracy rate when preparing tax returns, which put me in the top 2% of all employees.


The first example describes what everyone in that position did. The second example shows how the job seeker accomplished something that the average person wouldn’t have done. It’s more specific and persuasive.

If you are new to the workforce, you might initially struggle to find examples of what you did that the average person working in a job wouldn’t have done. But in nearly every job, you can find one area where you excelled. For example, maybe you worked as a salesperson in a clothing store and were constantly called upon by coworkers to deal with difficult customers. Maybe you speak multiple languages and were able to communicate effectively with a broad range of customers.

When you begin writing your resume, think back to the jobs you’ve held, then freewrite about what you did that the average person wouldn’t have done. Turn this into a short, well-edited bullet point list.

Test Your Knowledge

Show Don’t Tell

Whether you’re creating a resume or a cover letter, you will benefit from the old piece of creative writing advice that says “show don’t tell.” In creative writing, this means that instead of saying “the character was angry” or “the house was spooky,” you should describe the actions. (“The door to the old house was boarded up, but in the window I saw a collection of doll’s heads, each one painted with strange symbols.”) But showing not telling is also great advice when discussing soft skills in your resume.

Many employers value soft skills like teamwork, leadership, communication skills or problem-solving skills, and so many people put these on their resume. But it’s not enough to simply say “I’m a great leader.” Anyone can say this. I could say that I’m a nuclear physicist, but that doesn’t make it true.

Instead of telling your employer that you’re a great leader or an engaging writer, show it. Think of a time when you showed leadership skills, then mention it in you cover letter or resume. Instead of saying you’re a good writer, use your cover letter and resume to let your writing skills shine.


Harman’s Story

Harman is 20 years old and has had two jobs. Currently, he works in a warehouse, but last summer he worked at his uncle’s hardware store. His goal is to get a co-op position in accounting, and he’s not sure how to represent his experience in a way that will make him look professional and ambitious. He did freewrites about both jobs. When he compared the two, he realized that in both jobs, he took on extra duties and enjoyed helping people. Taking on extra duties shows that he’s ambitious, and helping people shows his good communication and teamwork skills.

Harman turned his freewrites into bullet points to include on his resume. He made sure to show his soft skills rather than tell them. For example, instead of saying that he’s ambitious, he described taking initiative to get certified in forklift operation.

Here’s what he came up with:

Warehouse Loader                                             Jan. 2018 – present
     Random Warehouse

  • Took initiative to get certified in forklift operation and industrial first aid and was promoted to Lead Hand.
  • Balanced speed with accuracy to build secure pallet loads.
  • Communicated effectively to coworkers in English, Punjabi and Hindi.

Sales Associate                                                May 2018 – Sept 2018
    Local Family Hardware

  • Was quickly promoted from the slow daytime shift to the busy weekend rush due to my customer service skills.
  • Was selected to give in-store tutorials on home improvement projects to customers. Delivered presentations in both English and Punjabi.
  • Was named Employee of the Month in June because of my ability to make customers feel listened to and welcome.

What Should Go In Your Resume?

As we’ve already said, your resume should be set up to be skimmed easily. You’ll want your name, address, phone number and email address to be at the top. From there, it really depends on what the prospective employer will be looking for and what about your experience is most persuasive.

For example, if you’ve taught yourself multiple programming languages and have created apps or games for fun, but you haven’t yet been paid to do this, you might create a “Technical Skills” section above your work experience that lists in point form all of the programming languages you know. If you have a unique skill set that might not be immediately obvious when someone looks at your resume, you might choose to write a 1-2 sentence summary of yourself as a candidate, such as “Ahmed Muhammad is a PMP-certified Project Manager who specializes in managing construction projects in ecologically sensitive locations.”

Most resumes will include:

  • Your work experience. You may choose to combine volunteer and work experience. Depending on how long you’ve been in the workforce, you might leave off unrelated jobs or jobs that you held a long time ago. If you’re 5 years into your career as an accountant, for example, there’s no need to include the house painting job you had during the summer in your first year of university. These should be listed from most recent to least recent. It should also include the name of your company, your job title, when you worked there and what you did.
  • Your education: Once you’re out of high school, this should include just post-secondary experience. You can include your GPA (if it’s impressive) and your major.
  • Any awards, honours or recognition you received, such as scholarships.
  • Technical skills: If you’re going to include a list of skills you have, make sure to include only technical skills, such as an ability to use the Adobe Creative Suite, rather than soft skills like an ability to work in teams.

What Not To Include

Alison Green tells us that the objectives section “adds nothing and takes up space” (2013, pg. 13) and at best simply restates that you’re interested in getting a job, which the employer already knows.  It’s also not necessary to include hobbies or other interests, unless these relate to the position. (For example, if you’re applying to work at a company that makes yoga clothing, being a yoga enthusiast might be useful). Remember: the goal of a resume is to get an interview, not to have a potential employer know everything about you.


Harman’s Story Continued

When designing his resume, Harman decided that the most persuasive part of his resume is his 3.78 GPA and the fact that he’s been on the Dean’s List for the past two semesters. He also knows how to use different programs like QuickBooks, Excel, Sage, Word and the Adobe Creative Suite. He decides to list his technical skills first, followed by his education and then his work experience. He lists his technical skills in bullet points, and under his education he makes sure to include his GPA and the fact that he’s been on the Dean’s List.

Harman uses clear headings and makes sure that his formatting is easy to read. He gets his friend to check his spelling and grammar. He adds lines between the different sections to allow readers to skim. His resume is ready to go!

Tech Tip: Save your resume in PDF so that the formatting gets preserved.


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Business Writing For Everyone Copyright © 2021 by Arley Cruthers is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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