How to Write a Resume From Scratch, Fast
There are a lot of articles out there that focus on resume writing tips and writing a professional resume. But most of them assume that you already have a resume, you’re just looking to update it or polish it up. What about when you need to create an entirely new one from scratch? Or, as you might type into Google in a panic, “How to write a resume fast?”
Well, good news, there’s no need to panic! In fact, you’ll be happy to know that whipping up a resume out of thin air doesn’t have to take forever. If you follow these five straightforward steps, you’ll be able to bang out an application-ready resume in no time.
1. Figure Out Your Sections
As with any complicated problem—and figuring out how to fit your entire professional life onto one page certainly counts as a complicated problem—it helps to break it down into more manageable parts. Picking and choosing how to organize your resume is exactly that. Think of it as giving yourself a map for how to move forward.
To get started, first think about where you are in your career. If you’re a career changer, your resume is going to look different from that of a new grad or seasoned executive. Aside from a work experience section, consider what else you need to include—like your education, skills, professional organizations, volunteer work, and side projects. (And, of course, a header section that includes your name, address, email, and phone number.)
To understand what format might work best for you, check out these four effective ways to organize your resume.
2. List Relevant Experiences
Now that you have your format selected, it’s time to fill everything in. All the positions on your resume should be in reverse chronological order within each section, so go ahead and start with your most recent experiences.
At some point you’ll have to worry about making a one page resume, but for now list anything and every job duty and accomplishment you can think of that’s relevant to the types of positions you’re gunning for. You’ll finesse your wording and edit it all down later.
On that note, you shouldn’t be limiting yourself to just paid, full-time work experiences. As I mentioned before, you definitely want to include any volunteer roles, extracurricular leadership experiences, or side hustles you have going on.
3. Consider Your Accomplishments
So far, everything has been pretty easy, right? Well, here comes the part everyone dreads: Writing bullets. The misconception here is that you have to write out every little thing you did for each job you’ve ever had. That’s just not true. Instead, you want to focus on big picture responsibilities and accomplishments.
In other words, what are you most proud of from each of these experiences? You don’t need 20 bullets for each position—a handful is fine. Pick and choose what to describe. Your goal is to paint an accurate picture of what you did while also showing hiring managers that you have the type of experience they’re looking for. Here’s a hint: Including numbers in your bullets is a great way to show scope and impact of your work.
For more on this step, here are three questions to ask while you’re writing bullets that will get you on the right track.
4. Edit it Down
Odds are high that what you have right now exceeds the recommended one page. (Seriously, unless you’re an executive with 10 or more years of experience, it shouldn’t be more than one page.) So, your goal in this step is to brutally cut out anything that isn’t serving a clear purpose in your resume.
What counts as a legitimate reason for keeping something? Consider if the experience is relevant, interesting, or impressive enough to spark conversation. Or, alternatively, if it’s explaining a gap in your resume. If it is none of these things, it’s time to let it go. Think: high school lifeguarding experience, Microsoft Word skills, and the phrase, “references available upon request.”
Naturally, what is relevant depends on the position you’re applying for, so feel free to keep a master resume where you document all of your various positions and projects.
5. Make it Pretty
This last step is nothing to scoff at. The format is important, because if it’s hard to read, it doesn’t matter what your qualifications are, no one will get through it. Maybe it’s just me, but I love formatting and reformatting resumes. (Yeah, it’s probably just me.)
There are a couple ways to do this. You can pop your information into one of these 41 lovely resume templates. Or, you can do it manually in any text processor by tweaking margins and font size, shortening bullets that have one extra word dangling onto another line, and using bolding and italics effectively. This method gives you a little more freedom to squeeze in some more information onto your resume. Here are a few more pointers on how to tidy up your resume.
Overall, though, don’t spend a ton of time on this step. At the end of the day, recruiters care much more about what your bullet points actually say than what font they’re in.
And voilà, you’re done! Writing a resume is no small feat, so give yourself a pat on the back once you’ve finished. If you find yourself really struggling to wrangle this document down to something manageable, consider working off of a specific job description. Sometimes having exactly what an employer is looking for right in front of you helps as you’re deciding what to include and what to cut.
Want even more tips for taking your resume to the next level? This ultimate guide is a great next read. Good luck!
Photo of resume creation courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Career Development Specialist at MIT where she works with a range of students from undergraduates to PhDs on how to reach their career aspirations. When she's not indulging in a new book or video game, she's thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author