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Secrets of a Great ResumeSue Campbell is a professional resume writer and career strategist with over 15 years experience helping clients achieve their career, business and marketing goals.
By Sue Campbell Jones, 1st-Writer.com

Recently, as I stood in one of the larger book stores looking at the hundreds of books published for job hunters, with particular interest to the four shelves dedicated to “how to write a resume,”  I thought, “How many books does one need to cover this single subject?” While there are probably more than enough books, how to write a great resume remains a mystery for many.

I’d like to dispel the mystery, and I don’t want you to have to buy another book to find the answers. Save your money for that great novel. There are a million books out there worth reading, and life is short. It’s one of my greatest regrets that I won’t live long enough to read all the books I want to read.

Know What A Great Resume Is Supposed To Do

The goal of a great resume is to secure interviews. It does this by qualifying a candidate for a specific position and enticing the reader to want meet the candidate in person, to learn more.

Know Your Reader

Successful writers quickly learn to write for the reader. This is true whether writing an article, a novel, a term paper or a resume. While it may be tempting to write a career autobiography, rather than a resume, chances are that few will be interested in reading it.

What does it mean to “write for the reader?” It means knowing what your reader needs and wants to know, and providing that information, and only that information, as early in the document as possible.

When it comes to the resume, the reader is typically a recruiter, a hiring manager or a potential employer.

What do we know about this reader? Well, we know that his or her time is limited. The resume reader (hiring manager) typically has hundreds of resumes to sort through, with a limited amount of time in which to do this, an important decision to make (“Which of these candidates is qualified enough to interview?”), and other work to complete.

Resumes typically receive an initial “reading” time of 15 seconds, or less. Therefore, it's important that your document sell your qualifications from the moment your reader picks up your document. It should make your reader feel, “This person understands what I’m trying to achieve. He or she has written this document for me.”

In order to write for the reader, you need to understand what your reader is trying to achieve and be able to make an educated guess regarding what it is he or she wants to know. If you have a good understanding of the positions you’re targeting, and what these positions will entail, then you already have a better sense of what your reader is hoping to secure than you may, at first, imagine.

For example, you know that your reader is trying to locate qualified candidates, and you know that what makes a candidate “qualified” is a certain set of skills, abilities and personality characteristics (often outlined in an ad). Therefore, any unrelated information (such as unrelated skills, positions, interests or hobbies), will have little value to this reader.

You know that your reader will only give about 15 seconds of attention to your document, so it would be wise to lead with the most important information in priority. This isn’t a reader who enjoys a good mystery.

And you know that your reader wants to find a candidate as soon as possible – so that he or she can get back to the business of doing business. So a great resume is ready when an opportunity presents itself, because the opportunity may be fleeting.

So, let’s sit on the side of the resume reader and pretend that it’s our job to select qualified candidates for the types of positions being targeted.

To locate potential candidates, we begin by writing an ad outlining the job’s criteria and posting this ad to the company Website, local newspaper, and area recruiters.

Here’s an example of an actual ad:

Leading Financial Services Company needs exceptional employees that have excellent communication skills, problem-solving skills and have strong attention to detail.

8 openings for Inbound Customer Service Representatives
Exceptional Benefits Package—to name a few 100%-company paid medical, dental, and life insurance policies
35 hour work week average

Do you qualify?
Work related experience
High School diploma or GED.

The Customer Service Representatives will provide exceptional customer service and product information when responding to inquiries from internal and external sources, whether by phone, e-mail or written correspondence. These sources include shareholders, brokers, third party administrators, and plan trustees/administrators. The CSR resolves account problems, performs complex research and processes transactions in accordance with established guidelines and within productivity and quality standards. CSRs may assume additional responsibilities as requested.

In our ad, we outline the key criteria the potential job candidate will need to meet in order for us to extend an invitation to interview.

We include information about the position, the company and the type of candidate we’re hoping to secure. While the ad doesn’t contain everything about the position, it does tell the reader (job hunter) what we want and need to know about him or her, and what we believe he or she needs to know in return.

For example, we indicate that we want a candidate who can provide “exceptional customer service.” We want a candidate who will be able to respond to inquiries from “internal and external sources, whether by phone, e-mail or written correspondence,” with “problem solving” skills and a “strong attention to detail.” We want a candidate who will be able to “perform complex research and process transactions in accordance with established guidelines, productivity and quality standards.”

We also want the candidate to know that there may be additional responsibilities not outlined in this ad (and the smart job hunter will inquire regarding what these “additional responsibilities” will entail at the interview). And finally, we want a candidate who has at least a high school diploma or GED, and has “work related experience.”

We post the ad on Friday morning, and arrive on Monday to find that the ad has been successful: resumes are coming in. In fact, hundreds have come in. There is now a stack of resumes on our desk three inches tall.

We grab the first handful with enthusiasm, hoping that the right candidate will make him or herself known so that we can get this project completed in short order. After all, our supervisor told us that he only wants us to devote an hour or two to these resumes, as we have other job responsibilities to complete today. He'd also like to be able to interview at least ten of the top candidates by the end of the week.

No pressure.

Until we actually read the first document and realize that this candidate has no related experience. Resume number two is impossible to follow. Resume number three is from someone looking for a top management position. Resume number four is from someone with customer service experience, but there are two typos in the first paragraph alone. Resume number seven details five jobs in the last nine months. The trashcan beside our desk is beginning to fill up and the hoped-for “potential candidate” pile is remaining unenthusiastically thin.

Resume number 22 is from a candidate who wants to know if he can do the job part-time, “No more than 25 hours per week.” Resume number 45 is from someone who doesn’t know how to use e-mail but is willing to learn. Resume number 52 comes in a fancy package and contains a CD-Rom that the candidate would like us to install in our computer, “A complete PowerPoint presentation outlining what I have to offer.” It’s trashed immediately. We look at the clock. It’s been two and a half hours and we’ve screened a hundred resumes with only a handful of slightly qualified candidate documents in the “potential candidate” pile. The other work we need to complete today – our regular work – is starting to stack up as high as the pile of resumes.

Resume number 105 is four pages long. Resume number 112 is a one-page document with text so small we can’t read a single line. Resume number 143 is from the most qualified candidate yet, but includes personal information that would be illegal for us to ask at the interview, such as the candidate’s age, marital status and number of dependents. Not willing to risk a potential claim of discrimination, we trash it with regret.

We begin to wonder if anyone’s actually read our ad. We scan the resume documents on our desk more quickly, devoting less and less time to each.

What is wrong with all of these resumes? Not one of them is written with the targeted reader in mind.

Bleary-eyed, we pick up resume document number 278 and read, “Skilled and qualified customer service representative offering a solid four-year background in the financial services industry.” We blink. We blink again. Is it possible? We read on, “ Experienced in complex research and transaction processes.” Yes, we think, this is more like it! “Deliver quality customer service and product information to brokers, shareholders, and administrators, via phone, e-mail and written correspondence.” Gosh! It’s like they were reading our mind! “Outstanding communication, organization and problem solving skills,” “detail-oriented,” “multi-tasking abilities,” “high school diploma,” and “currently completing Associate of Arts program in Communications.”

What’s right with this resume? It’s written with the targeted reader in mind. What makes this resume “great?” The person who wrote it will have an interview today.

(Hey, smart job hunter! E-mail me for the free interview practice file.)

Know Yourself

We could skip this whole section if you simply want to know how to write a great resume – one that will succeed in securing interviews. But the ultimate purpose of an interview is to secure a job offer that will present you with the greatest opportunity for success.

Using the information from the previous section, there’s no question that you should now be able to write an effective resume – one that will secure an interview (the layout and design may be a little fuzzy, but I have other articles to cover that, including: Resume Basics, Resume Formats, and Free Resume Examples). Yet, if your resume isn’t written as a true reflection of what YOU have to offer, then securing interviews is an empty pursuit, particularly as your interviewer discovers that you lack the qualifications necessary for the position. Ultimately, the goal of going on interviews is to secure employment.

So when you’re writing your resume, you need to make it a true reflection of what you have to offer. It can’t be a work of fiction. It needs to be an accurate portrayal of your skills, abilities, experiences, and achievements – as these relate to (or are relevant to) the positions and companies being targeted.

It’s not enough to simply answer the needs of your reader, particularly if doing so requires you be less than truthful. If I use the previous ad as an example, I may be tempted to tell the reader that I have experience in customer service, because I recognize that customer service experience is a key criterion of the position. But if I don’t have this experience, and I lie in my resume by stating that I do, even if I’m eventually hired for the position, my employment can be terminated at any time. I can be terminated regardless of whether or not I do a great job. I can be terminated even if I end up being the best customer service representative in the company. If I lie on my resume, and that lie is discovered, everything I’ve done and said up to that point becomes suspect, and my employer will have legitimate cause to terminate my employment.

And if I’m fired for lying on my resume, how am I going to use this experience to secure my next position? How am I going to convince anyone that my achievements here were legitimate?

Therefore, it’s important to target positions that are a good match for your particular skills, abilities, interests, aspirations, previous achievements and past contributions. This doesn’t mean that you can only target positions for which you have previous experience, or that you must meet every criteria in a job ad in order to apply, but that you should target positions that will be a good match for both you and the potential employer.

As you look through the list of criteria within each job ad you plan to target, determine how your skills and achievements align with the needs and requirements of your reader, and identify ways the in which you can show these skills in action.

Rules of A Great Resume:

Rule #1: Don’t lie.
Rule #2: Know your reader.
Rule #3: Know yourself.
Rule #4: Include everything relevant to the position that's important to your reader and to you.
Rule #5: Leave everything else off.

Results of a Great Resume:


Should I Hire a Professional Resume Writer?  /  1st-Writer.com Services

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Good luck in your job search! Sue Campbell Jones, 1st-Writer.com - over 18 years experience helping clients achieve their career and business goals. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions you may have. I'll be glad to help!

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This page last updated: 10/14/2013