Looking Great on Paper: Writing the Best Resume for Your Job Search

Important tips to get your resume ready for your next job opportunity.

Posted: 03/28/2013 08:00 AM EDT

The job market has been tough — to say the least — over the past few years. That doesn't mean you should be discouraged if you are looking for a new position. It just means you are going to need a standout resume to help you find a job. Depending on your work experience, education level, and/or time away from the workforce, your resume is an opportunity to highlight the positives about you, even if you have experienced some setbacks. Here are some important tips to get your resume ready for your next job opportunity.

TIP #1 — Highlight Your Education:

Employers will always want to know your educational experiences. If you have a college degree, postgraduate degree, or specialized course of study certificate, it is important to highlight when and where you attended school and any types of special curriculum (e.g. a major of study) or achievements that will make you uniquely suited to a position.

You don't need to include undergraduate education on your resume unless you graduated, are in the process of graduating or achieved a certification. If an employer asks for education information, you should be very clear about your level of educational achievement. Many people without formal education are able to succeed in the workplace.

If you did not complete high school but have your GED, rather than listing this under Education, list it in Skills.

TIP #2 — Tout Your Experience:

A lot of people who are new to the workforce face that challenge of having little to no work experience and being overlooked because of that. If you have no work experience, title this section "Qualifications" instead.

If you prepare a Qualifications section, focus on past volunteer work or work you've done for friends or family over the years. As a simple example, if you are trying to get a job as a Certified Nurse's Assistant (CNA), your training may have included helping to care for an elder in your family. That experience will relate directly to the job.

If you've had at least one job, label the section "Experience" so you can include your jobs and internships.

Action words are very important in all of your descriptions. Be brief and to the point, using phrases like "managed," "led," "organized" and "participated in."

TIP #3 — Show Your Skills:

List any skills that highlight your unique value. These skills could include speaking multiple languages, word processing skills or public speaking ability.

Computer skills are important in almost any job. If you don't have computer skills and don't have a computer, you should spend time at your local public library learning to use programs like Microsoft Word, Excel and Power Point. Once you have a firm grasp on how to use them, list them in your skills under a category called "Software."

Physical skills that would help to qualify you for manual labor positions work well in this category. Even if your education isn't your strongest quality, your ability to perform certain physical tasks may make you the right fit for a job.

TIP #4 — Get Good References:

You can either note "references available upon request" on your resume or you can list your references. If you choose to list them, you should list three references who are not your relatives.

While using business references (past managers, business owners you've helped, managers of volunteer projects you've worked on) is ideal, you can also use personal references, such as pastors, youth group leaders, mentors or community members who know you well. Be sure that these people know that they are listed as your references, and that you provide up-to-date contact information for them.

TIP #5 — Don't Fall Victim to Poor Spelling, Grammar or Formatting

Most computers use spell checkers, but sometimes you'll make mistakes that aren't related to spelling, like typing "and" when you meant to type "an." Read your resume twice for this sort of mistake. Reading out loud or backwards are great ways to catch typographical errors you might otherwise miss.

The way your resume looks makes a difference. Most people suggest that your resume be only one page long, and that you leave white space. Look at resumes online and copy a format you like.

Fonts matter. Some fonts on computers are really pretty, or look interesting, but they aren't professional. Use a standard font like Garamond or Arial.

Paper choices should be clean. You may not be able to afford a premium linen paper to print your resume, but never opt for frilly papers or stationary with graphics printed on them.

Unless the position specifically calls for it, don't include a photo on your resume. It can be a turn off for some recruiters, so it's best to play it safe on this one.

TIP #6 — Never, Ever, Misrepresent or Lie:

You should know that you have value. No matter what challenges you are facing, you are quite capable. By focusing on your strengths, you can create a great resume. While it may be tempting to exaggerate or inflate your experience, doing so will always come back to haunt you. For example, never say you "led a team" if you had no direct reports and did not manage projects that required you to delegate work to multiple people.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

BET National News - Keep up to date with breaking news stories from around the nation, including headlines from the hip hop and entertainment world. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter. 

(Photo: Getty Images/STOCK)

Videos You May Like

From Our Partners