Career Resources

How to Write a Winning Resume

Good resume form won’t guarantee a homerun, but bad resume form can take you out of the game.

Reed Morton

Whether your organization is downsizing or reengineering and you are faced with job uncertainty, you are just entering the job market, or you wish to change careers, you must not underestimate the importance of a well-written resume. With the stream of resumes flowing across a prospective employer’s desk, it’s important to set yourself apart from the competition. Good resume form won’t guarantee a homerun, but bad resume form can take you out of the game.

The Basic Resume

Most people who are staying in the same field and have a work history that shows growth, development, and accomplishment will find that a chronological resume is an appropriate and simple way to market themselves for a new position. Key elements of the resume include your name, address, phone number, work experience, and education. Additional information is optional.

Experience. The experience section of a chronological resume is the most crucial. The focus should be your achievements and accomplishments, since the past helps predict how well you will perform in the future. Although prospective employers are concerned about what you have achieved, they want to know what you can do for their organization. Don’t be modest, but don’t overstate your strengths either.

List each job title, place, and years of employment in reverse chronological order, beginning with your current position. There is no need to add month and day designators to your resume unless you have limited work experience or have changed jobs often. Then, provide a detailed description of your key responsibilities and major accomplishments for each position. Be sure to quantify accomplishments when possible. Saying that you exceeded a goal is one thing, but if you can tell the reader that member enrollment in your managed care plan increased 15 percent under your direction, he or she will surely be more impressed.

Choose your language just as carefully as you do in your daily business communication; each item should promote you in the employer’s eyes. Also, avoid an overabundance of qualifiers, such as “had exposure to” and “knowledge of.” Use action verbs instead. Most importantly, avoid verbose writing. Tight, concise phrasing is the best way to provide valuable information in a format that is easy to read.

Education. For most job hunters, the education section of a resume should follow the experience/accomplishments section or functional headings. Simply list each school, degree, year of graduation, and major.

Recent graduates may wish to add relevant course work that demonstrates their training. They may also choose to list professional development programs they have attended, such as the Congress on Healthcare Management, making sure to add a description of the event if the title does not reflect the content.

Optional elements. A “personal” or “interests” section is certainly optional and may be best-suited for entry-level applicants who wish to show interests and capabilities beyond their education and work experience. Nevertheless, if you opt to add such a section, avoid trivia and extraneous information by listing only items relevant to the job for which you are applying.

Other optional items include awards and honors, certificates and licenses, publications and speaking engagements, and a section for memberships and affiliations. If you feel strongly that such information is pertinent to your candidacy for a position, by all means add them. If you are a Fellow of ACHE, be sure to include your FACHE credential, a recognized hallmark of excellence in the field. You may also opt to use the FACHE credential after your name at the top of your resume.

The Functional Resume

Another traditional format is the functional resume, which is appropriate if you wish to transition into a different healthcare sector—from acute care to long-term care, for example—or are graduating from a health administration program. The functional resume emphasizes your demonstrated abilities first, then details your work experience. By cataloging your experience and capabilities by areasùphysician relations or network development, for exampleùeach with a separate headline, you can present your experiences in order of importance as they pertain to the job you are targeting. This also allows you to pool skills and responsibilities from several jobs and list them below one headline. Then, in your experience section, you will merely need to cite the title, employer, and dates of employment in reverse chronological order.

Regardless of which resume format you choose, always customize the resume to the job you are seeking, highlighting those strengths that will qualify you for the position.

Resume Design

When preparing your resume, focus your efforts on the content rather than the design. Although you will most likely hire a professional desktop designer, keep in mind that there are a few design essentials that apply to a good resume.

Make good use of white space by using a minimum of a one inch margin on all sides and be sure to leave ample space between sections. Also, use a type size that is easy on the eyes; a densely written resume is difficult to read. To add emphasis, use bold type or all capital letters in section headings. Underlining and italicization should be used sparingly. For your experience/accomplishments or functional section, indent text if you choose to write in paragraph form, or use bullets for lists. Both are good ways to offset text.

Always thoroughly proofread your resume, then ask someone else to scrutinize it for typographical, spelling, and grammatical errors. You should make sure to check the accuracy of company names and other factual information with which your proofreader may be unfamiliar.

Most importantly, remember that excessively lengthy resumes may automatically be rejected by a prospective employer. Although many experts believe that a resume should be limited to one page, nearly all executives will find they quickly outgrow one page, and possibly even two. Nevertheless, a resume is not a comprehensive curriculum vitae. You should limit the amount of information you wish to convey and, if possible, contain your resume to a single page, two at the most.

Once you have taken these suggestions into consideration and have rolled up your sleeves to start writing your resume, you will find the process less daunting. In the end, the results of your effort should be a well-planned, well-written, and error-free personal sales pitch that meets its objective: opening the door to an interview with your prospective employer.

Resume assistance is available to ACHE members through the Career Resource Center’s Resume Review/Critique Service. The service provides participants with a personalized critique of their resumes as well as sample resumes to aid in the revision process. For more information, click here or contact the Career Resource Center at (312) 424-9444.