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Writing a Resume

Started by JM, September 06, 2008, 03:21:58 PM

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I never really learned how to write one. I'm hoping to get one done over this weekend, but the university help offices are closed until Monday (also because we have a tropical storm). Can someone gimme a hand and tell me how it all works? E.g. the format?

Thanks! :]


In college, they're gonna tell you there's some standard format for resumes, and you basically put your own info into a form. Yes, you can do it that way, and a lot of people do, but I've also learned through my own experience, that it's good to vary it a bit to suit both the job you're applying for, and your own personality.

Here's my "standard" resume, for moderately technical jobs. Most of the skills listed are computer/technical in nature because that's where my main strengths are. However, if I were going for another customer service job (or sales) I'd be highlighting my communication and writing abilities more.

QuoteJames Otting
9999 Fake Street
San Antonio, TX 78249

Boerne High School, Graduated May 2000, GPA > 93/100
Texas A&M University, B.A. in Journalism, Minor in English, Graduated May 2004, GPA 3.14

Extensive experience troubleshooting both hardware and software problems in Windows, Linux, and Macintosh environments.

Windows (all versions through 2003) server administration, including Exchange, Active Directory, IIS, etc. as well as all normal workstation/PC troubleshooting tasks such as virus removal, Exchange/Office problems, driver issues, hardware diagnostics, etc.

Web design, including graphic design and server-side scripting with database integration.

Languages: PHP, SQL, Python, Shell (Bash), HTML/CSS, JavaScript, also some Visual Basic, C and C#.

Graphic design/layout, primarily in Photoshop/Gimp, also Inkscape, Quark, Flash, Illustrator, and others. (Examples available.)

3D modeling/animation, primarily in 3D Studio MAX, some Maya and Blender.

Audio/Video Post-Production (digital), editing/composition, mostly in Premiere.

Familiar with set-up/use of most A/V and presentation equipment, including multi-channel concert sound systems, digital projectors, PA systems, etc.
Phone system (PBX) troubleshooting, configuration, and installation. Mostly NEC and Samsung, some Lucent.
Network/phone/AV wiring installation and troubleshooting, both new construction and add-on.
Writing and editing for both printed and spoken delivery. Well versed in AP style.


10/06 - CURRENT Unicas Land and Development, Boerne, TX
Family business, brought in by my father to help with a commercial office park development, which is now approaching completion. Some minor IT support and graphic design, otherwise non-technical.

07/06 - 09/06 Universal Computer Systems, College Station, TX
Server/Mainframe Support, responsible for maintenance, testing, and deployment of hardware/software for disaster recovery scenarios. Worked in 300+ server datacenter, continually reconfiguring and testing systems for various client contracts, deploying equipment as needed for client-declared disasters. Systems ranged from basic 2U Xeon servers, to AS/400 mainframes, and ran varying version of Windows, Solaris, BSD, and Linux/Unix. Was also tasked with developing and verifying system deployment/install documentation.

07/05 - 05/06 Northwest Data Services, Steamboat Springs, CO
Technology Consultant, responsible for setting own appointments, dealing directly with clients, keeping track of materials and labor performed, as well as performing repairs/installs both on-site and in-shop. Basically provided one-stop tech support for dozens of clients. Installations included physical networks in new residential construction, Windows servers/workstations and PBX systems for commercial offices, up through installation of a Cisco router and frame-relay link for an airport's flight data transponder. Repairs included everything from simple virus removal and PC hardware repair on a tech bench, to replacement of aging PBX systems for banks, up through remote troubleshooting and eventual replacement of a live firewall system serving 5 state-wide offices (and 300 employees) via multiple frame-relay and VPN links.

10/04 - 05/05 Steamboat Springs Transit, Steamboat Springs, CO
Seasonal (Ski Season) City Bus Driver, Steamboat Springs, CO. Class B CDL job, responsible for safe, on-time operation of transit bus in all conditions, including ice/snow on mountain roads at night. Required simultaneous customer service, mostly answering questions about the town and helping people locate what they need, as well as managing drunk or angry passengers.

As you can see, the basics are pretty much just listing what's relevant to your job. Start with your education, and include any special courses or certifications you have (e.g. MCSE) If you've got a lot of certs, make another section. Some people list their job history next, but mine is kinda crummy, so I put my skills first. For the skills section, target the stuff that will (or might) apply to your new job. Don't list knitting if you're going to an IT job, but it could be good if you're applying to a craft store. I split my skills up into computer and "other" because it made more sense for me. You might want to do the same.

For the job history, it's general practice to list your current job first, and then go backwards in time. Make sure any gaps in the dates are explained. E.g. "Returned to school for my MBA" can be under this section. The key here is to highlight the parts of that job that might be useful in this new position. E.g. under my bus driving job, I make sure to highlight the customer service aspects, because dealing with a lost or angry passenger on a bus, isn't much different than dealing with an angry or confused computer customer on the phone. Also try and point out at least a single "moment" where you overachieved. The Northwest Data job, I point out the hardest project I had, with the 5 office networking system upgrade. Usually if you list something like that, you'll get asked for more details on it during an interview, and that'll give you a chance to really "brag" about all the details you know, without making the resume itself very long.

That's another key, don't make the resume too long OR too short. A good full page or two is usually best. If you make it much longer than that, odds are you're including irrelevant details, and the recruiter is just gonna get bored before reading it all. Shorter than that, and it's gonna stand out as being inexperienced. Just remember that lists don't have to be complete. Prioritize! If your resume is running long, find the least important things and get rid of those. Likewise, if you need to "puff up" your resume a little, then it's easy to just add some more detail to your job descriptions, or think of a few other skills you might have that aren't obvious.

Now, once you get all that sorted, then it's time to decide how adventurous you feel! The reason I say that, is because I never got a single job with just that resume. I usually like to make myself stand out somehow. I don't like to take things TOO seriously, so I do the same with resumes. Small things I've done include replacing my GPA (3.14) with the greek letter pi, as a bit of a math joke. For this last job, most of the actual application was done through their online system, and the standard stuff like job history just had to go in the forms as they'd dictated. For the skills bit though, I seperated out "Computer Skills" into two sections. I was applying for a linux specific job, so I figured I needed to highlight stuff specific to that. But I also realized I don't have any certs or easily listable stuff, so I just wrote a short essay format section. (Which most people will tell you never to do on a resume.)

LINUX SKILLS (AKA: Why you should consider hiring me.):
I'm a linux geek. I've run it on dozens of desktops, lots of laptops, several routers, a PDA, the PS3, and even an old Sega Dreamcast. For the past 6 years it's been my exclusive desktop OS, and for the past 7 years, I've run a linux web/mail/database server, providing a non-profit, free hosting service for hundreds of artists, musicians, and writers.

That hosting project ( has been run on a variety of hardware over the years -- from a FedEx box with components held together by duct tape, stashed under a dorm room bed, and dishing out a few megs of email for a couple friends -- to the current incarnation of a multi-core 3U server with a raid 5 array, running multiple VMs and transferring a terabyte a month to over 300K unique IPs. Over the years, I've designed and implemented several system layouts for it, each one improving on the last, and utilizing the new knowledge I'd acquired in the interim. The primary software systems involved include Apache, php, Postfix (and later Courier), openSSH, MySQL, and various incarnations of ftp, imap, pop3, etc. The later designs have web control panels I've coded in PHP/CSS/JavaScript, which hand off variables and instructions via a database to the backend automation, which is written in bash, python, and sql. In addition to coding the main user and admin site automation, I've also written dozens of small scripts, doing things such as sorting user sites by their last update, searching for gaps in logfiles that might indicate connectivity problems, locating known exploits in user-installed webapps like forums or wordpress installs, monitoring for runaway CGI processes, or providing users with a quick way to analyze their logfiles or check their file/folder permission security. I've also set up intelligent spam filters that provide users with easy drag-n-drop training via imap, implemented differential, automated backup systems, run forensic analysis after hacking attempts, set up intrusion detection systems, scripted user data migrations to new machines, and established QoS load balancing firewalls.

With hundreds of users -- each of whom receives a system-level shell account that can execute arbitrary code -- security and reliability have been a major focus. I've worked hard to implement a system that provides high levels of partitioning between different users as well as between users and the underlying system, yet allows a maximal amount of user freedom and functionality. The project has also given me a lot of experience working directly with users of all knowledge levels, ranging from IT professionals needing help getting the proper regular expression syntax for mod_rewrite, to artists that have never even seen a command prompt and just want to delete a read-only file.

In addition to running a linux server full time, I use Gentoo as my desktop/laptop OS. Day in and day out, I do most everything important via the command line. I routinely create packages for software that's not in the distro, and patches for things that are. If there's not an easy way to do what I want, I write one. I'm always scripting, tinkering, or testing something, because I can't resist trying to improve stuff.

I've even installed Gentoo on my mom's computer, and she's the least technical (and most easily frustrated) person I know. She only learned to use email a few years ago, and still thinks "the terminal" is a place to board a plane. Yet I've been able to keep her completely happy in a pure linux setup, even when I lived 3 states away. I feel that if I can keep her happy, then normal linux-using customers should be no problem at all.

OTHER (GENERIC) COMPUTER SKILLS (AKA: Why others would consider hiring me.):
and it continued with the same stuff from my original resume.

This is going way longer than I planned, but I think the key is this: A resume is to get your foot in the door and get you that face-to-face interview. It's gonna be read by an actual human somewhere, who's probably spent most of the day reading other resumes. You either have to obviously be better than everyone else, or you have to stand out for your personality. I aim for an air of "professional-yet-human" in my approach. I want them to realize I take this seriously, but still have a sense of humor and a personality. Hope that helps!


Thanks for all the help! I like a bit of humor too. My dad tried to help me write a resume, but he's way too executive-like to really relate. :X

It's hard to figure out certain job stuff since I'm in an entirely different state (college in Virginia, home in Hawaii). Hopefully the employers won't be too bad.

Hooo boy, I'm starting to feel like an adult. :O


Oh! Uhmm what about writing references?  :-\


This is the stuff from my college.  Does your own college career center have a website with advice?

What job are you applying for?  Also, if you write a basic resume, I'd be happy to look it over.  I'm not an expert or anything but I might be able to help for word choice.

As for references, you will want to contact the people you'd like to be references, get their contact information in case the potential employer wants to call them, and list their information.
"You can get all A's and still flunk life." (Walker Percy)


I've never been one to put references on my resume itself. Usually they make those calls after they offer you the job, as part of the background check process. Some companies never check at all, but those that do will usually ask for contacts/references when it comes to the point that they need them. Do make sure you keep a list though, especially as you go forward in your career. I find I have a hard time even remembering who my boss was at some of my earlier jobs, much less the company contact info. I now have a file of "previous employers" that I can quickly reference when someone needs that info.


I put "references on request"; then bring a copy of the best three on a typed sheet to the interview. Former employers who liked you, older relatives and family friends in similar industries; or teachers/coaches who remember you by name are good choices. If you're gonna use their name, ask them first!

Also, I've had to review more than a few resumes: one to two pages, tops. Don't get to fancy, readability and correct spelling count a lot!

Many companies have their own form (or better yet, online form, and only want a brief resume with the cover letter in the mail.


Yeah, for resumes, the shorter, the better, I found out. The one I created in Business class was kind of wordy, but when it was cut down for Portfolio class it came out looking a lot nicer. (The funny thing is, my Business teacher was like "more more more" and my Portfolio teacher was like "less less less")

I referenced former graduates' resumes as templates, and they were pretty basic achievements/work experience/so on since they had to be one page. I've grown fond of that style. Make sure you write in every award you've gotten ever. (Relevant, of course.)

I always say references on request but I'm actually not sure what I'd do if they were requested. Not that I have many... Contact info?
And wasn't it you who told me,
"The sun would always chase the day"?