The Job Search: Resume Basics

by Caitlin Kirchner | Leave a Comment

A solid resume is one of the most important tools to have in your belt when conducting your job search and building your career. This document is a snapshot of your qualifications and the first glimpse an employer has of you. Here are some tips to make an outstanding first impression:

CONTENT

Identify Yourself:

physical therapy career resume basicsThis is the first section where you provide the basic information about yourself to the employer. Make sure to include your name, phone number, email address and physical address. If you are applying for jobs out of the area where you currently live, consider asking a friend or family member if you can use their address as a local address. Some employers may not consider out-of-area applicants because of moving costs, the time it takes to move, etc. That said, make sure to be honest about your location during the interview.

Objective:

The objective is where you can describe what you’re looking for or briefly highlight your skills. This section is really only needed when you are explaining your job search (for example, changing careers paths, coming back from a long absence, etc.). Otherwise, save the valuable real estate for the “meat” of your resume and write a cover letter. If you do choose to highlight an objective, it should be concise and specific – a well-crafted sentence will be plenty.

Qualifications:

This is the “meat” of your resume, where you show why you are the most qualified candidate for the job.  Typically you can show your qualifications in two ways: education and experience.

Education: This section should come first if you are a recent graduate or if your biggest qualification is your education. Content in this section should include:

  • Institution and location (city and state)
  • Degree you have or will receive (spell out the degree, not “BS” or “BA”)
  • A specialization, if applicable
  • The year you have received or will receive the degree (you do not need to say “expected” for a date in the future – the employer will infer that!)

You can also list GPA, Academic accomplishments (like Dean’s List) and study abroad experience. Typically high school information should not be included.

Experience: This section should come first when your experience is relevant to the position you are applying for and when you have been in the workforce for at least a couple of years. Highlight any relevant or significant skills, including work, internship and volunteer experience. Don’t be afraid to do a brain dump if needed, because it is likely that you have done more than you realize! For each segment in this section, be sure to include:

  • Organization’s/Employer’s name and location (city and state)
  • Your title/position and dates of employment (month and year)
  • Description of your responsibilities and accomplishments in BULLETED form. Each bullet should start with an action verb. These bullets are your opportunity to highlight how you took on responsibility, achieved outcomes and made a difference in the organization

You can customize you experience section with different headers like “Related Experience,” “Clinical Experience” or “Professional Experience.” Use the terms that fit you best! Remember that experience can also come in the form of volunteer work, activities, or if you’re a student, internships and clubs.

The verbs that start each bullet point should be strong and describe the core of the responsibility. Action verb lists are a great resource and can be easily found online; consider utilizing one as a reference while you craft your resume.

Additional Sections:

Additional sections included on your resume could include publications, skills or community involvement. If you choose to utilize these types of sections, think about whether or not they’re relevant to the position you are applying for and if they will set you apart from the competition.

Talk About It:

The biggest thing to remember when it comes to the content of your resume is:  you must be able to speak to it. If you include an item on your resume and an employer asks you about it in an interview, nothing will look worse than not being able to articulate its value or relevance. Fill your resume with the bones and muscles, not the fluff.

FORMAT & DESIGN

Be Consistent:

Choose a formula for your formatting and stick to it.  If you don’t, not only will your first impression look chaotic and disorganized, but you run the risk of ending up in the “no” pile. Every detail counts, especially if you’re in a competitive market.

Reverse Chronological Order:

In each category, all of your content should be presented with the most recent thing first. This style is most frequently used because it places the most recent and relevant information at the top, where it will be read first.

Writing style:

In a resume, sentences do not need to be complete or have periods. As always though, be consistent with the choices you make. Also ensure the proper tense is being used with your verbs. For instance, use past tense for anything in a position you do not currently hold and use present tense for your current activities and positions. Additionally, avoid using the first person singular case (“I,” “my,” “me”).

Spacing:

Stay within one page. Edit down where you need to, but all the important things should fit on a single page, excluding references. The exceptions to this rule are:  if you have an advanced degree (a master’s degree or above), or you have a significant number of years of experience (10+). If you don’t fit one of these, edit and reformat until you’re at one page.

Hold your printed resume page back and look for white spaces. These shouldn’t be big holes. If they are, you’re wasting valuable real estate! Assess why those big holes are there, and then edit the format and content to correct it.

If there’s one thing you can do for yourself in the job search, it is to make time to optimize your resume.  You get one chance to make a first impression when you meet someone, and the same is true for a job application – your resume is that first impression. Write out your content, edit as you would any other document, and then have at least two other people read it as well. Details and consistency matter! Keep it relevant and reflective of you because this is your chance to impress. Do it right and you’ll be on your way.

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