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How to Create a Resume Outline

by John Nicholson, Resumes That Jump
Originally published: Jul 17, 2009

One of my favorite movies is The Karate Kid. I especially love when Mr. Miagi teaches Daniel the basics of karate without Daniel knowing it. Right after agreeing to be his teacher, Miagi makes Daniel spend long days doing chores like waxing his car, painting his fence, and washing his deck - all the time using repetitive techniques like "wax on in circle". Daniel keeps asking "when are we going to learn karate?" only to be tasked with yet another chore. After a few days of this, Daniel loses his patience, yells at Miagi, and begins to storm off. Miagi calls him back and commands Daniel to go through each of the techniques he learned - "wax on!" - only this time in the air. After Daniel starts each move, Miagi throws a series punches or kicks at him. To his amazement, Daniel is able to block all of Miagi's attacks with these simple moves. Everything comes together and Daniel suddenly realizes that he knows karate!

You should use the same approach - small pieces that all come together in the end - to write your resume. When most people try to create their resume, they open up a Word doc and jump write into writing and formatting what they think will be their actual resume. This leads to a lot of frustration and procrastination -- and eventually a mediocre resume. By breaking the process into manageable pieces, you'll get a much better result.

By the way, even if you already have a resume - and even if it's pretty good - use this approach. In fact, forget you already have one. You can always pull stuff from your existing resume later. For now, we want to "unlearn" what you've already done and start from scratch.

The first step is to get everything down in one place. The goal here is quantity, not quality. Don't overthink. Don't worry about writing quality. Just get it down! Use Notepad or another plain text editor rather than MS Word. This makes it easier to forget you're writing a resume, and will make you more prolific. If you write more easily with pen and paper than a keyboard, go that route and then type things up in a text doc after.

1. List your companies (5 min)

List all of the companies where you’ve worked, in reverse chronological order. Enter the company name in all caps. Next to each company include its location (city and state) as well as the dates you worked there.

2. List your positions (5 min)

Under each company you just listed, list every position you held there. What we're looking for here are unique positions, one per line. Positions are often the same as titles, but not always. For instance, a lot of people get promotions and title changes yet their position (in terms of job duties) remains the same. If this is the case for you, list both titles on the same line, like "Software Engineer / Senior Software Engineer". For any companies where you had multiple positions, include the dates you held each position in parentheses next to the positions.

3. List your duties (25 min)

Your boss comes to you and says "Hey, we want to hire someone to do the exact same things you do and I need to write a job description for Monster. Can you send me a list of things to include in the description?" What you'd list are your duties – things you were hired to do and that you do over and over again. Under each position you listed above, list duties. Remember, don't think too much - just write!

4. List your achievements (35 min)

Below each set of duties you just listed we now want to enter your work achievements. Work achievements are unique things you did that had a lasting impact for your company or client. Typically they are things that you created, built, designed, sold or initiated. And they are absolute gold for resumes. Most people spend all of their resume talking about duties - and they fail to stand out because plenty of others have those same duties. Focus instead on accomplishments and you'll be miles ahead of your peers.

The best way to spell out your achievements is through the "P-A-R" (problem-action-result) process. For each achievement answer the following:

Problem - What was the problem or situation?
Action - What did you do to solve the problem or make the situation better?
Result - What was the outcome?

Here's an example:

Problem: Slow load times on many pages on corporate website
Action: Redesigned database and rewrote SQL queries
Result: Sped up load times by 50% and reduced site abandonment by 30%

Having trouble thinking of achievements? Ask yourself if you've ever done any of the following ...

For any of these you said Yes to, there's probably an achievement somewhere behind it. Take your time and do this step thoroughly, creating as many P-A-R statements as possible. It will pay off later!

5. List your skills or core competencies (5 min)

Go to the very bottom of your text doc. We’re going to create a few new lists. Add the heading “SKILLS” and below it list your key skills or core competencies. Specific skills or knowledge areas are important to include if you're primarily doing work rather than managing it. If you have skills in multiple areas, take a minute to think about the best way to group them, then list them in the appropriate group.

If you're a senior manager, director, or executive whose specific skills are no longer an important part of your day-to-day work, you should instead list your broader core competencies. The best way to think of these is to think about common threads in the projects you've worked on. Examples might be "team building", "project management", or "application development".

6. List your attributes (5 min)

Next add the heading “ATTRIBUTES” and list your most impressive personal and/or work style attributes. If you asked your supervisor or co-workers to describe the best things about you and your working style, what would they say? Things you might include here include "detail-oriented", "fast coder", or "great communicator". List everything you can think of. By the way, this is a popular interview question!

7. List your degrees and everything else (5 min)

Finally, add the heading “EDUCATION ETC.” and list your degrees as well as relevant coursework, certifications, training, memberships, and awards. For degrees, include school, location, major, and graduation year.

8. Reorder your lists (5 min)

Great. You've just come up with all of the core material you'll need for your resume. For many, this is the hardest part. But before moving on, let's do one last thing with our lists. Start with your duty lists. Go back and reorder each position's duties in order of importance, with the most important duty at the top. Then do the same thing for each of all your other lists -- achievements, skills, and so on.

9. Insert outline section headings (5 min)

Now that you have the key ingredients for your resume, you need to put it into an outline. We don't want to worry about design and formatting yet. So just open up a new text doc in Notepad or a similar text editor.

Insert section headings for a "chronological" resume format (which is strongly preferred by recruiters and hiring managers over "functional" or "skills-based" resumes). Use all caps so these will stand out when you start adding content. Start with "PROFILE", "PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE", and "EDUCATION". For many people, these three will be sufficient.

10. Insert outline building blocks (5 min)

Under "PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE", copy and paste all of the companies and positions you listed in Chapter 3 (Steps 1 and 2) on your other text doc. Stop there - don't worry about duties or achievements yet. Under "EDUCATION", copy and paste everything you listed in Step 7. Below is an example of how this might look.



ABC CORP NORTH AMERICA, San Jose, CA, 2006 – Present

Senior Technology Manager

XYZ TECHNOLOGIES, INC., Santa Cruz, CA, 2003 – 2006

Lead Developer

SOLAR TECH, INC., Sunnyvale, CA, 2001 – 2003

Web Developer


University of California at Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA
MS, Computer Science, 2001

Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA
BA, Literature, 1999

Microsoft Certified Professional Developer (MCPD)
Certified MySQL 5.1 Developer (CMDEV)

Once you have an outline for your resume, it's time to turn your work experience lists into crisp, resume-ready bullets.