Tips for Writing Your Resume

For ten years, I was the National Director of the National Writers Union's Technical Writer's Trade Group. I was worked as a contractor, manager, or director at many Silicon Valley dotcoms, which meant that I worked with recruiters on every side of the table. We held many seminars to help our junior members to get better jobs and better salaries.

Tips on How to Distribute Your Resume to Recruiters, HR, and Managers

  • Manage Your Career: The most important job you have is to be the manager of your career. Make sure you maximize the value of your skills, learn new skills, build and maintain your social network, and keep your eyes on the horizon. India and China are growing fast and are competing on the global market: US companies face unprecedented economic challenges. If you "just get a job and settle down", you'll wake up one day and find that you no longer have a job: you won't even have an industry.
  • Learn Constantly: Subscribe to your industry's journals. Pay attention to new trends. Go to trade shows. Talk with directors and ask them what is coming. Take courses. Don't just keep up. Get ahead.
  • Build Your Network: Patti Wilson is the top career counselor in Silicon Valley. One of her clients said "I don't have time to network. I need a job". Well, honey, that's why you don't have a job. You must develop and maintain your social network. Why? Because life doesn't work the way they taught you in school. Eveyone doesn't have an equal opportunity. The rich get richer and 20% of the workers get 80% of the profits. Whether you call it gangs, tribes, fraternities, unions, or industry associations, they all work the same: a group has an advantage over individuals in getting resources and taking care of its own. Learn how networks function. Read Albert-Laszlo Barabasi's Science of Networks and Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point. Basically, friends hire friends. A friend with connections is more valuable than a beautiful resume. So join your industry association, become active, and get to know others in your industry. See the list of Professional Associations in Silicon Valley
  • Profit Center vs Cost Center: In a company, departments can be divided into two groups: does it produce a profit? Or is it one of the costs of doing business? Janitorial services, for example, are a cost. They are necessary but don't produce profits. Sales, in contrast, produces profits. For every $10,000 you put into sales, you get $40,000 in profits. This means directors try to reduce costs and maximize profits. If your job is a cost, don't expect raises or a future. If your job produces profits, management will offer you incentives and opportunies to generate more profits.
  • Put Your Resume Online: Once you've written your resume, put it online and make sure it can be found in Google. It's easy and free to use Wordpress or Wix.
  • Get on LinkedIn: has become the industry-standard for social networking. Managers and recruiters use LinkedIn to find workers or check references. Set up a page about yourself at Look at my profile in LinkedIn and use it as a template for your profile. If you like, link to me (search for me at LinkedIn).

Technology and Your Resume

Let's look at how your resume reaches the manager's desk. If you understand what happens to your resume as it goes from your hand to her desk, you'll have a better idea how to get it there.

  • During most of the process, humans don't read your resume. Your resume will be handled by computers. Machines receive resumes. Machines store resumes. Machines search through mountains of resumes.
  • No manager in their right mind will advertise a job in the newspapers. They'll get hundreds of useless resumes from unqualified people and waste days in reviewing these. It's also a bad sign that a manager is advertising in a newspaper for a position: she doesn't have contacts to find workers; she doesn't know how to work with recruiters; she's tight with the budget and is trying to avoid recruiters, and so on.
  • The company decides that they need someone to document widgets and to do it in Word on a Macintosh. So they ask the recruiter to send resumes of people who know widgets, know Word, and use a Mac. They don't want to see anything else.
  • The recruiter has a job order for a widgets writer. She searches her database by using the keywords: "widgets + word + macintosh". This works exactly in the same way that you search Google for your favorite words.
  • The recruiter has a database of some 20,000 to 50,000 resumes. Recruiters collect these resumes by placing ads in all media: newspapers, billboards, radio, TV, movie houses, and the Internet. They advertise general job descriptions and ask people to send resumes. The resumes are scanned or copied into the resume database.
  • The keyword search brings up several dozen resumes which contain all three words. She will add more keywords to reduce the number of resumes. From that, she selects the best candidates. She hands the list to a low-level recruiter who calls to see if you are available. The recruiter finally presents the top five candidates to the manager.
  • Don't assume recruiters understand the job description. Recruiters are generally young, university-educated people with degrees in something non-technical: literature, theology, whatever. So they often haven't the slightest idea about widgets. You should be ready to explain widgets to the recruiter. You'll notice the recruiter won't even read your resume. You've written "Widgets for Dummies", you host the popular TV show "Widgets are from Pluto" and she will still ask if you are familiar with widgets.
  • Recruiters only glance at the top third of the first page of your resume. So put your best information there.
  • The recruiter will then try to set up an interview. Be flexible and available: anytime, anywhere. Don't make conditions or talk about taking your cat to the vet.
  • Managers as well only briefly scan the resume. Don't wait for them to ask: be ready to give three good, short reasons why you're perfect for the job.
  • Pre-interview: Always get the manager's name and number "just in case something comes up". And then call the manager and discuss the job. Since the recruiter rarely knows what a widget is, and the job description may not have been very clear, you want to make sure that you are not going to waste time in going to an interview. It can take an entire morning to do an interview. So discuss the skills, the duties, and the salary range. Managers appreciate these calls; they too don't want to waste an hour on a pointless interview because a clueless recruiter sent your resume.
  • Bring THREE copies of your resume. Recruiters often lose part of your resume; the faxed copy may look awful, a manager may have lost it on their messy desk.

Bad Resumes for OCRs

These items will confuse an OCR system and your resume may become unreadable:

  • Double columns
  • Odd fonts
  • Odd font sizes
  • Remarkable layout
  • Hyphenation
  • Misspelling

Proofread Your Resume

  • Check for misspellings. Use the spell check and then go over it again. While some managers won't care, most will toss a misspelled document on the spot.
  • An OCR system will not compensate for misspellings. If you misspell your critical keywords, your resume will not be found.

Don't Send Resumes by Fax or Postal Mail

  • The fax output isn't too clear and OCR systems may make mistakes and thus your keywords aren't findable. Multiple pages can get lost.
  • Don't send resumes by postal mail. The resume will be scanned. OCR makes 1% mistakes, which means on a page of 350 words, about 4 words will be misspelled. Your multiple pages may be separated. Your mail may be lost by the US Mail, arrive late, etc.

Send Resumes by E-mail

  • They get an electronic copy which can be stored on their database.

The Ideal Resume

This resume format has been "recruiter-tested"; I've interviewed a number of recruiters and discussed every line of this resume. This is the format they like to see. You're welcomed to use this, copy it, and forward it. If you want to print this for print or web publication, please contact me. (c) 2000 Andreas Ramos.

Adapt your resume into this structure. Be sure to remove the comments within parentheses!

Here's this resume as a Word file. Just click, save to your computer, edit it, and use it.

Cynthia Snow
123 El Camino Real
Silicon Valley, CA 99999
Tel. 650.123.9999
Fax. 650.123.9999
Cell Phone: 650.123.9999
Pager: 650.123.9999

(Note: Your resume will be stored in the recruiter's resume database. Recruiters use database programs to search their database. They search for keywords of the primary skills, such as "C++, unix, HTML" to find resumes. Therefore, your resume should be a simple text file with many keywords.)

(Note: Write your resume in your email software. Format your entire resume to the left. Don’t bother with nice layout. Don’t center. Don’t use underline, bold, or italics. Don’t use bullets.)

(Note: Send your resume within the body of the email. Do not send it as an attachment; many recruiters don’t use your word processor and they won’t be able to read it. If you like, send it as an email and then as a secondary item, attach it as a Word file, so that the recruiter will have an emailed version for her database and a Word version to print out.)

Currently available for a permanent or temporary position in onsite, offsite, or mix.
Live in Palo Alto, will work from Redwood City to Cupertino. Will relocate to North Dakota. (Note: Let your recruiter know how far you will commute or relocate.)
US citizen or resident with valid work permits.
Resume updated January, 2000

(Note: Show that you are flexible. Don’t be fussy with restrictions. Do not state your salary history or requirements.)


Technical writer 4 years expr. Word, 2 years HTML on Unix
(Note: Write a short, one line description of your main skill set. Don’t write "Seeking a challenging position for personal growth." No recruiter searches for those words in their resume databases. They search for keywords of tools and platforms.)


(Note: Don’t be intimidated by this list! These are examples. List every hardware system and software package. Use the full name, e.g., Apple Macintosh, not Mac.)

Hardware: IBM-compatible PC with Microsoft DOS, Microsoft Windows 3.1, Apple Macintosh and System 7
Operating Systems: UNIX, MS-DOS, MS-Windows, OS/2, Mac OS, GO, PenPoint
Software: Microsoft Word 5.x, 6.x, and 97, Excel, Microsoft Office, PhotoShop, WordPerfect for DOS 5.3, Lotus 1-2-3, Lotus Notes, Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Internet Explorer.
Computer Languages: Visual Basic, PowerScript, C, C++, Basic, Cobol, Assembler
Human Languages: Fluent in written and spoken Japanese. Read Swahili and Norwegian.


Company, City, State. Month/Year-Month Year
Functional Job Title
Description of responsibilities. Use keywords, not prose. List the exact and full names of hardware, software, tools, and tasks. Be specific. Quantify how much you managed, how much you saved, how much you produced. Note awards.

(Note: Here's an example)

Silicon Weekly Newsletter. Palo Alto, CA. May 96-Nov. 97
Online Newsletter Editor
Editor of content and layout for a award-winning startup online web weekly sent via Marimba web push technology to 900,000 subscribers. Managed budget of $250,000. Supervised two full-time staff and three off-site contractors. Microsoft Word 7 on IBM-PC Pentium with Windows 98 and Macintosh System 8, photographed with Sony 600-dpi digital camera, digital image editing with Photoshop 4.0 on Mac. Used Claris Homepage on Mac for HTML layout and Pagemaker on Windows for 24-page 4-color print layout. 1996 Pulitzer Prize in journalism.

(Note: Keep the resume focussed on jobs related to your main skill set. Don't list irrelevant jobs, such as waiter jobs, etc.)
(Note: Size of resume: Two pages is fine and five pages at the most.)
(Note: List jobs up to 5-10 years ago. Anything older is probably obsolete!)


Certificate in HTML and web design from Foothill College
Bachelor of Arts. Silicon University. (Note: Do not give the graduation date.)
(Note: Do not list your Harvard Ph.D. It makes you either overqualified (they may think you'll be too expensive) or underskilled (you spent too many years away from the job market and you don't have current computer skills.))
California College Instructor Credential
(Note: About Education. Don't worry about a lack of degrees or degrees from lesser-known colleges: some successful Silicon Valley technical writers are only high school graduates.)
(Note: If you're on the Left Coast, you don't need a degree in technical writing. If you're on the Right Coast, some areas may require a technical writing degree, regardless of experience. So... if you're on the Right Coast and you don't have such a degree, either get a certificate in technical writing or go west, young dude!)


National Writers Union (NWU). 1994-present
Society for Technical Communication (STC). 1995-present
IEEE. 1993-present
(Note: List whatever is relevant to your job. Don't list irrelevant memberships.)


Mother of two, loves gardening (Note: If she is applying for a job at a startup, this means she won’t put in killer hours.)
Life member, NRA (Note: Anti-gun people may choose not to hire you.)
Life-member, Peace and Love Party (Note: NRA members may choose not to hire you.)
(Note: In general, don’t list your hobbies or social interests. You’re being hired to work on a project, not socialize.)
(Note: Do not mention age, health condition, sexual preferences, etc.)
(Note: Avoid cliche phrases such as "References available on demand." Of course you have references.)

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