I am often asked how long writing a resume should take. There are several ways to answer this question; the first one depends on whether you are prepared with all of your information before you sit down to write. And whether you are writing a private sector or federal resume—or both!
Here is what you need to have ready to prepare a strong resume before you sit down to write:
• A target job posting. Key words are essential. You’ll need to identify the key words of the postings or kind of job you are pursuing. If you are writing a resume for the private sector, you should assume that your resume will be “read” by Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) which will search for key words. If you are writing a federal resume, you should know that USAJOBS is not an ATS; however, Human Resources (HR) professionals will be reviewing your resume to ensure your experience as outlined in your resume matches the qualifications sought—and the best way to demonstrate that is through the use of key words.
• Your work history for the past 10 or so years. It never ceases to amaze me how many people do not accurately track their titles, employers, and month/year of employment. All employers want to know this and you need this information on hand before you start drafting your resume. Most employers do not need the specific start date (only month and year) but some federal job postings do request actual dates, in addition to month and year.
• Metrics related to your current job (and ideally the ones past too). Metrics give your work context and it is important to use them as often as possible. What is the dollar value of your budget? How many people do you supervise? How long are your projects? Any place you can include a number, you should; this will be a real differentiator in your resume. Again, numbers are something you should track throughout your career—it’s almost impossible to remember them over a long period of time.
• Achievements. It is not enough to include duties in your resume; employers want to know how you have added value / made a difference. Try to track your achievements over the course your career. It’s not enough to list your duties on your resume; you can differentiate yourself by demonstrating that you not only did your duties but that you did them well. Try to have at least 3-5 achievements for your current job (assuming you’ve been in it for a couple of years). Again, having achievements can make you stand out from other candidates who have essentially the same experience.
• Education information, along with professional certifications, awards, professional development, and other details. While all resumes need education (although skip your graduation date if you graduated more than 5 years ago) and professional certifications (CPA, PMP, PE, IT certifications, etc.), in most cases you should only include awards and professional development on a federal resume.
Only after you have gathered all of your relevant information, is it time to start writing. How long should that take? If you are writing a private sector resume, assume it will take you at least 4 to 6 hours (or more); if you are writing a federal resume, assume a minimum of 6 to 8 hours.
These timeframes are minimum and do not include time for editing and revision. Nor are they illustrative of how long it takes to prepare an executive or Senior Executive Service (SES) resume. And I always recommend that you walk away from your draft for at least a day so you can review it with fresh eyes.