Whether you do your own resume or pay to have one done, have a few people review it before accepting it as the final version. Friends or family may notice errors or omissions even a good professional resume writer might miss. Don’t skip this step. There are huge numbers of online job-help sites, and most include resume writing. Monster.com has tips on resume writing, and you can upload or create a Word-format resume there for easy forwarding to potential employers. Sometimes employers scan work sites and may even contact you directly. Be aware, of course, that some people run scams based on web-published resumes, and be cautious about personal information. Make certain that job offers are legitimate by doing some research on the companies.
Online resume-help sites are numerous. One good example is JobStar Central, a California-based site that has great sample resumes for you to view. Best of all, these examples show how to overcome common resume problems like lack of experience, a job loss, or a bad evaluation. And JobStar Central is free. Another free source of help is Pongo Resume, which offers a free trial to create a resume with tips and helps. They are a publishing service that you can opt to use for only about $10 a month — if you decide to subscribe — but creating a resume is free and requires no credit card.
Also, don’t miss the excellent resources offered by many universities. These are especially good for someone in healthcare who has recently graduated from a professional program. A fine example is OWL, which is the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University. This extensive site goes through the techniques of creating a resume and a cover letter step by step and also has samples for you to see. One of the best things about OWL is that the resume is broken down into sections, and each is explained in great detail with examples for each part. Owl uses a questionnaire that helps you to decide what the company wants and how that matches what you can do.
Other online sources of help are employment forums where you can discuss the whole job-search process with those who are or have recently been in your situation. You can get good tips and avoid pitfalls by talking with your peers.
Let’s use the profession of medical assistant as an example for developing a healthcare resume. A similar approach would work for nursing, physical therapy, or almost any allied health specialty with variations for the specifics of your training. For all of these, a functional resume may be much stronger than a traditional chronological list of jobs. Healthcare providers are most interested in the skills you can bring to their practices. Experience matters, but skills are critical.
One of the first things in a resume will be your contact information. For a modern resume, you are expected to have more than just a name, address, and home telephone number. In addition, you need to list an e-mail address that you check frequently and, preferably, a cell phone number. A fax number is also a good addition, and you can get on online fax number for free or very low cost. The email address should be adult and be a version of your name and the ISP address. Do not use some “cute” email name that you use for casual emails: email@example.com would seem frivolous. If you cannot get anything reasonable on your own ISP, there are dozens of free email services out there. One of the best is GMail on Google.com.
You will also include your contact information in your cover letter. In that letter, you should be specific about what times are best to contact you. Usually you will not want to take calls at a number where you currently work. There are certain exceptions, but you should generally avoid that.
The next thing that will come for virtually all resumes is what is called an objective. This is a personalized statement of your employment goals, and should be customized to the job you are currently seeking. If possible, take key words from the job description and incorporate them. An example would be seeking a medical assistant job in a pediatric practice: “Objective: A medical assisting position helping children and families to obtain excellent healthcare utilizing my experience and pediatric clinical skills.” This is better than using the same objective for any sort of position. While this means rewriting the objective for each position, it is well worth the time and effort. A good objective will focus on your identity as a medical assistant, declare your goals, identify the job you want, and mention your own qualifications for that position. It is only one small paragraph, but is the first thing a potential employer reads and your first chance to make a positive impression.
Generally, the education section will come next. (In the functional resume format, qualifications and experience may come first, then education, but the content is the same.) You should include your high school graduation date and information (or the same information regarding your GED, if that is what you obtained) as well as your later college attendance and professional school information. You will also include your externship information in this section with some details of your duties. Honors and awards may be included in this section or given a separate section in the resume. If you have many such accolades, a separate section makes sense, but for just one or two, they can easily be included in the main section.
You will next want a section for certifications or licenses you may hold. As a medical assistant, you are expected to have a current BLS/CPR certificate, and often will need first aid certification. List these certifications, along with the dates they expire. You also want to include your certification as a medical assistant, whether it is CMA, NR-CMA, or RMA. These national tests are widely preferred by employers. If you have taken the test but not yet received your results, list the date the test was taken, which test it was, and “results pending.” Update this as soon as you get your scores. Many positions will specify a certification requirement, so taking these exams is truly essential, and you should prepare for them thoroughly.
For a functional resume, instead of listing skills and accomplishments for each job, a statement of skills and qualifications is used to explore your general training, and then specific key skills are listed. For a medical assistant, this would be a list of skills such as word processing, billing, and other administrative skills, in addition to a list of clinical skills such as vital signs, taking histories, and doing phlebotomy. The qualifications statement should list the majority of skills in your training, especially if you have little or no job history in the field. When there is a longer history of related employment, it may be better to list skills used by each job in the chronological format. Begin with the most recent job and then list prior employment. When the functional pattern is used, the listing will just be the position, name of company, city and state, and the dates employed. When a chronological resume is used, a description of your duties and accomplishments is required.
Do not use extraneous words to list skills. Instead of “I did blood draws, and I did vital signs and took patient histories and set up pelvic exams,” use a more concise list without pronouns. An example would be: “Phlebotomy, patient histories, vital signs, pelvic exam set-up and assistance.”
Key skills to follow the general qualifications would be those you have that are additional, or a particular focus from a job or externship experience. For example, if you externed in an emergency department, that would be good to list. Some clinics train medical assistants to do limited x-rays, and this would be in your key skills. It is also a place to put special qualifications, such as the ability to use sign language or to speak a foreign language.
Do not think you must include every job you have ever held in the resume, just the most recent three or four. Do make a list of all jobs with contact numbers as this may be requested on an application form, but everything does not need to go into a resume. The same is true for your references. Do not bother to waste space with a sentence that says “references available upon request” since this is understood.
You must prepare a reference page with correct contact numbers and then offer it if and when it is requested, usually only when the potential employer is seriously interested in hiring you. Do not list people as references without asking their permission if at all possible. You want honest but positive references, and courtesy on your part certainly cannot hurt. An occasional person might ask not to be used, and you must respect this.
Ideally, an entry-level resume is only one page. Usually this will mean paring down excess words and omitting less valuable content. If you have a long work history in the field, you may need more space, but keep it as concise as possible. Be careful about word choices as well, and try to use “power” or “action” verbs whenever you can. Instead of “I was assigned to do TB tests on 1,000 school children,” you would use “performed 1,000 TB tests on school children.” Don’t use two words where one will do, and try to keep sentences relatively short. Remember that personnel interviewers and hirers often have very limited time, and if anything about your resume turns them off, it may be simply thrown away. Be certain they can tell what job you are applying for, which should be flagged by your objective statement and stated explicitly in your cover letter.
A cover letter must accompany a resume that is faxed, emailed, or mailed in. Do not use a generic one; write one that fits that job. State which job you want to obtain and where you heard about it. (Employers love to know what advertising works!) The cover letter should next state why you think you are ideal for this specific job, citing special qualities you have. Next, request an interview and give full contact information, including the best time to call. If at all possible, get the name of the person who will process your application, and address the letter directly to them, not just to “whom it may concern.” This shows that you have attention to detail and good communication skills.
Additionally, the resume must look professional. There can be no typos or misspelled words or grammar errors. Spell check and proofread carefully, and get others to read and offer suggestions as well. Use a good quality printer and good quality paper stock for your resume. While colored stationery may attract attention, it may also seem frivolous, so stick to conservative tones such as ivory or very pale grey instead of other tints. You want a heavier weight paper than ordinary typing paper, preferably with a visible watermark. Any office supply store can help you with these papers. Good paper is expensive, but in large quantities is much more affordable. You may be able to purchase a ream with some friends and save quite a bit. You may simply decide it is worth the investment, especially if you send out lots of resumes or attend a job fair.
When you go to an interview, in addition to a complete job history and reference pages, take a nice copy of your resume, just in case the interviewer has misplaced it. This shows foresight on your part and good organization. In the medical field, the unexpected happens frequently, and this is indication that you can be prepared for such events.
Finally, there is one cardinal sin to avoid when doing a resume. Never, ever embellish a resume with things you are not trained to do or lie in any way. Not only is this dishonest and indicative of a personality flaw, but it is also grounds for immediate dismissal if your fraud is detected, even if it is long after you get hired. Being trustworthy is critical in any job, but medical assisting involves confidentiality, and a lack of trust is a deal breaker.
Medical assisting jobs are still plentiful, and the need continues to expand, so a well-written resume can be a ticket to a good job and good benefits, even during a recession and with a drooping job market.