How to Prepare to Create a Great Résumé

I am often asked, “How can I write a great résumé?” As a résumé writer and career coach with a background in chemical engineering, my answer is: “Hire a résumé writer.” However, you can write an excellent résumé for yourself if you prepare before starting to write. I require my clients to go through most of the steps below before I write their résumé.

The primary purpose of writing a great résumé is to get an interview for the job you want. A résumé alone generally will not get you the job. The process of preparing the résumé will help you focus on where you want to go, learn your unique value and what you bring to the organization, know who you are, and show what you offer employers. Key steps in this process include identifying what you want to do, understanding career trends, reviewing your skills, finding positions that match your goals and values, avoiding mistakes, and showing how you can add value to the organization in your résumé.

Know where you want to go

Your job search may take longer if you don’t know where you want to go. If you take the first opportunity you are offered, it may not be better than the one you’re leaving, so you will need to look again. You also may not recognize the right opportunity. When I worked in industry as a chemical engineer, I needed to create a plan for each project I managed. Without that, the projects likely would not have succeeded.

Understand career trends

We are undergoing significant changes due to the pandemic and returning to the workplace. I plan to explore this area in future articles based on input from AIChE members. Knowing these trends can help you make a good choice for your next step. However, you only need to find the right opportunity for you, which may be the opposite of the trend.

Realize your values and skills

Review your past experiences — what you enjoyed, was most effortless for you to do, and you succeeded in — to determine the skills you want to use in the future. I recommend you consult others to determine what is unique about you. Also, identify what skills you don’t want to use. Prioritizing your life and career values will help you select a job and career.

Find a job that matches your goals

Identify your own job goal and focus on it. See what is available that matches your goal through networking, internet research, and informational interviewing. Match what you have done to support the goal and develop a path to get there.

Research shows that 60% to 80% of jobs go to people the hiring manager knows, so networking is paramount. If you find a job that interests you, use the online job announcement as a guide to create your résumé. Then use social media, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, to find connections to that job or similar jobs. Find jobs that meet your values and where your experience is a match.

Avoid mistakes

Mistakes can interfere with a job search. Do not waste your time applying for jobs you are not a fit for. For example, I recommend that you do not apply for a lower-level job since more people are qualified at lower levels, hiring managers may think you are too experienced, and the pay cut can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in career earnings. In addition, not maintaining your skills can cost you a job. If you are unemployed, then volunteer. If you’re not up-to-date in some essential skills, take courses.

Show how you add value

People hire candidates who will advance their organization and have succeeded in using the skills the organization requires. Read the job announcements and identify your experience and accomplishments that address the job description’s duties and requirements.

Prepare to write. Gather all required information. Review and match your qualifications and accomplishments with the job announcement keywords. Develop stories addressing the job announcement using a context-challenge-action-result format, answering the question, “Why is what I did important to the reader of my résumé?”

Write the résumé. Use a modern, applicant tracking system (ATS)-readable format, such as PDF. Show how you match the job requirements with a focus on your accomplishments. Tell the truth, and be sure to check for mistakes.

If you do these steps, you will be able to write a focused résumé that will help you to advance your career.

Robin Schlinger has over 20 years of experience as a résumé writer and career coach. She holds a BS in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her certifications include Master Career Director (MCD), Certified Master Résumé Writer (CMRW), Certified Professional Résumé Writer (CPRW), Certified Federal Résumé Writer (CFRW), and Job and Career Transition Coach (JCTC). Robin delivers résumé writing, career transition coaching, and career marketing documents for private and federal clients.

Looking Ahead

In future columns, I plan to discuss the job search in more detail, including finding the right job, parts of a résumé, networking, interviewing, and career paths in chemical engineering. I will be asking AIChE members to respond to Engage discussion board queries to gather input for the columns. Feel free to reach me at:

This article originally appeared in the Career Connection column of the May 2022 issue of  CEPMembers have access online to complete issues, including a vast, searchable archive of back-issues found at