A resume is much more than the documentation of your employment, education and experience.

Once you have made the decision to create or update your resume, you should be prepared to invest considerable time and emotional capital in the development process. Plan to conduct and document a deep dive into your professional experience that will form the foundation of the document. Regardless of whether you create it yourself or hire a resume writer to assist, the resulting document will be the groundwork for other aspects of future job searches.

The following steps will assist you throughout the process. Approach the project similarly to an investigative research paper, the difference being you will interview, research and document facts about yourself.

The most efficient and effective way to organize your thoughts is to utilize a spreadsheet. It will allow you to electronically organize your information in columns so you can view information from different perspectives.

  1. Make a list of each of your previous employers beginning with your most recent one. Follow this with a complete list of each position and/or major assignments you held with each of those organizations. Document dates and relevant items such as staff, budget, scope and locations.
  2. In a separate column add notes regarding supervisor names and any key executives with whom you have had significant interaction. This is for your personal reference and will help you reflect on key relationships and potential references with whom you stay in contact.
  3. List major accomplishments for each position, then end each of those sentences with a result. This should reflect a wide variety of accomplishments across your career. It will help you realize how the scope, scale and magnitude of your portfolio and achievements have grown and become more varied across your career.
  4. It may take you several hours across several days to complete the suggested work in the previous three paragraphs. I suggest that when you think you are finished, set it aside and come back to it in a week or two. Re-read what you had previously documented with a fresh eye and don’t be hesitant to edit. During the intervening time you will have remembered items and events that you have forgotten and that can be added.
  5. Beyond identifying potential items for your resume, this exercise will enable you to revisit experiences and results. This editing also becomes preparation for choosing how you will present and communicate one or more topics during an interview. It will prepare you for discussions during meetings with potential employers.
  6. When you are satisfied with the result so far, categorize each accomplishment within relevant key areas that you bring to the type of position that you are seeking. For guidance, look to employer’s expectations that are typically located in  both the purpose and key requirements of a position description. These can range from personal competencies and characteristics, management and leadership to significant operational knowledge and skills topics. It is possible that some items cover more than one category or column.
  7. Finally, sort your accomplishments by the categories that you have assigned to them. This will provide you with a historical range of examples as well as form an indication of what you enjoy doing professionally and what you consider to be important. You can use this to prioritize and select those accomplishments that you would like to include in your resume as well as broader categories that can be placed in a general summary at the beginning of your resume. It can also be used to consider what elements of your past career activities you may not want to include as a primary part of a new role going forward. While you may have been highly successful focusing on those accomplishments at the time, including information about them many not form the message you want to send now.

Once you have stepped through this exercise you will have all the data you require to develop your own resume or to submit to a professional writer to assist you with one. You will reflect on and document your career accomplishments, consider your future direction and prepare to effectively articulate your qualifications to potential employers.

This approach also offers you information to aid in changes to, or customization of, your resume to better highlight your experiences as they relate to specific position announcements. It is common to have multiple versions of your resume. Expect to modify the document many times as you progress in your job search.

Invest time in this process and you will build your best resume.