How to build a 20-minute resume

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached at or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.

Have you ever needed a resume right now but had nothing to offer? As a resume writer for nearly three decades, I’ll share a secret that everyone in the profession knows: It only takes about 20 minutes to make a passable resume.

Here’s what we also know: It takes anywhere from a few hours to a few days to make an excellent resume. So when you need a very good document that will represent you well in a variety of settings and set you apart from the competition — then you should commit the time and perhaps the funds to make that happen.

But sometimes you just need a resume so you can check it off the list. You might be completing a personnel file, or enhancing a loan package, or satisfying a requirement for a board position. Timeliness overrides content in these cases.

If you’re ready to build your 20-minute resume, let’s get started.

1. Open a blank document on your word processing program. Don’t bother with a pre-made template: Trying to match your information to the blanks will actually take longer than building a resume from scratch.

2. Select a font. I suggest something simple and universal, such as Arial or Times.

3. Center the cursor on the first line and type your name in bold and 14 point. On the next line, center your address, phone number and email address, all in plain type and 10 point.

4. Skip several lines, center your cursor again and type the word “Summary” in bold and 12 point. Skip some more lines, and type in “Experience”; do this again, and type in “Education.”

Are you tracking the time? If you’ve been quick about this, you’ve used up about five minutes.

5. Now to fill in some data. Start with Education as that’s usually the quickest. Place your cursor on the left margin under the Education heading and select 10 or 11 point, plain text. Now, simply type in the most recent training or education experience, sticking to one line if feasible. For example, “Associate of Arts in Business, Northwood College, Braham, MS, 2009.” Hit return to start the next line and type in the second entry: “Certificate in Microsoft Office, five online courses, 2008.”

6. Experience is your next category to complete. Take your last three jobs and enter them, one at a time, starting with the most recent. Again, position your cursor on the left margin and try to get the main logistical data on one line. For example, “Manager of Customer Service, Quality Bank, Braham, MS, 2007-present.” If you feel compelled to include more work history, simply do so. Or consider making an aggregate entry to combine several jobs: “Earlier positions have included …”

7. For each entry in the Experience section, follow the logistics line with a brief summary of the work. Try for three sentences, five at the max, in paragraph form. Remember: If you’re not using the resume to compete for a job, there’s no pressure to include every little detail. Just give an overview of your main duties or achievements. Repeat for the next two jobs.

Steps 5, 6 and 7 would have taken about 10 minutes, so we’re on the home stretch.

8. Your last section is the Summary, which is best written at the end. You’ll need two or three sentences to recap your overall career, while also describing your work style. For example, “Banking professional experienced in both commercial and consumer lending for regional and national banking systems. A well-respected member of the community who balances personalized customer service with sound business practice.”

9. Clean up the format by spreading the information evenly on the page, then spell-check your work.

And that’s that: a passable resume in about 20 minutes, or a bit longer if you needed to hunt for a date or other detail. Of course, you can upgrade your document if you wish by adding sections for strengths, achievements, professional affiliations, etc. But if you’re not in competition for anything, consider that working harder on the resume won’t actually matter. Sometimes you just need to check a project off the list and move on.