A most critical step in looking for a ministry position is creating a resume. Your resume will be the first introduction a church will have to YOU, so be sure to put time and energy into crafting the very best resume you can.

Following are lessons I have learned along the way–as one who has applied for positions, as one who has hired, and as one who is a frequent recommender and reference. All search committees have their own philosophy about resumes. Not everyone agrees about what to include or how long a resume should be. But if you are in serious search mode, you need to invest some time in learning about resume expectations.  I hope this will be a good start in that learning process.

Begin at the beginning! So where should you even begin with a resume? My advice is this . . . create a “brag sheet.” This past year my daughter, Alex, was in college application mode, and she requested recommendations from her high school teachers. Her Latin teacher’s response, “Alex, send me your brag sheet.”  Alex came home and said, “Mom, what’s a brag sheet.” So we had a quick introduction at our house to brag sheets!

To create your brag sheet, list all the things you do well, successes you have had, accomplishments. List them all! Add to your list the offices you have held, the leadership roles you have filled—at your church and your school and in your community. Don’t just list the jobs you have been hired for—but think broader about all the places you have served, volunteered, helped, shown up! Be creative and generous to yourself in creating this sheet! (Get your mom to help you with your brag sheets—moms tend to be good at bragging on their children).

Do not hesitate in bragging on yourself! Do not undersell yourself. Your brag sheet needs to reflect the very best of you. But also remember that in the end your resume needs to be truthful, factually correct, honest! Churches will fact check you so do not oversell yourself either. And never lie on your resume. NEVER.

With your brag sheet in hand, start building your basic resume. For help in knowing what to include, gather a collection of GOOD resumes. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship provides some sample resumes, but you might also want to ask friends and successful candidates for theirs. Get to know what is being included in 2015 in resumes, and make sure your resume has all the right information and categories!

A general rule, and a good rule, is that resumes should be two pages long. Three at most. Make sure that the most important entries are on your first page—your education, your recent job history, and/or your ordination. Some candidates include a personal mission statement at the top of their resume. If you do include a statement, make sure it is a true reflection of your values but is also a well-written and thoughtful. It should only be a sentence or two (not two paragraphs), and make sure it is a mission statement that in some way addresses the position for which you are applying.

One way to set yourself apart with your resume is to include a photo. If you do use a photo, make sure it is a professional-looking one. Do not use a selfie. Do not use a blurry picture. Do not send a photo of you with your dog. And do not use a photo of yourself that is five or six years old. You need a recent picture. You don’t have to spend big money on a photo session. If you have a friend with a good camera and little talent, ask them to take ten or twelve photos of you. If you do have a little money to spend, consider a high quality photo as an investment in your job search.

In the last few years, some candidates in search mode have created a video introduction, and they provide the link to that video on their resume. In our digital and visual world, creating a video introduction might set you apart from other candidates and allow a committee to see and hear you as they are sorting through resumes.

If you are new to ministry, your recent ministry positions may seem very empty, but fill it out with volunteer roles in which you have served. You have more experience in serving churches than you might think, and some of that service might be unpaid but still is important.

As you begin building your resume, make sure you use parallel construction, that is, use the same formatting for all parts and sections. In the section on ministry positions , be sure each entry has an identical format. If you have a description of job responsibilities and you use complete sentences in one entry, make sure every other entry has a description and includes complete sentences.

References. Who should you use as references? Do not underestimate the importance of the right references. Begin by creating a list of people to use: your favorite professor, your former youth minister, your current employer, a lay member at your church. If you are sending your own resume to churches, think about who would be the best reference. Having a person from that church’s region or state might be helpful. Including both male and female reference names sends a message to churches that you are serious about gender diversity. Your list also needs to reflect diversity in relationship and experience. Don’t use just professors. You need a church leader on your list, and you might want to consider having a lay leader as well as a pastor. Do include people on your reference list who have seen you in action, who can provide detailed information about your work ethic, your ministry experience, and your readiness for leadership.

Make sure you contact the people who will listed, and keep them updated during your search process. Do not, DO NOT list a person without asking their permission, and do not assume that once a reference, always a reference. A few years back I got a call out of the blue from a church, asking for information about one of their candidates. This person had listed me, but I had not seen her or talked with her in over five years. I didn’t even know where she currently lived or where she was serving. It was an embarrassing conversation for me, but my lack of knowledge about her whereabouts was very telling for the search committee member who called me.

A good idea is to send your resume, cover letter, and a brag sheet to your references. Also schedule a phone call with them, and fill them in about your search and your current life situation. Part of your job as you search is to help your references be prepared. So if churches will be calling them, let them know. They will be a better reference if they are expecting a phone call.

I often serve as a reference for former students and fellow ministers, and I have begun asking them to write their own recommendation letter from me. I then use their letter as a basis for my own. This exercise helps them think about their gifts, skills, and preparation for a position, and it helps me know that my letter is reflective of what they value and who they are. This exercise allows me as a recommender to write the best letter I can!

As a final step, copyedit and rework your resume until it is perfect. Be sure to spell check it! Make sure you have no grammatical mistakes. And double check all your facts, and THEN re-read it again a few times after you think it is perfect. Only then should you send it out . . . and not to churches but to your former English professor or your favorite writing instructor. Ask them to review it and give you feedback. Ask for input about formatting. Ask for critique of the content. Make sure everything you send out has been proofread by others!

A professional and polished resume is necessary in the competitive ministry market, and search committees won’t waste time on a messy, error-filled resume.

Another Alex lesson. We visited Emory University during our college tours, and during the “listening session,” the admissions representative told us stories about students who wrote their “Why I Want to Attend Your College” Essay and included beautiful thoughts about why they wanted to attend Harvard or Vanderbilt. The lesson is this—if you are sending resumes yourself to churches, make sure that you are sending the right letter and right resume to the right church. Double check this! Do not send your First Baptist Church of Texas letter to First Baptist Church of Georgia. Mistakes happen, but do your best not to make this mistake!

The other lesson is to craft your resume for the position for which you are applying.  A one-size fits all resume doesn’t work well if you are the one sending it. Your resume needs to be position specific and carefully constructed for each position for which you apply. Doing this is time consuming but critical!

I hope this information has been helpful, and I would love some feedback. What have you learned about writing and sending resumes? What advice would you offer?

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.