The Ultimate Guide for Writing an Effective Resume
Creating an effective resume is provided in five stages below:
1. Gather your job history and skills.
The first step in creating your resume should incorporate your appropriate job history, industry background and applicable skills. While you might feel tempted to add every place you’ve ever worked at, narrow down your history to only list appropriate roles or experiences. This will make your resume concise and direct hiring managers and recruiters to the right place. However, this also might mean creating numerous resumes and tailoring them to the specific job/company you’re applying to.
From there, format your resume so that it is straightforward to determine your qualifications. For instance, if you advance in a company quickly, draw attention to that development, said Claire Bissot, SPHR and director of Kainos Capital. If you excessively job-hopped, bullet those jobs without providing specifics and detail more applicable positions. This will play to your assets.
When structuring your resume, make sure the information is explained in a logical order.
2. Utilize an authentic resume template.
Employers value originality. While it’s useful to refer to a professional resume template, don’t follow it rigidly, as this might actually deter potential employers.
Showcase your expertise in an attractive and eye-catching manner so you stand out from other applicants, especially if you’re in the creative industry. Include hyperlinks, aesthetic formatting, colors and shading, testimonials, and other unique features. Use your resume to tell your career story. For instance, you can write an interesting “about me” section to personalize and summarize your experiences.
3. Fill out the sections.
Use bullet points or short lines to outline your job duties and achievements for each position you’ve listed on your resume. This will help recruiters and hiring managers better understand your experiences and how you’ve helped that company grow.
Typically, it’s best to use action verbs and data-backed words rather than “fluff.” For example, if you’re outlining social media marketing experience, rather than simply stating “I managed social media platforms for my client,” write “Increased social media lead generation by X percent year-over-year.” This cuts to the point and backs up your credentials with hard data to showcase your success.
4. Choose the file type.
Most employers prefer resumes as Microsoft Word documents (.doc) or PDF files. Microsoft Word documents are the most traditional and widely accepted file types for resumes, but PDFs make sure the formatting doesn’t become wonky after submission.
However, when you’re dealing with applicant tracking systems (ATS), Word documents are easier for these systems to read through and pick up on significant keywords. This is substantial if you want to stand out in modern recruiting. If you submit a PDF or other file, you might get automatically rejected if the system cannot read it. A general rule of thumb is to save both versions of your resume and submit a Word document to applications on job sites and a PDF when sending directly to a recruiter or hiring manager.
5. Proofread the draft.
Before you submit your resume anywhere, proofread it yourself and ask a trusted friend or professional contact to do the same. One minor mistake or grammatical error could result in numerous rejections. Your resume is your first — and often only — opportunity to impress a potential employer, and you should treat it as such.
Here are a few things to look at:
- Spelling, grammar, and punctuation: A hiring manager will likely automatically ignore your application if they spot a typo or grammatical error. “Make sure it’s error-free and easy to read.
- Formatting: “Review formatting very closely, including font, alignment, and spacing”. “Related issues can often be perceived as a sign of lacking technical skills and/or attention to detail.”
- Headings: Candidates often submit applications addressed to the wrong employer or outline experience that’s irrelevant to the role. “Receiving a resume that’s crafted and addressed to someone else — or worse, a competitor — can be a huge turnoff and will set a negative tone even if they do choose to continue reading your application.”
30 Tips for an Effective Resume:
1. Look for keywords in the job posting
The best place to start when preparing to write a resume is to carefully read the job postings that interest you. As you apply for various jobs, study each job description for keywords that show what the employer is looking for in an ideal candidate. Include those keywords in your resume where relevant.
For example, if you’re applying for a job as a medical billing coder, an employer might list keywords like “coding,” “claims submission,” “compliance” or “accounts receivable management” in the job description. Pay particular attention to anything listed in the “Requirements” or “Qualifications” sections. If you have the skills employers are looking for, you can add these terms to your resume in the background or skills sections.
2. Keep your resume short and direct.
The No. 1 rule of writing a resume is to keep it short and to the point. The general rule is no more than one page unless you have a good reason for it to be longer, like an extensive career or a lot of highly applicable work experience.
An easy way to keep your resume brief is to include only recent, relevant experience. While that yearlong first job might have taught you a lot about the field, you don’t always need to include every detail from your entire career history.
Most experts suggest including jobs from the previous 10 or 15 years only, although this time frame may be shorter if you are new to the workforce. Including too many unrelated work experiences can make your resume appear too busy and draw attention away from your relevant qualifications. Your resume should be focused, clear and concise.
3. Don’t try to cram every skill and work experience onto your resume.
Think of your resume not as an exhaustive list of your career history, but as a marketing document selling you as the perfect person for the job you’re applying to. For each resume you send out, you’ll want to highlight only the achievements and skills that are most relevant to the job at hand (even if that means you don’t include all of your experience). This is called tailoring your resume and it helps anyone who reads it see exactly why you’re a match for a specific position.
4. Review resume examples for your industry
When crafting your resume, you might study examples of resumes from your industry for inspiration and best practices. Samples are useful examples of high-quality resumes used in your industry and for your job title. While there are many ways you can use resume samples, there are three main takeaways to look for:
Simplicity. Resume samples are straightforward because employers have minimal time to review your resume, so readability is key.
Brevity. You may detect that each section of the resume sample is short and to the point, including the summary and experience descriptions. Including only the most key and relevant information means employers can consume more information about you and quickly understand your fitness for the role.
Numbers. You might also see that there are often metrics in the experience section of resume samples because employers are highly responsive to measurable proven value. For example, one bullet point under the experience description for an administrative assistant reads, Processed 100 vendor contracts and enforced a standardized process, reducing contract discrepancies by 90%.
5. Highlight relevant skills and experiences.
Using the same resume for every job you apply for is not the best method. Instead, your resume should target the specific job you are applying for. Prioritize the skills, qualifications and experiences that are directly applicable to the job you are trying to land.
Choose three or four former positions or backgrounds that best highlight the skills required for each position for which you apply. Employers value brevity; this is not the time to list every position you have ever held. For example, if you are applying for a marketing position, you could include your former retail experience and bullet the communication, branding, and interpersonal skills you learned in that position.
If you don’t have a work history that directly connescts to the job you are applying for, be creative with how you present your other experiences. Draw on the skills you used and how your contributions benefited the organization or project.
6. Keep a resume outline with a full list of your qualifications.
Since you’ll be swapping various information in and out depending on the job you’re applying to, save a resume outline—or maybe our resume worksheet—on your computer with old positions, bullet points tailored for various applications, special projects that only sometimes make sense to include. Then, when you’re crafting each resume, it’s just a matter of cutting and pasting appropriate information together. Think of this as your brag file.
7. Use a professional font
Use a basic, clean font like Arial or Times New Roman. Keep your font size between 10 and 12 points. Selecting a clear, readable font can help make your resume appear more professional.
Reduce or eliminate any extraneous white space. You make it easier for the resume reader to focus only on the content of your resume instead of the white spaces. You can decrease white space by increasing your font size to 12 points and possibly adding optional sections like “Career Highlights,” “Skills” or “Awards and Achievements.”
8. Illustrate results with numbers and metrics.
When you write about your prior work experience, it is always a good idea to quantify your successes with numbers. Metrics can highlight your achievements and give the hiring manager or recruiter a clear sense of how you impacted your previous place of employment. For example, someone who previously worked as a sales representative might say that they “executed more than 50 cold calls daily, with an average 5 percent conversion rate.”
9. Ditch the objective statement.
Nowadays, the only occasion when an objective section makes sense is when you’re making a huge career change and need to explain from the get-go why your experience doesn’t match up with the position you’re applying to. In every other case? Resume objectives just make you look old-fashioned or out of touch.
10. Craft a career snapshot.
More recently, career experts have encouraged job seekers to do away with the old “objective” statement and instead consider including a brief summary, called a “career snapshot,” at the top of their resume.
Think of your career snapshot as an answer to the question “How would you describe your work experience in one sentence?” The summary is an opportunity to sum up your most relevant and important skills, experience or assets right off the bat.
11. Incorporate only appropriate information
While you might have comprehensive work or educational experience, it’s important to keep your resume as brief as possible without leaving out key information. If your resume includes old or irrelevant information, such as jobs held more than 10 years ago or minor degrees and achievements, it may distract from key information. An example to leave off would be a GPA of 3.2 or a certification in an unrelated field.
Try to include only work experience, achievements, education and skills most relevant to the employer. You can find the most relevant attributes by closely reading the job posting. Prioritize important information on your resume to highlight key skills and achievements. This may mean creating a functional rather than a chronological resume, focusing on how prior roles have given you the skills and experience required for this role.
12. Optimize your text.
If a company uses an ATS to collect and scan resumes, a human hiring manager may never see any application that doesn’t fit the job criteria they’ve entered. Trish O’Brien, vice president of human capital operations at Lifelong Learner Holdings, emphasized adapting your resume to the position to increase your likelihood of passing the first level.
“Make sure you’ve carefully reviewed the posting and … [used] the suitable keywords in your resume to get past the screener,” O’Brien said. “Be truthful, but understand that the first pass on your resume is likely via an ATS.”
A helpful tip is to make sure you include keywords from the job post in your resume. Copy and paste the job description into a word cloud generator to recognize the most frequently used terms, and make sure the terms that apply to you are used in your resume. You can also create a “core competencies” or “areas of expertise” section of your resume to list all of your hard and soft skills, and then reiterate those skills when you bullet your experience.
13. Include relevant links.
Can’t figure out how to tell your whole story on one page, or want to be able to include some visual examples of your work? Instead of trying to have your resume cover everything, cover the most important details on that document, and then include a link to your personal website, your online portfolio, examples of your work, or a relevant, professional social media profile, where you can dive more into what makes you the ideal candidate. Just avoid hyperlinking over words that are key to understanding your resume since it can throw off the tools employers use to store and parse resumes.
14. Be aware of the ATS.
You may have heard that employers are utilizing computers to “read” your resume and decide who to hire and reject. That’s not exactly true. However, most employers do use software called an applicant tracking system—or ATS—to parse resumes and organize them so that recruiters and hiring managers can search for the most relevant applications. You should consider your resume will pass through an ATS at some point during your job search, so understanding how it works will help make your hunt more efficient. (All of the tips in our list keep ATSs in mind as well!)
15. Stand out with ATS-friendly design elements.
Really want your resume to stand out from the sea of Times New Roman? Yes, creative resumes—like infographics, videos, or presentations can set you apart, but you have to make sure they actually get read. If you’re uploading your resume to a job application site or online portal, use ATS-friendly formatting elements like:
- Bold and italic text
- Underlining (in headings or over hyperlinks)
- Different text alignments
- Columns that can be read straight across
16. Avoid design elements that can’t be “read” by computers.
On the flip side, you should avoid design elements that ATSs are known to have trouble with such as:
- Text boxes
- Logos and icons
- Images and photos
- Graphics, graphs, or other visuals
- Headers and footers
- Less common fonts
- Columns that can only be read from top to bottom
Design your resume for skimmability.
You’ve probably heard before that hiring managers don’t spend a lot of time on each individual resume. So help them get as much information as possible, in as little time as possible by making your resume easy to skim.
17 . Use active language
Write your resume using active language without extraneous words. This means using power words, such as “achieved,” “earned,” “completed” or “accomplished.” If your resume is too long or seems hard to read, you might consider making sentences shorter or ideas more concise.
For example, you may have a job description that reads: “During my time at Freedom Inc., I ran multiple team-based projects and helped each team member with various tasks associated with each project.” You can shorten and strengthen this example in the following way: “Led 10 team-based projects, including the implementation of a new point-of-service system, and helped five team members meet project requirements and deadlines with 95% accuracy.” The revised version communicates the same ideas about your accomplishments while including more active language and further quantifying your results.
18. Think beyond your job duties.
Hiring managers don’t want to read a list of your job duties. They want concrete examples of your accomplishments in previous positions that show how you can make a difference in this new position.
When deciding what information to keep or cut out of your resume, focus on striking abstract traits and qualifications in favor of concrete, quantifiable results.
You shouldn’t ignore your skills section either. Sade reminded job seekers to list any industry-relevant apps or programs they’re familiar with and to find ways to incorporate examples of their emotional intelligence (e.g., self-awareness, empathy) and soft skills (e.g., work ethic, reliability) into their job descriptions.
19. Don’t forget your transferable skills and experiences.
Don’t panic if you don’t have any professional experience that fits the bill. Focus your resume on your relevant and transferable skills along with any related side or academic projects, and then make sure to pair it with a strong cover letter telling the narrative of why you’re ideal for the job.
20. Call attention to important achievements
Instead of listing your job duties under the experience section, select your top three or four most important achievements in each role you’ve held. Where possible, include numbers that measure your success for that particular goal or achievement.
You might also consider including a separate “Achievements” or “Skills” section to highlight relevant achievements in your education, career, volunteer work or other experiences.
21. Highlight honors and achievements, not GPA.
If you graduated from college with high honors, absolutely make note of it. While you don’t need to list your GPA (but you can if it’s impressive), don’t be afraid to showcase that summa cum laude status, the fact that you were in the honors college at your university, a relevant project you completed, or an award you won. Nowadays, employers don’t care as much about GPA as they do what skills you gained in school.
22. Remove the dates from your education section once you’re a few years into your career.
Unless you’re early in your career, don’t list your graduation dates. The reviewer cares more about whether or not you have the degree than when you earned it. And you don’t want to inadvertently open yourself up to age discrimination, which is an unfortunate reality in some job markets.
23. Include continuing or online education.
Don’t be afraid to include continuing education, professional development coursework, or online courses in your education section, especially if your resume feels a little light on relevant experience.
24. List your social media profiles.
Many hiring managers today screen candidates on social networks. Save them a step by providing your profile links on your resume. Seasoned applicants with a professional social presence would do well to include URLs for their LinkedIn profile, Twitter account and blog, if applicable.
“If, and only if, your social media accounts are filled with professional posts pertaining to your industry, listing them on your resume can be advantageous,” said Richie Frieman, author of REPLY ALL … and Other Ways to Tank Your Career. “They can show you have a strong network and are up to speed with modern-day marketing and communications practices. The hiring manager will see that you like to keep up with what’s happening and that you care about learning more.”
Your social profiles can be a powerful recruitment tool to increase your experience and position as an expert in your field, but only if they are leveraged correctly.
25. Incorporate continuing or online education.
Don’t be afraid to include continuing education, professional development coursework, or online courses in your education section, especially if your resume feels a little light on relevant experience.
26. Beware of interests and activities that could be controversial.
Maybe you help raise money for your church on the reg. Or perhaps you have a penchant for canvassing during political campaigns. Yes, these experiences show a good amount of work ethic or possibly other relevant skills—but they could also open you up to being discriminated against by someone who disagrees with the cause. So weigh your decision to include them carefully.
27. Only include subheadings and sections you need
Whether you’re using a resume template or creating your own, you may find there are some recommended sections you don’t need. For example, if you’re graduating from college or high school and have not yet held a professional position, you might replace the experience section with relevant coursework, academic achievements and other experiences like internships or extracurricular projects. You may also find it useful to combine sections if you’re having trouble filling a section with more than two bullet points.
28. Choose appropriate margins
Typically, you can use a one-inch margin size on all sides of your resume with single spaces between the lines. If you have too much white space, consider spacing your lines by 1.15 or 1.5. You can also increase your margins if you find it difficult to fill your resume but make sure they stay below two inches.
Sinead explains how to format a perfect resume including margins, font types and sizes and tips for passing an applicant tracking system (ATS).
29. Cut the short-term jobs.
If you stayed at a (non-temporary) job for only a matter of months, consider eliminating it from your resume to avoid looking like a job hopper. Leaving a particularly short-lived job or two off your resume shouldn’t hurt, as long as you’re honest about your experience if asked in an interview. But if the short-term job is super relevant to this job, consider including it anyway.
Before sending your resume, undergo several rounds of proofreading to ensure there are no spelling or grammar errors. While you can use several proofreading programs and tools, it’s also helpful to ask trusted friends or colleagues to review your resume. It’s helpful for an objective third party to look at your resume as an employer to find ways you can correct or improve it.
Significance of an excellent resume
Your resume is the most crucial document you’ll submit in your job search. It’s your frontline fighter, so to speak, as it’s your first chance to introduce yourself to a potential employer. A professional resume will help you achieve the following:
- Increase your earning potential. Professionally written resumes are not only good for landing an interview, but they can also boost your earning potential by 7 percent to 32 percent.
- Increase your chances of securing a new role. 68 percent of job seekers who have worked with a professional resume writer landed a new job in under 90 days. If your resume lacks professionalism or relevance to the positions you’re applying to, you likely won’t receive as many opportunities.
- Quickly impress recruiters and hiring managers. Hiring managers and recruiters look at resumes for an average of only six to seven seconds each, so make every second count. A strong resume can help you stand out from the crowd, but a weak resume can remove you from the running.
- Decrease your number of rejections. You need to send an average of 50 to 100 resumes before you get hired. However, the more impressive and professional your resume is, the lower this number will be — and the less you will have to wait to start a new job.
You may also want to see: What should be included in a CV ( Curriculum Vieta)?