When it comes to job hunting, your resume is your most powerful tool. It is your first impression with potential employers and will determine whether or not you get a job interview.
Preparing a good resume gives you a definite advantage over applicants who have not. That's why it's so important to have a well-written professional resume that's free of errors and tailored to the job.
If you're looking for help with how to write an effective resume, you've come to the right place. In this guide, we'll go over everything you need to know to create a resume that will help you get the job you want.
What Is a Resume?
A resume is a marketing tool you use to get a job interview. It includes information about your experience, education, skills, achievements, and other relevant details that shows a company how you could contribute to their team.
Submitting a resume is usually the first contact most people have with a company and is their first glimpse of you. By highlighting your marketable qualities, your resume tells potential employers that you are qualified for the position and provides proof to back that up.
It is an integral part of job searching, as it is challenging to gain employment in today's labor market without a resume.
There are several instances where you need a resume, including when you apply for a job (in person or online), attend an interview, or are interested in applying with a company that doesn't have any positions advertised at the moment.
Pro Tip: Treat your resume as a living document because you are constantly growing and experiencing new things. Add it to your resume immediately when you accomplish something significant at work, learn a new skill, or take on new job responsibility.
Types of Resumes
There are three resume formats – chronological, functional, and combination. Which one you use depends on your qualifications and experiences, as they each highlight different things.
A chronological resume is the most common resume type. It details your employment history by date, focusing on when and where you previously worked and your specific job duties. Your work history is listed in reverse order, with your most recent experience first.
A chronological resume emphasizes the places you have worked and the lengths of time you've worked there.
Use a chronological resume style when:
- you have relevant experience in the industry you are applying to
- your work history and education reflect upward growth
- you are confident that you meet the qualifications for the job vacancy
A functional resume focuses on your transferable skills and experience and de-emphasizes your work history.
It highlights your relevant skills under a separate section, such as Communication Skills or Leadership Skills, regardless of where you learned them. It also shows the value of your unpaid experience.
Use a functional resume style when:
- entering the job market for the first time
- returning to work after many years of unemployment
- you have little or no paid work experience in the field
- you have only worked for one employer
- your education, volunteer work, or hobbies are directly related to the role
- there are gaps in your resume that you don't want to call attention to
- you are making a career change
- you have worked multiple short-term jobs that are similar
- you are flexible about working in different fields that require similar skills
As the name suggests, a combination resume merges both the chronological and functional resume formats. You include your work history, professional skills, and relevant experience, but you can be flexible with how you present this information.
Use a combination resume style when:
- you have limited experience in the field but have the right skills
- your work history is somewhat related to the role you are applying for but isn't exact
Tips for Creating a Great Resume
For your resume to capture the employer's interest, it should clearly outline the skills and qualifications relevant to the job.
Here are a few tips and guidelines to follow as you create your resume:
- Keep your resume short (no more than 2-3 pages); employers want a summary of your accomplishments
- Use bullets and point form statements, not paragraphs
- Use straightforward, everyday language and action verbs
- Write out acronyms in full
- Do not include personal information, such as your age, marital status, or religious affiliations.
- Be positive and honest, and do not exaggerate
- Tailor your resume to the role; you should have different variations of your resume if you are applying to multiple industries.
- Be specific with your examples and use numbers whenever possible to qualify your achievements.
- Spellcheck and proofread your resume to ensure there are no spelling or grammatical errors
- Do not send a general cover letter with your resume; customize it to the specific position and employer.
- Personalize the look of your resume, but do not over-design it
- Do not use colored paper or a colored background
- Use a clear font that is clear and easy to read
- Use a 12-point font size for your main text and 16-point font size for headings.
- Leave white space to make your resume easy to scan and read
Step 1. Start With an Outline
Don't worry about how it looks when you're starting to put together your resume. Formatting a resume is an art in itself, but there is no point in figuring that out until you have all of your information ready.
A resume outline is the best and easiest place to start. By gathering all of your employment and education details in one place, you can visualize what your resume should look like and what format you should use. It will help you figure out how to arrange your resume sections logically and what to add or delete so that your qualifications stand out.
If you are creating a new resume, just get the information on the screen or page for now. Otherwise, update and add to your current resume, but leave the formatting alone. Remember, it doesn't have to look pretty at this point (and it probably won't).
Don't edit yourself either. You want to have all your details ready to tailor your resume to the various jobs you are interested in.
Everyone's resume is unique. How you order your resume sections will depend on the format you choose, but for the most part, every resume should include the following main sections.
Step 2. Add Your Contact Information
Start your resume with your name and contact information at the top of the page or in the header. Easy enough, right? Well, there are a few things to consider.
At a minimum, your resume must include your full name, phone number, and a professional email address. (If you don't have one, make one for free with Gmail, Yahoo, etc.)
Ensure that the phone number you use can accept messages (meaning that your voicemail isn't full) and has a professional, outgoing message. If you don't have a phone number to use, ask a trusted friend or family member if you can use their number. If not, you will have to rely on email to communicate with the employer, which may hurt your chances.
Please don't forget to regularly check your voicemail and email while job searching!
If your resume is more than one page, include your name, phone number, or email address in the footer of each additional page.
Additional Contact Information
Your resume's contact section might also include the following optional information:
- Your address
- Your social media links
- Your website or online portfolio
- Your job title
Whether you include your home address on your resume is up to you. In some cases, including your address can be an advantage if you live close by or in an affluent area. However, the opposite can also be true. If you live further away than other candidates or in a neighborhood associated with negative biases or stereotypes, you could be discriminated against because of your address.
It's also up to you if you include links to your social media accounts or website(s). Leave them off if they are personal, but if it complements your experience and is relevant to the position you are applying for, including them can make you a stronger candidate.
There is no harm in including your current job title in the header of your resume. It is one of the first things a hiring manager will learn about you. Screening software like Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) will also recognize the keywords, which is essential. However, your experience section includes your job titles, so it isn't necessary to add it again unless you are switching careers or have a job title that doesn't clearly reflect your role.
Step 3. Add a Summary or Highlights Section
On average, a recruiter will only give your resume a 6-second glance. Using a summary is your chance to get their attention within those first few seconds so that they keep reading.
This section of your resume is where you set yourself apart from the other candidates. It should include the top 5 (or so) reasons why an employer should hire you. Using bullet points, list your experience, education, and skills in order of importance, making sure everything is relevant to the position.
Be specific and include how many months or years of experience you have in the field.
Add accomplishment statements that demonstrate your results, such as “Successfully gained 125 new clients within six months and increased sales by 15%”.
Avoid using generic resume buzzwords like “go-getter” and “thinks outside the box” because they don't add value. Instead, use resume power words like “led” and “resolved” that capture interest and reflect your qualifications.
What this part of your resume should look like and include depends on what format you choose, what industry you are in, as well as how much relevant experience you have. It can also depend on what you decide to call this section. Variations include:
- Highlights of Qualifications
- Qualifications Summary
- Skills Summary
- Professional Statement
- Professional Profile
- Resume Summary
Pro Tip: Imagine that this is the only section of your resume that an employer will read. How can you best summarize yourself in 4-6 sentences or bullet points? Do these points align with the top qualifications listed in the job posting?
Step 4. Add Your Experience
The bulk of your resume will be your relevant experience. While this is typically your work history, it's important to note that it doesn't have to be paid experience only. You can include internships, co-op placements, volunteer work, certain hobbies, and not-yet-profitable side hustles – but only if they make you a stronger candidate.
If you are including non-paid work, be mindful of what you call this section so you don't misrepresent yourself. Alternative titles that are more encompassing include Relevant Experience, Professional Work, or Work History.
Regardless of what you call it, in this section, you provide details of your former positions in reverse chronological order (with the most recent dates first). Use action verbs to convey the skills used, focusing on the transferable skills that will also help you succeed in the job you are applying for.
Be sure to include:
- Your job title
- The company name and location
- Dates you worked there
- Responsibilities and job duties
- Accomplishments and achievements
- Specific skills, software, or programs used
Step 5. Add Your Education and Training
How thorough this section of your resume should be will depend on the amount of work experience you have. Recent graduates and those lacking work experience will emphasize their education and training. Someone with a lot of relevant experience, on the other hand, might simply list the name of their degree, the institution attended, and the year graduated.
Your education and training section may include:
- High school diploma or GED
- College or university degrees, diplomas, or certificates
- Specific courses completed
- Additional certifications or training programs
- Co-op education or internship placements
You can also use this section to highlight significant projects or accomplishments. For example, if you were the valedictorian of your class, won a prestigious scholarship, or completed an internship with a well-known company, you would want to mention these things in your education section.
You may want to split your education and training into two separate sections if you have completed multiple training programs or have several degrees or diplomas.
Step 6. Add Your Skills
We develop and enhance our skills through our experiences, including work, education, hobbies, and everyday life. Because employers often seek applicants with a range of skills, you are more likely to be considered for a position by highlighting your relevant and transferable skills.
There are two main types of skills:
1. Soft Skills
Soft skills are the personal attributes and social skills that enable you to interact effectively with others. They are also known as interpersonal or people skills that can help you stand out in a competitive job market.
Examples of soft skills include communication, problem-solving, teamwork, customer service, and time management.
You will mention your soft skills throughout your resume and cover letter.
2. Hard Skills
Hard skills are specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured. Because they are often technical or procedural and are related to a particular occupation or field of study, they are also known as technical skills. Unlike soft skills, you learn hard skills through formal education or training.
Typically, your hard skills are listed in a separate skills section on your resume.
Any hard or soft skill you can transfer amongst activities is also called a transferable skill. Transferable skills are valuable because they make you more versatile and adaptable to different work environments. You can take these skills with you wherever you go, which will help you succeed in any job or career.
You need to include both types of skills on your resume. Add examples of how you have used those skills in the past. Doing so will help employers see how you can use those skills in the job they are hiring for.
Step 7. Additional Resume Sections
There are a few additional sections you might want to include on your resume. Each of these sections can help paint a more well-rounded picture of who you are as a professional and help you stand out from other candidates. If you include an additional section on your resume, only add information that is genuinely relevant and adds value. Including too much information can work against you, so be selective.
Accomplishments, Achievements, and Awards
Including your professional, personal, and academic accomplishments is a great way to showcase your success and demonstrate your capabilities. You could include awards you have won, promotions, and other notable achievements.
Associations and Memberships
Listing professional associations or memberships can show that you are well-connected and actively involved in your community and professional development. It makes you look more dedicated and reliable, a valuable asset to any employer.
Hobbies and Interests
You should only include your hobbies and interests if they are related to the job and adds something more to your resume that doesn't fit anywhere else. It can also be a great way to connect with the employer if you share common interests.
Although objective statements are becoming a thing of the past, there are still a few instances when they can be helpful. If you're a new graduate or have minimal work experience, it can give potential employers a better idea of who you are and your career goals. If you are changing careers or industries, an objective statement can also help highlight your transferable skills.
In general, though, it's best to keep your resume objective-free. Instead, use the space at the top of your resume to summarize your most relevant qualifications for the job in a short, powerful statement.
Your references are the people potential employers can contact to gather more information when they are interested in hiring you. They verify information or share more about your work habits and skills.
Typically you shouldn't include your references on your resume. An employer will ask for them on the job application or at the interview stage. However, it does provide an excellent opportunity to name-drop if your reference is someone prestigious or relevant to the role.
If you include references on your resume, list their name, title, company, email address, and telephone number. Otherwise, you can leave this section off your resume altogether.
Pro Tip: Be sure to get permission before using someone as a reference and let them know that you actively job searching.
Volunteer work is a great way to show potential employers that you have a strong work ethic regardless of your paid work experience. It demonstrates your commitment to the community and willingness to help others. Additionally, volunteer work can give you valuable experience in various fields, making you more attractive to employers.
If you have volunteer experience in a field relevant to the job you are applying for, it can show that you have the necessary skills. For example, if you are applying for a marketing position and have volunteered for a local non-profit, you can highlight the marketing campaigns you ran and the results you achieved. Doing so will give the employer confidence that you can do the job.
If you have never worked in a specific field before, volunteering can give you a chance to try it out and see if it is something you are interested in or not.
Step 8. Format Your Resume
Now that you have all your resume details compiled, it's time to format your resume.
The format or look of your resume can be just as important and time-consuming to get right as the content itself. Hiring managers and recruiters only have the time to scan your resume, so the format must be easy to read if you want to get an interview.
Many free professional resume templates are available online to help you get started. Just remember to tailor the template to fit your qualifications and experiences. Online resume makers also allow you to build a resume in a few simple steps or provide resume examples for you to use as inspiration.
Decide if you will use a chronological, functional, or combination layout. Then experiment with different fonts, formats, and design elements like bolding, italicizing, and even a little color.
The important thing is to make sure that your resume is easy to read and that the most important information stands out.
Step 9. Proofread Your Resume
It is essential to take the time to proofread your resume to make a good impression and increase your chances of getting the job you want.
Read the entire document aloud to yourself to catch any errors you may have missed. Use a spelling and grammar checker to check for any mistakes or typos. These are easy to overlook, but they can make you look unprofessional.
Employers want to see that you can communicate effectively and are organized, so ensure your resume is clear and concise. Ask a friend or family member to read it over to catch any errors you may have missed and make sure it makes sense.
Finally, customize your resume for each job. It shows that you have taken the time to learn about the company and the position and are interested in the job.
Pro Tip: Don't rush through your resume. If you take your time, you will likely catch any errors.
10. Save and Submit Your Resume
Once your resume is polished and perfected, the last step is to submit it.
Follow the job ad instructions detailing how to apply, such as via email or an online system.
When applying for a job online, you typically send it through an automated, computerized system. It's a good idea to save your resume in both a word document and PDF version. The benefit of a .doc document is that it makes it easy for the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to pull the text from your resume into the system. The downside of a Word file is that it can be edited, which is why you should also have a PDF file when emailing your resume.
Pro Tip: Include your name in the file when saving your resume; this makes it easy for hiring managers to find your resume if they have it saved.
While there are many different ways to write a resume, there are some key components that every resume should include. By following the tips in this guide, you can be sure that your resume will make a strong impression on potential employers and help you get the job you want.
Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and more. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a free library of career & job search resources.