To many job-seekers, the process of writing a resume seems full of contradictions. How can your resume stand out but not come across as unusual? How can you make your resume easy to read but also fill it with enough details to show what you have to offer? How can you ensure that you meet employers’ expectations without your resume looking just like everyone else’s?
Though it takes some effort, crafting the perfect resume is possible. By ensuring that your resume looks great, has all the right components, and showcases your skills as a candidate, you will be interviewing for your dream job in no time.
Your resume shouldn’t be a novel, but it must be more than a simple checklist of jobs you have held. There is some storytelling to be done, so you have choices to make about your writing style.
Start by ensuring that your content flows logically and organically.
Avoid complex sentences and unnecessarily large words; your objective is to summarize your education, work history, and skills in a way that a hiring manager can quickly understand. The finer details can wait for the interview.
Avoid using first person in your resume, and above all make sure that there are no spelling or grammar errors. Use a proofreading software if you have to.
First impressions last. Your resume is your first chance to impress the hiring manager, so you want your resume to be attractive! This doesn’t mean your resume needs fancy fonts and pictures; rather, it should be easy to read, with clear sections and plenty of white space. Aim for a professional appearance, and keep the focus on your skills and experience. It should be easy to get a sense of your career journey with a quick scan through the document. Keep the format simple, with clear headlines and distinct sections.
Use headlines to separate the different sections sections of your resume. Common section titles include “Experience” or “Employment History”, “Education and Training”, and “Core Qualifications” or “Key Skills”. Headlines should be brief and self-explanatory, so choose your headlines based on how you are organizing your content. Think about what you are trying to highlight as you make your case as a candidate.
While you are, in a way, telling your “story”, you are not crafting a memoir. A resume is formatted more like a list or series of lists. Bullet points are acceptable, as are lists of skills and explanations of your accomplishments in incomplete sentences. Make use of variations in text size, bold or italics, underlining headers, maybe even columns. You can use any formatting that you like, provided that it doesn’t detract from the readability of your resume. Finally, make sure that the page looks balanced: there should be enough content that the page feels full, but enough white space that the reader is not overwhelmed.
While there are many different ways you can show your qualifications, there are a few sections all professional resumes must include. These are the pieces of information that a hiring manager expects to find, and you could wind up in the discard pile if you leave them out. Each section should be clearly labeled, though you don’t have to use the exact same wording as below.
Contact information is usually placed in the header of the first page of your resume. If you are submitting a cover letter as part of the same document, your cover letter can also include your contact details. Regardless, make sure that no matter which paper the hiring manager is reading, they can locate and read your contact information easily. The reader should be able to find your name at any time to remind themselves whose resume they are reading.
You can choose to list all of the schools you have attended and degrees you have obtained, or simply the highest and most relevant degree. This is a chance to showcase your education achievements, so unless your list of degrees take up an entire page, don’t be shy! If high school is the highest level of education you have completed it should be included on your resume, but otherwise only list college and beyond.
This section is the focus of your resume. List your work experience reverse-chronologically, with the most recent position first. As with your education section, you don't necessarily have to list all the places you have worked. Include anything that is relevant to the position for which you’re applying. Irrelevant experience can be excluded, but don’t be too picky--that burger joint job you had in high school likely taught you a lot about customer service and teamwork. Anything that shows problem solving and work ethic is good fodder for a resume, even if it wasn’t in your current industry.
That said, if you are twenty five years into your career and applying for an executive position, you should likely omit your high school work experience. Alternatively, you could summarize all your “Early work experience” in a brief separate section to showcase your journey from the bottom of the ladder all the way up to the C-Suite. It is ultimately up to you and your specific situation.
Each listing ought to include the name of the employer or company, the position you held, and a brief summary of the responsibilities each position entailed. Your summaries can be very brief if you have many items to list, or more expansive if you have few items and need to fill some space. This would be a good place to boast of your accomplishments, describe projects you have led, or describe some challenges you faced and problems you solved in each position.
Use this section to highlight your impressive skill set, with emphasis on the skills that relate directly to the position at hand. If specific skills were listed in the job posting, you should include them here. For example, if it’s a job that makes use of a certain type of software, and you are familiar with that software, list that. However, you don’t need to mention that you can juggle fire pins or are a skilled pianist.
Relevant awards, certificates, licenses, or qualifications you have that might set you apart from your competition should also be included on your resume. These items can be grouped into multiple sections. While licences, certifications, and so on are not the most important part of your resume, the right award may be what sets you apart from other applicants.
Proofread. Proofread. Proofread. Check your spelling. Check your grammar. Review your formatting. Be sure your resume is easy to read. Ensure that your resume's length and overall appearance suit your career level and industry. Once this is done, have a friend look it. Your resume must be perfect before you send it out.
Follow these suggestions, and you will be miles ahead of the competition. Submitting a resume is your first opportunity to showcase your best self to an employer, so don’t squander it!
James is the CEO of VisualCV. He has spent the last 10 years building businesses, from window cleaning to software. His passion is helping individuals create the careers they want.
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