Writing Your Resume: The Tips You Need to Excel at It
Resumes come in different shapes and sizes, but they usually share many elements. As you begin to either write or update your resume, you may realize it’s a tougher task than you thought. You need to make sure you include all your information in the appropriate format and make it appealing to a recruiter. Additionally, you want to tailor your resume to each job you apply for, carefully incorporating all the relevant keywords and presenting your qualifications in the best light. After you finish, you should proofread it multiple times; it would be best to hire a professional proofreader since it’s almost impossible to effectively proofread your own writing.
How many pages should your resume be? How do you know what skills to list? These are just some of the questions we address in this article. Let’s start at the beginning of your resume and work our way through it.
Your personal information
At the top of your resume, include your personal contact information. Make sure you don’t miss a digit in your phone number or add a superfluous character to your email address. It’s crucial to get this right because even one wrong number or letter will prevent the employer from contacting you.
Let’s dive deeper into this section.
Your legal name
You want to keep everything professional right from the start. The best practice is to use your legal name on your resume. If you go by a nickname, avoid using that here unless you’ve already built up a personal brand under that appellation. When you get further in the hiring process, you can ask to be called by a different name, but until then, use your actual name. If it’s difficult to pronounce—whether because it’s foreign or employs an unusual spelling—you can provide a pronunciation guide in parentheses next to it.
As for academic titles, the only ones you really need to include are a doctoral degree and highly specialized titles for specific jobs. If getting a degree changed the way your name is recognized, include it in the name section. However you write your name in the contact section, keep it consistent throughout the resume.
Your physical address
Nowadays, you don’t usually have to include your mailing address in your personal information section since most correspondence is digital. If location is important in the job you’re applying for, including your address is a good idea although you can include it for any job if you wish. In case you choose to provide your physical address, be sure to list it in full, including any apartment number, P.O. box, and other special cases.
If you’re applying for a job that would entail relocation, mention that you plan to move to the job area. This way, the hiring manager will know you’re truly interested in the job and will be where you need to be. Even in this case, listing your physical address is completely optional—you can simply tell the employer what city, state, or country you’re in.
Your digital information
Communication these days is predominantly digital, either via email or phone, so it’s essential to list these details in your personal information section.
Let’s start with your phone number. Never put down your current work number; instead, provide your cell phone number (preferably) or your home phone number, if you have one. Whichever you are more likely to answer, put that on your resume. There are multiple ways to format your phone number, including 123-456-7891 or (123) 456-7891. It doesn’t matter which format you use—just make sure all the digits are correct! Also, if you’re applying for a job in another country, be certain to include the country code in your phone number. For U.S. and Canadian numbers, this is the 1 at the beginning of a phone number.
When it comes to your email address, use a professional one. Don’t list the email address you created when you were 13! If you don’t have a professional email address, create one using Gmail or Outlook. It’s best to have your full name included in the email address. Of course, since all email addresses must be unique, it may not be possible to have one that’s simply your name. In this case, you have several options, such as playing around with initials, including your middle name or your job title, or getting a personal domain that allows you to just use your name.
This doesn’t always happen, but correspondence could also take place through your social media accounts, such as LinkedIn. If you have a social media profile and want the hiring manager to see your professional development, include the URL to your profile in your personal information. LinkedIn is the primary social media platform for professionals, but you can also provide a link to your Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram profile as long as it’s professional and adds value to your resume.
Your professional summary
Resumes no longer include an objective statement—this has been replaced by a professional summary. Your professional summary goes underneath your personal information and could be separated by a line or another divider that clearly marks the boundary.
Unlike an objective statement, which simply explains what you want to do, a professional summary emphasizes your qualifications and experience, demonstrating the value you can bring to a company. Think about the requirements listed in the job description and use those to help you write your professional summary. (Yes, this means your professional summary should be different for each job application). Here’s an example:
I am a software engineer who enjoys making people’s lives easier by creating applications that enhance the quality of their work. I enjoy the tedious details that are usually overlooked because I consider them important. My commitment to remain dedicated to a job until it’s finished pays off when people are satisfied.
Don’t let this short statement fool you—it’s one of the most important elements of your resume. Typically, hiring managers only spend 5-7 seconds on a resume before deciding whether they want to move you forward or toss you out. Your professional summary is meant to entice them and make them want to keep reading.
Your skills section
Your skills section will vary based on the job you’re applying for. It’s simply a list of qualifications that indicate you are a suitable candidate, and that list will differ for each job you consider. This section is meant to give hiring managers a quick look at your skill set, helping them decide if they want to know more or move on to the next resume.
So, how can you keep them interested in your resume?
Use the job description
Hiring managers can immediately tell if you’ve read the job description by looking at the skills you have listed. Most job descriptions contain requirements and preferred skills, so read the job description and tailor your resume accordingly. Obviously, you mustn’t lie, but it’s imperative to list all skills in the job description that you have. If you ignore the requirements, the hiring manager may just ignore your resume.
List a variety of skills
There are hard and soft skills. The latter pertain to mental and interpersonal abilities, while the former refer to more technical skills you have acquired over time. As you begin to assess which skills to list, you want to strike a good balance between hard and soft skills. The ideal balance will largely depend on the type of job you’re applying for, but regardless, employers like to see that you have some strong personal attributes as well as the ability to learn new skills.
Don’t list skills that are naturally linked to your job. If you paint for a living, you shouldn’t include “good painting skills”—it’s already assumed you have that skill! Also, find a way to logically present your skills. Whether that’s by order of importance or type of skill, have a reason behind your list.
Outsmart the ATS
Most large and medium-sized companies are overwhelmed with online job applications, so they use computerized helpers called applicant tracking systems (ATSs) to narrow down the candidate pool. The ATS scans resumes and checks the text. In general, it looks for an abundant use of keywords relevant to a given job. If you just use hackneyed buzzwords, you won’t make it past the ATS. You can outsmart the program by including the keywords featured in the job description, but make sure your resume still reads naturally for the human hiring manager.
Choosing the right skills to list can be difficult. The trick is to pick skills that are unique to you and make you stand out. If you include nothing but generic skills, you won’t impress the hiring manager. Think about what skills you possess that would make you valuable to the company.
Your work experience
The most crucial part of your resume is your work experience section, which is designed to show employers why you can boast those qualifications. You’ll want to write a work experience section that justifies all the skills you’ve listed.
List accomplishments, not descriptions
It’s easy to list the jobs you had and describe what you did there, but that’s ineffective. You should instead specify your accomplishments at those jobs. Recruiters want to see that you were valuable to your previous employers because that implies you can be valuable to their company as well. Your accomplishments prove your qualifications with quantifiable results.
Let’s look at the difference between a job description and an accomplishment:
- Description: Managed retail sales
- Accomplishment: Improved retail sales by 20% in 5 months with an innovative marketing strategy
This takes a description and turns into something that demonstrates how you added value to the company. What’s most important in your work experience section is showing your value.
Don’t include every job
This sounds a little deceptive, doesn’t it? Not necessarily. You typically don’t need to go back more than 10 years. Besides, listing work from too long ago can lead to age discrimination. Also, if you didn’t stay at a job for more than six months, you don’t need to list it.
Just be aware that the hiring manager may have questions about any employment gaps. You can circumvent these questions by briefly listing the reason for short-term employment on your resume or waiting until your interview to explain further. Of course, if you have valuable accomplishments from your short-term or older jobs, you should list them, but include them as an addendum to your skills section.
List all types of experience
You don’t have to get paid for a job to list it in your work experience section. You can include any volunteer contributions, internships, or any other type of work relevant to the job you’re applying for. You could even include hobby projects if they add real value to your resume. However, don’t list unpaid jobs that don’t relate to the one you’re after. You shouldn’t list anything that doesn’t add value.
Your education history
If you graduated from college, you don’t need to list your high school education and achievements. Only include colleges that you earned a degree from. If you didn’t finish college, just put down your high school graduation date; if you’re still in school, write your expected graduation date.
List all degrees you have earned, including any certifications that have aided in your professional development, as long as they’re relevant to the job. You don’t have to be in school to learn. There are other ways to receive education in your career, so don’t forget to list those. Hiring managers love to see people who are still looking for ways to gain additional knowledge.
Here’s the short answer: Don’t list them. If hiring managers want your references, they will ask you for them. You don’t even need to write “References available upon request.” However, do have a list of references ready in case the hiring manager requests any.
When choosing references, opt for people who can vouch for your qualifications and will speak highly of you as a person and a professional. Also, ask them ahead of time if they are willing to be your reference; otherwise, they might not give you the review you want.
Formatting your resume
One of the most time-consuming aspects of creating a resume is formatting it in a way that makes it easy to read yet professional. There are many factors involved in formatting, but we highlight the basics here. Besides, sticking to the basics is a good idea when it comes to resumes.
There are many creative yet professional-looking designs you can choose for your resume. Rule of thumb: Always pick a style that’s easy to read and modern. If you try to use a style from the 1900s, your resume will be automatically discarded. Don’t get too creative, either—hiring managers want to be able to quickly scan your resume for the information they need, and if your design is too unconventional, they may not know where to look.
There are templates you can follow, too. If you’re feeling adventurous, you could create your own resume style, but this isn’t advisable unless you really know what you’re doing. Don’t include any pictures on your resume: This is solely a word-driven document.
Your resume style says a lot about your attention to detail. For example, you always want to leave a good margin around the text. Don’t try to run the words as close as possible to the edge to create more room. Rather, leave white space on your resume because this helps with readability.
Also, your font style should be easy to read. For example, Arial, Calibri, and Times New Roman are good, eye-friendly fonts. Your font size should be 10-12, certainly never smaller than 10.
Don’t go wild with your resume style and design in an effort to impress the hiring manager. Remember that they focus on readability. If you try to do too much on your resume, it may become too crammed and overwhelming. The design should be restrained, allowing the text to take center stage.
Types of resumes
Not all resumes use the same layout. You may want to use different ones depending on your qualifications and the job you’re eyeing.
The chronological resume puts your most recent work experience at the top of the list. This helps recruiters see your most recent jobs without having to sift through your older ones. This is a good type of resume to use if you’ve experienced significant career growth over the years.
The functional resume focuses more on your skills, not your employment and education history. It can be beneficial for those with a spotty work history or an underwhelming educational background. This isn’t the best format to use because the hiring manager will notice the weaknesses, but it at least deemphasizes them. Another disadvantage is that functional resumes don’t do well with ATSs since there’s often no time period associated with the skills you list.
A hybrid resume combines a chronological and a functional resume. This format has proven to be the most successful one because it provides a very strong work experience section with a solid skills section. A hybrid resume can also pass the ATS more easily because it includes keywords associated with the job description.
Proofreading your resume
Proofreading is a crucial yet overlooked part of the resume-writing process. You can include all the necessary components, but if you neglect the small details, it could cost you the job.
Here are some important things to look out for.
These include spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar mistakes. Read and reread your resume to find any errors, and then hire a proofreader because it’s exceedingly difficult to effectively proofread your own work. Careless grammatical errors and typos are a common reason why people don’t get hired.
As you go through your resume, check for consistency throughout. Make sure that your name and your skills are consistently stated in the same way. If you spelled out a state in one address, spell it out in all addresses. You want everything to be uniform to avoid any misunderstandings and to look more professional.
Finalizing your resume
After you finish putting together your resume, you need to do two essential things to make sure it’s ready to be submitted—check your page length and save the file properly. Overlooking these two steps can also prevent your resume from reaching the right person, so don’t mess things up in the final stretch.
The length of your resume matters! A standard resume is no more than two pages long. If you have a prodigious employment history, pare it down to two pages. It’s fine if your resume doesn’t cover two pages—if you’re starting your professional journey, the document will be short. However, you want your resume to be at least a full page so the hiring manager has enough information to understand why you’re valuable.
Saving your resume in the correct file format is important since the hiring manager may not be using the same programs as you. It used to be that saving your resume as a PDF was best because it could be viewed on any device. However, a PDF file could create problems when going through the ATS. Today, it’s best to save your resume as a .doc or .docx file. Even if the hiring manager doesn’t have Microsoft Word, these files can easily be opened by multiple devices.
Hiring professional help
There are many considerations and rules to take into account when writing a resume. It’s easy to get stressed out trying to check all the right boxes, so spare yourself the headache—contact our resume experts for help with writing or proofreading your resume.
You may think that you don’t need to hire a professional resume writer, but if you’ve submitted your resume to multiple companies and haven’t heard back or you’re not sure what to include in the document, you may need the extra help.
You may be hesitant to hire a professional because it means you’ll incur costs, but this is an investment in your career. Besides, letting an expert help you write your resume gives you an advantage because they know all the ins and outs of resume writing. Why wouldn’t you want their professional assistance?
If getting hired is important to you, it’s imperative to craft a resume that will land you the job. It takes time, energy, and effort, but you can save yourself the hassle if you reach out to a professional resume writer!