Do you need to write a resume? While it's only a page or two in length, a resume is one of the most important parts of a job application. Your resume is your most powerful tool to tell the story of your professional work history to potential employers.
A well-written resume that highlights your most relevant qualifications for the job will help you get selected for an interview. Often, interviewers will consult your resume during the interview, too. Above all, your resume needs to be consistent, concise, and easy to read. If it's not, your resume and cover letter won't get a second glance from any hiring manager.
In many cases, your resume is the first document a hiring manager will look at when reviewing your application, and therefore is a true “first impression.” Accordingly, it’s important to put time and effort into developing and maintaining an updated, accurate resume.
Here is information on how to write a resume that will get noticed and help you get invited for an interview.
What is a Resume?
Think of a resume as “self-advertisement” that sums up your experience on one page. Your resume is one of the most important pieces of your job application. It gives the hiring manager an overview of the qualifications you have for the job for which you’re applying.
You should also familiarize yourself with the difference between a resume and a cover letter:
- A resume is typically sent with a cover letter, which is a document that provides additional information on your skills and experience in letter form.
- A resume is a concise, often bulleted summary, while a cover letter highlights and expands on certain traits or accomplishments that would be unique or ideal assets for the particular job.
Types of Resumes
There are several basic types of resumes used to apply for job openings. Depending on your personal circumstances:
A chronological resume (in reverse chronological order) is the simplest format to use, but there may be circumstances where you want to focus on your key accomplishments and skills rather than your employment history. For instance, this format can be helpful if you have an employment gap.
To quickly make the best impression on hiring managers, recruiters, and connections, consider creating three versions of your resume, including a comprehensive, targeted, and short teaser version.
Which Resume Type is Right for You?
Which resume type should you use for your job search? That depends on what you're trying to accomplish. The goal of any resume is to show a hiring manager the applicant's strengths, skills, and experience in as short a time as possible. According to one study, recruiters spend as little as seven seconds reviewing a resume before moving on to the next, so it's in your best interests to put your finest qualities and accomplishments in a prominent position on the page.
In addition, functional or combination resumes may also be useful if you're trying to draw the reader's attention away from something—namely, large gaps in your work history or detours into unrelated fields.
What to Include in Your Resume
An effective resume lays out a summary of qualifications that will push the hiring manager or employer to move forward and invite you to interview for the position.
For many people, it can be helpful to sit down with a pen and paper, or a blank Word or Google document, and jot down their work history from start to finish. Of course, if you have been in the workforce for many years, this is not going to be time-efficient, so you may choose to focus on your most prominent and relevant positions.
No matter your approach, your goal will be to produce a chronological list of experience that is relevant to the jobs you’re applying to.
Required and Optional Resume Sections. As well as details on skills, education, and work history, resumes can also have optional sections, such as an objective, summary statement, skills, or career highlights. Those sections can be added after you’ve compiled all the factual information you need to list on your resume.
List the Details. Make sure to include the name of the company, its location, dates of employment, and several bullet points describing your role and responsibilities for each position you list. Although you may need to expand on the bullet points later on, you’ll need this information at the minimum.
Include Your Experience and Accomplishments. Although this should focus on professional work experience, you can also include awards or accolades, volunteer or community experience, post-grad coursework, and skills, as well as your college education, which can move to the bottom of your resume once you get your first job after college.
Focus on Your Achievements. When writing the descriptions for the jobs you’ve held, focus on what you accomplished in each position rather than what you did. Listing quantifiable achievements in a numerical manner (increased sales by 20%, reduced expenses by 10%, for example) will help your resume stand out.
Match Your Resume to the Job. Be sure to match those accomplishments to the criteria the employer is seeking in the job posting.
Review Your Job Descriptions. Review the descriptions you've written for each job you've held:
- Are they going to show the hiring manager why you're a good match?
- Do they sound impressive?
If it’s challenging (and it can be!) to write resume descriptions that will catch the attention of the hiring manager, review these tips for how to make your resume employment history sound better— and get you picked for an interview.
What to Leave Off Your Resume
There are some things that don’t belong on a resume for a job. What you exclude is just as important as what you include. Ideally, your resume should reflect experience that is relevant to the job you are applying to, and typically no more than ten to fifteen years in the past. Since your resume should, if possible, be no longer than one or two pages, you may need to nix certain items.
For example, if you took a job and only stayed there for a month or so, you wouldn’t want to include that position. If you’ve been out of college for more than five years, it’s generally best to remove any internships you’ve had, assuming you have other professional work experience to fill the gap.
However, this is a case where you’ll want to use your common sense. If you went to college for marketing and had a marketing internship your senior year, then worked as a server for the next several years, you would want to include your marketing internship.
Ultimately, you want to try to strike a balance between including experience that is both timely and relevant.
How to Format Your Resume
It's important to choose a font and font size that are legible and will leave enough white space on the page.
You also want to keep style features (such as italics, underlining, bold, and the use of bullets) to a minimum; reserve the use of boldface for section headings and for quantifiable achievements that you would like to have “pop” on the page (example: “Secured and fulfilled $1.5M contract”).
When you use a particular style, use it consistently. That is, if you bold one section header, make sure to bold all of them.
You should use consistent spacing throughout, and evenly sized margins on all sides if possible. It’s generally best to stick to your word processor’s default settings, but in some cases, if you shrink the margins on the left, right, top and bottom, this can help buy more space to fit your resume on one page.
Although visual or infographic resumes have become trendy in some industries, it is always a safe bet to stick with traditional formatting: white page, black text, readable font. Choose a basic font such as Arial, Times New Roman, Calibri, Helvetica, or Georgia. Ideally, your font size should be no larger than 12 and no smaller than 10.5.
Even if you are only sending in copies digitally, it is a good idea to print your resume (as it’s possible that hiring managers may be doing so) to be sure it prints on a single page, and is easy to read in printed form. Reading over a printed copy of your resume will also help you ensure that there is plenty of white space on the page and it looks professional.
Use Resume Keywords
Most companies use recruiting management software to screen candidates for job openings.
In order to get found, your resume needs to contain keywords that directly target the jobs you are interested in.
Spend some time matching your qualifications to the job to ensure you're including the appropriate keywords and skills. In addition to helping your resume get selected, it will also help the hiring manager see how your skills and experiences make you an ideal candidate for the specific job.
7 Tips For a Resumé That Will Get You Hired
Review Resume Examples
Read through samples that fit a variety of employment situations. These sample resumes will provide you with examples of resume formats that will work for almost every type of job seeker. They will also help you see what kind of information to include.
Download a Resume Template
Along with resume examples, you can use a resume template as a starting point for creating your own resume. Add your information to the resume template, then tweak and edit it to personalize your resume so that it highlights your own unique skills and abilities.
Download the resume template (compatible with Google Docs or Word Online) or read the example below.
Resume Sample (Text Version)
234 Howard Street • Milwaukee, WI 53210 • (123) 456-7890 • email@example.com
Skillful and customer service-oriented Cashier with proven capacities for checkout and return transactions, point of sale operations, and team organization and motivation. Key skills include:
- Cash Handling / Credit Transactions
- Up-selling / Cross-selling Strategies
- Product Knowledge Acquisition
- Team Supervision & Training
- Customer Education
- Issue Resolution
HARDWARE SALES, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Head Cashier (February 2017 – Present)
Performed all cash handling and credit transactions with 100% accuracy. Processed checkout and return transactions, provided solutions to customer queries and issues, and coached and trained new hires.
- Leveraged strong product knowledge to educate customers and maximize up-selling and cross-selling opportunities.
- Promoted to role as Head Cashier six months after initial hiring as Cashier.
- Earned 3 “Employee of the Quarter” awards.
ARNOLD’S DRIVE-IN, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Waitress (November 2015 – January 2017)
Concurrent with education, provided attentive customer service to patrons of popular local restaurant. Greeted guests, provided menu recommendations, and took orders; helped to maintain dining room.
- Trained and mentored new wait staff in winning customer service techniques.
- Earned frequent commendations from restaurant guests for cheerfulness and creation of positive dining experiences.
EDUCATION & CREDENTIALS
Associate’s Degree in Business Management, 2017
Milwaukee Area Technical College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Technical Proficiencies: Microsoft Office Suite, QuickBooks, and POS systems
Proof Your Resume
Be sure to thoroughly edit your resume before sending it:
- Check for grammar and spelling errors as well as any style inconsistencies.
- Always print it out and proofread a hard copy. That helps to catch errors.
- Consider asking a friend or family member, or even a career counselor, to read over your cover letter.
- Review these proofing tips to ensure that your resume is consistent and error free.
Keep Your Resume Current
In the short term, you should tweak your resume based on each job you apply to. For example, if one position you’re applying to seems to weigh a certain responsibility or focus over another, you should be sure your resume conveys your expertise in this area.
At the same time, you should be updating your resume with your experience as it develops, adding any new skills you’ve learned, courses you’ve taken or awards you won.
It is much easier to update your resume periodically than all at once, so even when you’re employed, set a reminder to refresh your resume every three months, while the information is still fresh in your head. This will make your next job search much easier, should you decide to switch companies or careers in the future.
Get Resume Advice
Writing a resume is hard work, and it's often a good idea to get help before you send it to employers. You can find resume writing advice and resume writing tips online. You can also meet with a college career counselor if you are a college student or alumnus.
You might use a professional resume service instead or check with your state’s department of labor website for information on any free job services they offer. There are many great, free resume resources.