How to Write a Resume [The Complete Guide] Best Writing Tips

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How to Write a Resume [The Complete Guide] Best Writing Tips

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Martyna Jasielska

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Martyna Jasielska

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The company you want to work at is pretty great, right? The thing is, a lot of people probably think so, and they are applying for the same job as you are. So how can you make sure that you’re the candidate that gets noticed and invited in for an interview? How can you make sure your candidacy doesn’t get lost in a sea of other hopefuls? The answer is surprisingly simple: write a good resume.

You can have the perfect skillset for the job in question, but none of your skills mean anything to a potential employer if they don’t know about them.

A clear, concise, well-written resume will help potential employers quickly understand why YOU are who they should be contacting. And the more companies invite you in for an interview, the more options you have to choose from.

So how do I get harness the power of a resume? you ask. No worries, I’m here to guide you in the process of how to make a good resume, step by step.

Let’s get started!

What is a resume?

Let’s start with defining what a resume actually is.

A resume is a document you send to a company which has posted a job offer you find interesting. Containing contact details and information on your work experience, a resume’s job is to showcase your suitability for the position in question and get you invited to an interview.

Resumes are used in the U.S. and Canada.
Other countries, including English-speaking ones like England, typically use CVs.

Resume vs. CV — what’s the difference?

With both of these words being of foreign origin — resume is from French, and CV, or curriculum vitae, from Latin, some erroneously assume that both are one and the same.

And while they do share the same general idea – that is, being a record of your work experience – resumes and CVs are different and are used in different situations.

Curriculum Vitae is Latin for “course of life”, and as you may have guessed, this means that a CV is:

  • typically much richer in details
  • and thus much longer than a resume would be.

A CV includes extensive information on your:

  • educational/academic background
  • and achievements
  • as well as work experience.

It is, in a way, the story of how you came to be the accomplished professional you are today, and can go on for pages and pages. A CV is typically requested of people applying for

  • academic,
  • research,
  • or even international positions.
Resume vs. CV — what’s the difference?

A resume is much shorter and straightforward, and is what is required when applying for most other kinds of positions in the U.S. and Canada.

More of a flyer than a life story, it gives potential employers an idea of your relevant work experience.

A resume is usually a maximum of 2 pages long and should make your qualifications clearly visible to the person reading it.

Studies suggest that the average recruiter spends an average of 6 (!) seconds on each resume, a statistic worth keeping in mind when deciding what to include in yours.

If you want to know more about the differences between a Resume and a CV, I invite you to read my other publication: “CV vs. Resume”: What’s the Difference Between a Resume and CV?.

Resume formats

Resumes come in several formats, meaning you can choose the one that will highlight your career the best.

The format you choose should be dependent on the type of job you are looking for and what skills and/or experience you want to highlight.

The 3 main formats are:

  1. Reverse-chronological resume format
  2. Combination resume format
  3. Functional format

Reverse-chronological resume format

This format is best used when the job you are applying for is similar to those you have already had.

It lists your experience in similar positions so the recruiter can easily see why you are qualified.

  • Pros: a very popular format, easy to read
  • Cons: because this format is so popular, you need to try harder to stand out

Combination resume format

This format may be right for you if you are looking to change something up in your career, are applying for a highly specific position, or have had a longer break from work.

The combination format mixes things up to let you better show how your experience in different areas and jobs will help you succeed in this new one.

  • Pros: good for showcasing why you are the right choice for a specific position
  • Cons: not good for most candidates

Functional format

Also called the skills-based format, this type of resume works best when applying for a creative job where your skills and experience with varied projects are more important than a step-by-step description of your previous jobs.

  • Pros: a good response to non-conventional job offers, emphasizes skills over an organized work history, good for freelancers
  • Cons: takes longer to scan for relevant information

The elements of a resume — how to build a resume

Every resume is going to be different because every person is different, but there are some elements that should be included in every resume in order for it to be proper and complete. These are:

  1. Basic personal data and contact details
  2. A summary of you as a candidate and your career thus far
  3. Your professional experience in relevant areas
  4. Your education
  5. Your skills
  6. Foreign languages you speak

You can, however, throw in a little something of your own, if it has the potential to make your resume stand out.

Personal data in your resume

Personal data in your resume

You want the company you’re applying for a position with to get in touch with you, so contact details are an obvious must.

No resume exists without the basics:

  • your name and surname
  • your phone number(s)
  • your e-mail address.

If you wish, you can also include additional details such as your mailing address or your LinkedIn profile.

However, there such a thing as too much information, and on that note, remember that your picture should NOT be on your resume.

Why no picture, you ask?

Simple. Pictures take up valuable space that could and should be used to present the skills and qualifications you possess for the job you are applying for — and unless that job is model, your appearance is pretty irrelevant.

Adding a picture for no good reason could even be seen as highly inappropriate!
The same goes for details of your private life, such as:

  • your date of birth,
  • marital status
  • or religious/political affiliation.
Candidate description/career summary in Resume

Candidate description/career summary in Resume

There is no modern resume without this short but important section.
Located in the header, all it really is is a 2-3-sentence long summary of you as an employee.

Remember! The average recruiter will be spending all of 6 seconds on your resume, so this section is a great opportunity to get their attention.

There are two ways to do this section.

The Resume Summary Statement

You could go with The Resume Summary Statement, which highlights professional skills and experience.

A good example of such a statement is:

Good example

“Self-motivated and cheerful customer service professional with 2+ years of experience helping customers navigate websites and resolving product and service issues. Eager to support BookMe in building an impeccable online reputation by providing top-class customer support. Received 98.9% positive ratings at GHI Inc. where customer retention for my regular call-ins was 25% above the company average.”

To compare, now take a look at this badly written Resume Summary Statement…

Bad example

“Hello, hiring manager. My name is John Smith and I have been in the automotive industry for years. I’ve worked with various suppliers and OEMs and have built up a variety of contacts over time. I can instantly hit the ground running with your company and I am very excited to be applying to your company. I mesh well with others and I know for a fact that I can fit in with any team that you assign me to. I look forward to hearing from you soon. Thank you! 

Best regards, 
John Smith”

The Resume Objective Statement

You could also go with The Resume Objective Statement, which is often somewhat shorter and mainly describes your professional goals.

A good example of such a statement is:

Good example

“Customer service manager seeking an opportunity to use my customer service and management skills to improve customer satisfaction.”

Now, compare that to a bad Resume Objective Statement…

Bad example

“My position will have pleasant surroundings, a good salary, low pressure, not require me to bring work home and good benefits.”

Reading a statement this entitled and presumptuous, I can’t help but wonder if this person ever found a job!

Professional experience in Resume

Professional experience in Resume

This is, without a doubt, the most important part of the entire resume.

However, this does not mean you need to mention every place you have ever worked since you got your very first job — the most you should go back is 15 years, anything before that is likely irrelevant now anyway.

And relevance is How to Write a Resume 101.

Because this is the most important part of your resume, it is especially crucial to present the information you provide in a straightforward, well-organized manner.

As I mentioned above, every job listed must include the following information:

  1. the dates you both started and finished working there,
  2. your position in said company,
  3. the company’s full name and address,
  4. a description of your Key Responsibilities, bulleted, a maximum of 6 per company,
  5. your Key Achievements

Do not underestimate the importance of bulleting your Key Responsibilities, as this information helps the recruiter get to know our skills and strengths better.

The same goes for Key Achievements — many people seem to focus only on their duties, omitting their achievements altogether, and seeming to forget that success is worth boasting about!

Depending on your previous positions, Key Achievements can include:

“Saved $3,000 a year in office supplies after negotiating a new deal with the current supplier.”

“Maintained customer retention rate 45% above company average.”

“Successfully trained and coached 3 junior staff members.”

“Reduced security breaches by 73% for all customers companywide.”

“Chief Editor of the University Blog from 2015 to 2018.”

As I mentioned above, there is no need to go on forever when listing previous employers — listing three like this should be enough to show the recruiter that we have the skills and experience needed for the job.

Remember to list your employers in REVERSE chronological order, starting with the most recent, as seen below:

May 2018 – present, Junior software engineer
IBM, 1000 Parkway Street, Burlington, Vermont
Key responsibilities:
   — reviewing code
   — estimating implementation times and risks
   — supporting other software engineers in their tasks.
Key achievements: increased code efficiency of XYZ Corp customer portal by 15%.
September 2017 – April 2018, Internship candidate
IBM, 1000 Parkway Street, Burlington, Vermont
Key responsibilities: 
   — completing an extensive onboarding and training program
   — familiarizing myself with all of IBM’s activities
   — supporting software engineers in their tasks.
Key achievements: Commended by the internship supervisor for resourcefulness and attention to detail and went on to get a full-time job at the company.
August 2014 – August 2017, Sales assistant
Radio Shack, 2130 Walnut Drive, Burlington Vermont
Key responsibilities: 
   — assisting customers in their choice of office equipment and home appliances
   — working the cash register
   — dealing with complaints and returns
   — training new employees.
Key achievements: Achieved Employee of the Month 12x for efficiency and accuracy.
Education in Resume

Education in Resume

As I mentioned before, your education is important, but not nearly as important as your work experience, at least not on a resume.

The different educational institutions you have attended should be listed in reverse chronological order, starting with college or university, provided you attended.
If not, list your high school.

Done properly, your education section should look like this:

August 2015 - May 2018
Northwest Vermont University
Bachelor of Science in Computer Information systems 
Skills in Resume

Skills in Resume

The Skills section is also an important part of a resume, as it will help the recruiter understand who you are a better.

Soft skills, or the ability to easily communicate and cooperate with other people, and hard skills, or mathematical/technical abilities, are both valuable and are certainly worth mentioning if you have them.

Some skills look good presented using some sort of eye-catching graph — but if you do decide to do this, make sure the graph conveys information in a tidy and straightforward manner.

Like the one presented below:

As always, make sure the skills you are using up precious room to list are relevant to your professional life.

And perhaps most importantly, never exaggerate or, worse yet, flat-out lie that you possess a skill you do not — you might get away with it for a moment, but sooner or later everybody is going to find out.

Read more about resume skills in a dedicated article on how to present resume skills.

Foreign languages in Resume

The foreign languages you speak are usually listed in the “Skills” section.
However, if you speak several, or possess numerous certificates or other achievements in the area of one specific language, you might want to spotlight this by putting this information in its own section.

Demand for bi- and multi-lingual employees has greatly increased over the past few years, so who knows?

Maybe your foreign language proficiency will be the skill that gets you hired!

Foreign languages in Résumé - example graph

Other resume sections

Is there something you would like recruiters to know, but haven’t mentioned yet?
Feel free to add an extra section or two at the end, such as:

  • Hobbies/interests
  • Certificates/Courses completed
  • Charity work

Once again, keep in mind that you have a limited amount of room to present yourself to a potential employer, so mentioning that pottery course you did in 2015 is a waste of both that room and the recruiter’s time.

Resume Final polish

You’re almost there! Before you press send, however, there are a few last things you should do to make sure that not only the content, but also the presentation of your resume is as good as possible.

  1. Have someone proofread it
    Doing it on your own, it is easy to miss things. Typos make anything look sloppy and can really put a recruiter off your resume, no matter how good it really is.
  2. Save your resume as a PDF
    This will ensure that it looks as nice as you originally intended it no matter which program is used to open it. Also, you should make sure to name the PDF file something professional and to the point, i.e.
    John_Smith_resume.pdf.
  3. When e-mailing your resume, make sure:
    • the e-mail address you are sending your resume from is a professional-sounding one, not, say,
      cutecatlover@yahoooo.com
    • the e-mail address you are sending your resume from is the same one that is listed on your resume — otherwise, things could get a little confusing.
Cover letter for Resume

Cover letter

Depending on your career path, it might be hard to sum everything up on one or even two pages. And that’s where cover letters come in.

The perfect complement to a resume, a cover letter lets you say all of the things you just didn’t have room for on your resume, expand on the information contained in it.

Use your cover letter to:

  • introduce yourself to the recruiter,
  • explain why you are uniquely qualified for the position,
  • and express enthusiasm for the company.

As opposed to resumes, there is no specific right format every cover letter must follow, though, as ever, it is important to include relevant information presented in an easy-to-read fashion. A polite call to action at the end, and you’re done.

But.

Never, EVER send a stock, one-size-fits-all cover letter to every company you apply at. With cover letters, personalization key. Transparently copy-paste cover letters come off as cliched and lazy, and do nothing more than waste the time of the person reading them.

And that does not increase your chances of getting the job.

Resume Final checklist

Final checklist

Whew! That was a lot of information and I’m glad you made it to the end with me.
Now you’re ready to apply for that dream job!

Before you press send, take on last look at your resume and make sure it is:

  • a maximum of 2 pages long
  • concise and transparent
  • full of information relevant to your potential employer
  • typo-free
  • saved in PDF format

Got it? Then go get ‘em!

And if you’ve decided to write and attach a cover letter to increase your chances of getting that job even more, see my detailed guide here: How to Write a Cover Letter in Few Steps [+2 Examples] | Writing Guide.

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Martyna Jasielska

Martyna Jasielska

Content Manager

Martyna Jasielska

Content Manager

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