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Writing your resume is a very important moment in the job search process — arguably the MOST important moment, as your resume will decide whether you get invited in for an interview or any take any next steps with a company at all. It is your sales pitch, your calling card, the first impression you make that you won’t be able to take back.
Table of contents
And that’s why it needs to be flawless. No uneven margins, no double spaces, NO RANDOM CAPITALIZATION — this isn’t a presidential tweet, after all 😄
To make things trickier, it turns out that there are several resume formats to choose from, depending on your career, skills and experience. Nobody said getting a great job was going to be easy, but it is definitely worth the effort!
So let’s work on making your resume as tidy and coherent as possible together, shall we?
Before we get into formats, let’s start with the absolute basics: legibility. The average recruiter spends all of 6 (!) seconds on each resume they look at.
This means your resume should be as well-organized as possible so they can take in the most important information as quickly as possible. Make sure your resume contains the following, clearly marked sections:
These two sections could come first. The order of the rest is dependent on the resume format you choose.
And while we’re on the subject of legibility, let’s talk about basic formatting, too.
Do you remember what I said a little earlier about recruiters depending an average of 6 seconds on every resume? Well, if yours is a mess of haphazard fonts and uneven margins, it will likely go right into the trash can.
What this boils down to is that none of your skills or experience, no matter how impressive or extensive, matter if you are not able to present them in a tidy, digestible fashion.
So let’s break this down into a few specific categories:
One-inch margins are your best bet, as they allow for as much space as possible without filling the page to the brim with text. Spacing should be single or 1.15 — as always, consistency is key, so pick one and stick with it.
You may have an artsy or downright silly streak, but your resume is not the place to be showcasing that, at least not via font.
A font is really nothing more than a vehicle you choose to help get your message across, and as such, the less distracting it is, the better for your candidacy.
So ditch the Comic Sans, the Papyrus and the Courier, and go with something that doesn’t obstruct the meaning of your words. Or make you look like an 8-year-old.
This doesn’t mean you don’t get anything to choose from, though. Take your pick from over 10 popular, professional and aesthetically-pleasing fonts such as:
See? Neat doesn’t have to mean boring!
As for size, you’re going to need to make sure that it’s not so small that your resume looks like someone spilled poppyseeds all over it, and not so big that you end up wasting precious space.
Generally speaking, a 12pt font should meet those criteria. Note that you CAN use a smaller font every now and then, but only for supporting text, and even then, make sure you don’t overdo it.
Heading font size
Make your headings stand out! This means using a noticeably bigger font, like a 14pt or even 16pt, and bolding them as well.
Everybody likes numbers! They always make things that much more concise and organized. Not to mention they are somehow almost immediately visible, even when surrounded by a dense thicket of text!
And this is why you need to make sure you are using those numbers as effectively as possible.
If any of your previous successes can be measured in a number of hours saves, clients acquired, money saved, response time decreased, or anything of the sort, make sure you use a number to demonstrate that.
Saved 5M by reducing employee turnover
just looks better than
Saved five million by reducing employee turnover”. You know it does.
Up until now, you may have thought that there is only one right order to put the information on your resume in. Nope! And a good thing, too 😄
Because it turns out that depending on your career, one format might showcase your best qualities, while another might bury your achievements somewhere the recruiter will never see them.
This means choosing the right format is absolutely crucial!
While we’re at it, let’s take a moment to clear up a common misunderstanding — that is, that resumes and CVs are one and the same. Though they are both documents you prepare and send off when seeking a job, CVs are for academia only.
So if you are in fact an academic looking to get hired at a university or research center, see my detailed guide on how to write a great CV here. Resumes, on the other hand, are good for any other profession, from teacher to lawyer to bartender.
But back to resume formats. You ready?
This format is undoubtedly the most popular of all. Candidates who use this format are looking for a job similar to the ones they have had before.
This is why the jobs you’ve had take center stage here — the work experience section is the first, most visible section on this kind of resume.
As the name of this format itself suggests, reverse-chronological format resumes list your previous jobs in reverse chronological order, meaning starting with the most recent.
Due to its popularity, the he reverse-chronological format is easy to read for any recruiter. On the downside, because it is so common, standing out with such a resume can prove more challenging.
The combination format combines elements of both the:
Combination format resumes start off by listing your skills, and then go on to list the places you’ve worked in reverse-chronological order. A combination format resume is good for 4 main types of people:
A potential drawback of this format is that it makes things like job-hopping and employment gaps much harder to hide, so prepare to answer questions about that during your interview.
This format is also called the skills-based format, and for good reason — this format focuses not on the specific amounts of time you spent at a certain job, but on the skills and experience you’ve gleaned from projects you’ve worked on, and that is why the skills and highlights section comes first.
The functional format is best for candidates seeking creative jobs. The list of your previous employers is much less visible here, appearing after what I hope is a long list of skills and accomplishments 😄
If you are looking for employment in an unconventional, creative field, this type of resume could be right for you. Its drawback, however, is that it is much harder to scan for information, so use it only if it is really suits your career.
Not sure how to list your skills to make this section as effective as possible? Check out my in-depth guide here!
So, that’s it! We’ve chosen the right resume format for you. If you have any further questions about how to go about writing a resume in general, check out my guide here. If not, get writing and good luck!