How to Write a Resume that Beats the Competition

Learn best practices and get insider tips so you can take your resume above and beyond.

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A resume is more than an obligatory document that you must create and submit to land a job. Think of it, rather, as an opportunity to showcase the amazing things you’ve done in your career and a chance to start a conversation with a potential employer.

Well-written, effective resumes open doors and help you land more job interviews. ”

However, a subpar resume will encourage employers and recruiters to pursue other candidates. That’s why it’s important for every jobseeker to learn how to write a resume according to best practices.

A resume should accurately and concisely detail your professional history and identify what you, as an employee, can bring to the table for a future employer. It should cover your top skills, best achievements, and educational history—and it should truly sell your abilities and the unique value you can bring to an organization. This information will paint a picture of the type of employee you are and show employers what you are capable of accomplishing.

Whew! That’s a lot to take in. Fear not, for we have formatting, writing, and general best practice tips for you.

Behind Every Great Resume is a Great Resume Template

They say, “don’t judge a book by its cover,” but they also say, “looks matter”. So it’s safe to assume that employers and recruiters will judge you and your professional endeavors (at least a little bit) based on the appearance of your resume. Read our advice below on selecting a resume template that helps rather than hurts your quest for the job.

An organized layout suggests that you are an organized person.

When you learn how to write a resume well, you might miss an important lesson: the way you present yourself on paper provides insight into your professional persona. A cluttered, lengthy resume suggests that you lack the skills to prioritize your best talents and achievements. If you can’t do that, then employers will wonder if you are capable of prioritizing and organizing your work assignments. It doesn’t matter if you are the most organized worker in the history of employment; if your resume doesn’t convey this, then you can’t expect employers to see this side of you.

A great resume format is easy to scan.

Most employers and recruiters don’t take time to read your resume. As previously mentioned, an ATS will process your resume first and discard it if it’s difficult to scan and it doesn’t include the correct keywords. Even after your resume makes it into human hands, it’s unlikely that they’ll spend more than six seconds looking at it. Six seconds isn’t long, so you must ensure that a reader could easily skim your resume in that time. This means that you must structure your resume neatly; additionally, you must place your most marketable experiences in prominent positions on the page. Test your resume: Set a timer on your phone for six seconds, then scan your resume. Did you see everything that you want an employer to see? If not, then edit your resume again.

Your resume is a great opportunity to brand yourself.

Professional branding is important for experienced jobseekers. Why? This is a way to control how employers perceive you. If you work in a creative industry, then you might want to consider adding some subtle style to your resume to show your innovative side. However, a financial applicant should stick to a bare bones layout to demonstrate straightforward thinking. No matter what you pick, just remember to go easy on resume style. A colored bar beneath your contact information shows creative style, but a picture of flowers just confuses machines and hiring managers alike.

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5 Tips & Tricks for Designing Your Resume

How to Write a Resume Pro Tips: 5 Recruiters Explain Their Top Pet Peeves

Recruiter Tip #1:

Margaret Buj: Talent Acquisition Manager at King and Interview Coach and Trainer

Even if you know how to write a resume like a pro, you can still learn new things to aid your job search. We hand-picked dynamite recruiters and asked them to share their biggest resume pet peeves. Check out their responses below and see if you’re guilty of committing these jobseeking sins.

“The most common mistake jobseekers make is that they don’t have a skills section at all, or the skills are not relevant to the job they’re applying for. The skills section is typically listed at the top of your resume, and there is no need to mention all of your skills—focus only on the ones that are relevant to the job you’re interested in.

Ensure you include some hard/technical skills first—data analysis, programming, strong knowledge of employment law, etc. However, also include some soft skills; for example, your ability to build strong partnerships or work with cross-functional teams.

Recruiter Tip #2:

Rachel Gutierrez: Technical Recruiter – Product Marketing at Facebook

“When applicants write ‘familiar with XYZ’ —what exactly does ‘familiar’ mean? Did you read about it in school? Or do you have a solid theoretical understanding of the topic? And if you do, then you better be able to talk about it in an interview. Otherwise, DO NOT LIST IT. Also, this kind of inclusion is too vague: ‘led team on XYZ project.’ What exactly did you do on the project? Did you just orchestrate the project or did you also take part in its execution? Where did project come from and what was its impact?

DON’T lists skills or experiences that you do not have or that aren’t strong. If you can’t talk about it in depth in an interview, if you can’t demonstrate an understanding of a skill or experience and show how you executed on something, DON’T LIST IT.”

Recruiter Tip #3:

Tanya Bourque: Chief Operations Officer/Cofounder Untappt

“I review over 100 resumes a day. There a few things that really stand out to me. The first thing that stands out is how readable the resume is. Some fonts really hurt the eyes. I recommend not using specialty fonts for your resume. The best fonts for resumes are Calibri and Times New Roman.

The second thing that stands out is the contact information section. There is a ton of contact information but no mention of the best way to reach the candidate. If the candidate is open to texting, they should put ‘open texter’ in parentheses after their cell phone number.”

Recruiter Tip #4:

Debra Wheatman: Professional Resume Writer and Career Coach, President of Careers Done Right

“A resume is a marketing tool, a document that candidates should be using to showcase how their background and achievements will deliver positive outcomes on behalf of a potential employer. I always find it shocking when people simply list ‘responsibilities’ on a resume as if that highlights something exceptional that they did. With these ‘responsibilities,’ they expect to be contacted for interviews and fail to understand why there is radio silence when no responses are flooding their inboxes.

A resume is a tool to help brand a candidate. This is the place to provide examples of work completed and the outcomes to demonstrate strengths and abilities. With the achievements and measurable outcomes, the candidate can really engage a reader and drive someone to action- meaning that a hiring manager will see the value in the candidate and feel compelled to reach out for an interview.

Without solid achievement-based information, the resume will not provide the compelling story that a hiring manager is seeking. Since the candidate has about 7 seconds to impress the reader, it should be impactful and not repetitive to other things already captured.”

Recruiter Tip #5:

-Stephanie Barbu: Tech Sourcer, Product Marketing at Facebook

“With resumes, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of proper formatting. You can’t just toss a bunch of bullet-pointed tasks and accomplishments from past and current jobs into a Word document and call it a day. You need to take the time to make sure your formatting is neat and aligned.

For example, line spacing should be single-spaced, and you need to make sure the margins are comfortable—don’t try to cram two pages-worth of work experience into one page, and leave just specks of space around the body of the resume. This is not a good way to make a resume stand out! The resume, at the end of the day, needs to be as easy as possible for me to read, because I have a lot of resumes to read.”

3 Resume Templates We Love

Entry-Level Resume

If you’re an entry-level job applicant, then we have good news for you: employers assume that you have very little (if any) experience. So ditch the wild resume formats that attempt to distract readers from the content. Instead, use our entry-level resume template to share your information neatly. This resume template works well for several reasons. For starters, note the bars that separate each section. This is a great tool to use when you’re still learning how to write a resume because it keeps your sections orderly and uncluttered. Even experienced professionals benefit from this structure. If you feel insecure about the white space on the page, then simply expand on your transferable skills.

Contemporary Resume

The contemporary look is perfect for jobseekers applying to cutting-edge industries and creative fields. Our contemporary resume uses a bold header that draws attention to the applicant’s name at the top. A smaller, eye-catching sub-header emphasizes each resume section. This allows the eye to find and identify each resume field quickly. From there, a hiring manager or recruiter could easily extract the most important information from each section. Overall, this style offers a modern, sleek look that is simple to skim. When you create your own, place the most important information in easy-to-find spots. This means that your best professional accomplishments should go at the top of each work history entry. It also means that your skills section must address as many as the position’s desired qualifications as possible.

Traditional Resume

If you’d rather stick to the classics, then this resume template is for you. Our traditional resume template offers a no-nonsense format to package your relevant information. This template works well for jobseekers in most industries, especially ones with an emphasis on tradition. If you want to use this resume but also stand out from the crowd of other worthy candidates, then focus your efforts on creating a standout summary statement. Reread the job description and see what you can pull from it to help you create a summary statement that employers and recruiters can’t forget. Read your summary statement aloud. Does it sound like a 30-second elevator pitch? If so, then you’re ready to share it!

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3 “Don’ts” for Formatting a Resume

What’s Wrong With Resume 1?

Remember the 2001 comedy Legally Blonde? The protagonist, Elle, submitted a pink, scented resume to the bewilderment of her law professor. Well, let’s just say that this resume would make even Elle roll her eyes! Don’t include a photo — of yourself or anything else — in your resume. Why? Typically, humans won’t see your resume first. Instead, employers use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to assess how well a candidate fits in a role. Photos confuse the ATS, which hurts your chances of surviving this round. Additionally, a study by TheLadders concluded that when a photo is included in a resume, it monopolizes almost 20 percent of the few precious seconds that recruiters spend evaluating a resume. That means that you now have less time to wow the decision-makers with the accomplishments and skills that actually matter.

What’s Wrong With Resume 2?

This resume has too many graphics, and it uses an array of fonts. Both are problematic for a number of reasons. For one, graphics take up precious resume real estate that you could otherwise use to flaunt your most marketable skills, experiences, and achievements. Even if your resume somehow makes it past the ATS, employers will have to wonder if you’re overcompensating for something. As for the fonts, they look cluttered and render the document difficult to read by humans and bots alike. Quick tip: to learn how to write a resume according to best practices, just remember that simplicity trumps complexity.

What’s Wrong With Resume 3?

Creative industries allow some freedom in resume making, but this is a poor example of a creative resume. In this sense, we see a colorful, loud border, but it doesn’t enhance the resume in any way. Instead, it looks as if it were thrown on at the last minute. The font doesn’t help either. Instead of using a classic font, this resume writer opted for a funky typeface that works better for a school bake sale than a professional document. Although this resume is more readable than the other two, it doesn’t follow best formatting practices.

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What’s the Best Resume Format: Functional vs. Chronological?

Did you know that there are two major resume formats? One is called a “chronological resume,” though a more appropriate name would be “reverse chronological resume.” This is because the work experience section starts with the most recent job and then works backward through your professional history. The other format is significantly less common: it’s named the “functional resume” and it is a skills-focused resume style that does not emphasize employment dates. But why two distinct formats? The reason for this is that the chronological and functional resumes cater to different needs. A chronological resume is preferred by recruiters and is great for most workers, especially those who have stayed in the same field for their entire career. However, a functional style is ideal for candidates who followed a unique path. Applicants who changed careers or have significant gaps in their work history benefit from packaging their information in a functional format. Consider your needs and see the explanations below to choose the best resume format for you.

Chronological Resume Format

The chronological resume style is the standard format that is most widely accepted by employers and recruiters. Even if you think a functional resume would better suit your needs, it’s smart to learn how to write a resume in the chronological format for future reference. You probably will utilize this format eventually. Employers love this format because it allows little room for questions; you state the dates and places where you worked and emphasize your relevant talents in the skills section above. If you’ve worked in the same field for your entire professional life and have no significant career gaps, then you would benefit from using this format.

Why use this format:

1. The chronological format is a classic format that is familiar to your readers. Unlike the functional resume, the chronological format allows for easy skimming and fewer questions from your readers.

2. This format paints a clear picture of your professional history. Employers and recruiters will be able to quickly understand your career progression.

Don’t use this format if:

1. You should avoid this format if you want to downplay a significant employment gap

2. This format won’t help you if you are changing industries.

3. You might want to skip the chronological format if you’ve worked in relatively similar positions for your entire career or held the same job for a very long period of time.

Functional Resume

The functional format is great for candidates who don’t quite fit the mold of typical applicants. Maybe you took a few years off of work to raise a family or care for an ailing loved one. Or perhaps you’ve switched industries a few times. Even applicants with no job experience could benefit from using the functional format. This is because the functional format is based on skills, rather than a list of past work experiences and accomplishments. Keep the functional style in mind as you master the tricks of how to write a resume.

Why use this format:

1. Consider using this format if including dates on your resume might bring unwanted attention to a large gap in employment

2. You’re an older worker who doesn’t want to invite bias based on age

3. You don’t have a lot of work experience or you have many years of experience in the same job.

Don’t use this format if:

1. Remember that this format is not the norm. If you don’t feel comfortable trying something different, then don’t.

2. Does your work experience follow a typical pattern of growth and advancement? If so, then skip the functional format. You’re better off utilizing the chronological style.

3. If the job description explicitly states that the employer will only accept a chronological resume, then honor its needs.

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Write Your Resume for an ATS in 5 Quick Steps

The first step to obtaining the job you want is to get your resume into the hands of the hiring manager. To do this, your resume must survive the ATS. At this day in age, most employers use an ATS, so it’s crucial to know how to optimize your resume to appease it. Even if you know how to write a resume well, you’ll benefit from learning these tricks.

  1. Study the job description and pull out key phrases. Look at the sections that pertain to the skills applicants must have. You will see these valuable words and phrases here.
  2. Use the language in the job description exactly as it appears. If an employer wants a “highly detail-oriented” worker, then don’t write “obsessed with details.” The ATS searches for exact phrasing.
  3. As we stated earlier, skip wacky fonts and graphics. This will just confuse the ATS, and that might ruin your chance to score an interview.
  4. Use spell check. It sounds simple, but you could miss a great opportunity if you misspell one or more important words.
  5. Stick to a simple layout. Some of ours add color and bars. That’s okay. However, you want to avoid flourishes and layouts that are so unique that they don’t look like resumes.

Need More Help? Write a Resume Using Our Resume Builder

Whew! We just threw a lot of information at you. Go easy on yourself and try our Resume Builder. It’s the fastest, easiest way to create a winning resume that’s sure to get attention from hiring managers.