Best Practices to Writing Your Resume
There are four basic best practices for every resume. As you craft your own unique document, keep these keys in mind:
Relevance: The information you present matches the position sought.
Readability: Your information is structured in a logical way, with simple fonts, clean lines and clear, concise text.
Consistency: The information presented — including dates, spelling, verb tense and formatting — is the same throughout.
Impact: The information presented gives details about actions taken and the results of those actions.
After that, it’s up to you to show how you can use your skills to help the potential employer meet company goals. You can do all this if you keep the following in mind.
5 Essential Sections to Include in Every Resume
While every resume should be as unique as the person who writes them and the job sought, they all must include some basic information to give readers an idea of who you are and where you’ve worked, why they should hire you and how to reach you if they consider you a top candidate.
When constructing your resume, always include the following standard information.
The very top of your resume should feature your contact information, including your name, mailing address, email address and phone number. You should also add a link to your LinkedIn profile, if you have one. If you don’t, we strongly suggest you create one. According to job search expert Alison Doyle, it’s a great way to show potential employers your endorsements from colleagues and managers.
Professional Summary or Resume Objective Statement
A professional Summary or Objective Statement tells employers right away what you can do for them while setting the stage for the rest of your resume. It’s also a great place for job-related keywords AI and ATS bots may look for. It should provide an overview of your work experience, skills and highlights of your biggest achievements in up to five sentences.
If you have a consistent work history, use the chronological resume format. List your previous jobs starting with the most recent and do not show anything older than 15 years. Allison Green of Ask a Manager notes that anything beyond that timeline will add unnecessary text, weakening the impact of your recent jobs. Since most recruiters and hiring managers skim resumes, you want to make sure they see the most relevant information. If you lack work experience, include volunteer service, internships, or relevant school personal projects, or give more emphasis to your skills using a functional resume format.
The more skills you have, the more attractive you will look to recruiters or hiring managers. That’s not to say you should include a laundry list of all the hard (technical) and soft (interpersonal) skills you have; you need to be strategic and include only those that pertain to the job.
Not every job requires formal studies, but many require a basic education. The importance of this section depends on the industry and job you’re interested in, as well as the amount of work experience you have. If your education is particularly relevant to the job or includes pertinent training or certifications, it can help you stand out.
Where you place this section will depend largely on the resume format you use and how long you’ve been out of school. If you’re a fresh graduate using a functional resume format, for example, it’s best to list your education toward the top of your resume, below your contact information and above your experience section.
Consider Your Audience When Writing
One of the basic rules of writing is to always consider your audience. This goes for any form of written content, including newspapers, websites, social media posts — and resumes. When writing your resume, take a moment to think about who will read it. Generally speaking, your audience could cover the following:
A bot! It’s true. A global study by IBM on cognitive computing in HR shows that 66 percent of CEOs believe artificial intelligence (AI) — the ability of machines to think and learn — to be of significant value in recruitment. On top of that, 90 percent of large companies and 68 percent of small- and mid-sized businesses use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to sift through resumes and rank their relevance for the job based on keywords that match skills, achievements and experience to the job description. Bots are becoming increasingly more advanced and are often the first door resumes need to pass through in the application process.
Pro tips to get your resume past a bot
Avoid acronyms. As Inc. contributor Minda Zetlin points out, most AI bots are not made to understand them, so the best rule of thumb is to spell them out to cover your bases: for example, use “personal assistant (PA) to chief marketing officer (CMO).”
Use a simple template. ATS software doesn’t understand fancy fonts and pretty graphics. According to resume optimization company Jobscan, ATS software can be confused by pictures, nonstandard typefaces and some formatting — such as tables — preventing complex resumes from appearing in keyword searches. Most do understand clean structure and clearly written text, however.
A recruiter. Like guards in front of a hiring manager’s door, recruiters are hired to find qualified candidates to send to the hiring manager and to keep out the rest. They can work in a company’s HR department or be contracted from a recruitment firm or employment agency.
Recruiters scan resumes for clear red flags: think spelling mistakes, overused words (such as “hard worker”) and unprofessional email addresses (don’t use, for example, “soccermom123@XYZ.com”) After that, they look closely for relevant qualifications. Robert Meier, president of Job Market Experts, says recruiters eliminate 98 percent percent of applicants through this process.
Pro tips to get your resume past a recruiter’s discerning eyes
Write a three- to five-sentence pitch using a resume Objective Statement or a Professional Summary that promotes your candidacy. Include your top technical skills, personal traits, one or two achievements — always supported by numbers — and your education or certification. For example, a summary might be: “Detail-oriented Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL)-certified computer repair technician with seven years of experience and expertise in network administration. Installed a network of 200 workstations, 80 printers and 15 communication rooms with supporting infrastructure in one month for Giant Tech Company. Proven track record of excellent customer service.”
Use bullet points in your Skills section to highlight your most relevant skills.
A hiring manager. Once your resume has made its way to busy hiring managers, they will likely assume you meet the basic qualifications for the job and will scan it — in seconds. You’ll want to impress people in this position since they will be making the final decision about hiring you.
Pro tips to impress a hiring manager with your resume
Think in terms of results, not responsibilities. While it’s important for skills to match the job, hiring managers also want to see previous successes and how they apply to the position. That means listing achievements for each job you’ve held and tying them to a measurable result — with numbers/metrics. According to the US News and World Report, numbers help prove your value to hiring managers. For example, a statement such as “Created a process that enhanced team efficiency and expedited delivery time from 16 days to 8 days in 3 weeks” shows you’re a problem-solver with an eye for efficiency and the potential to save the company time and money.
A study by employment website CareerBuilder shows 38 percent of hiring managers are impressed by cover letters, and 23 percent appreciate being addressed directly. This means you should include a cover letter and address it to the hiring manager by name; doing so shows your enthusiasm and demonstrates your willingness to go the extra mile.
Choose the Correct Format
How you write your resume depends largely on the layout, so choose the proper format to frame your story. How you organize your content depends on how much experience you have (or don’t have), if you are trying to enter a new industry or staying in the same field, and if you have a consistent work history. If you’re a fresh graduate with no professional work experience, for example, a chronological format does not work best for you but the functional format can help you show off your skills to your advantage.
5 Best Practices of Resume Writing
These universal rules apply to any resume, regardless of format or template.
Be concise. Your resume must fit onto one page (or two pages, max). Write short statements that reflect your best achievements and skills.
YES: “Achieved 25% increase in customer satisfaction in three months.”
NO: “Constantly reviewed customer feedback and suggested ways to improve company processes to increase customer satisfaction by 25 percent in the first quarter.”
Use the right keywords without overloading your resume. Employment experts agree keywords relevant to your experience can positively impact your resume. But filling your resume with keywords (“keyword stuffing”) will backfire, according to the resume optimization experts at Jobscan. Modern AI and ATS bots easily spot extraneous words and recruiters and hiring managers will ditch resumes with them. It’s more important to choose the best keywords that apply to your skills based on the job description. For example, if a job description says “Passionate about events with ability to sell,” you might write “Enthusiastic events assistant with retail experience.”
Write in the first person. Writing in the first person is more natural than the detached third person, but experts recommend skipping the pronouns “I,” “me,” or “my.” As Amanda Augustine, resume expert at The Ladders, points out, pronouns are unnecessary and take up valuable space that you can use for rich, descriptive text. Worse, using pronouns can appear egotistical on a resume.
Use action verbs. Not only are these stronger in tone than passive verbs but they also denote authority and action — exactly what you want to present on a resume. And according to language scholar Léandre Larouche, action verbs placed first engage the reader because they are more interesting to read. For example:
YES: “Streamlined processes for a 50% increase in efficiency,”
NO: “Efficiency was increased by 50% due to new process.”
YES: “Generated 15% more leads in first month”
NO: “Leads were increased by 15% in first month.”
Proofread. Then proofread again.As mentioned above, recruiters scrutinize your resume for red flags such as typos, misspellings, missing information and unprofessional email addresses. Bots get confused by mistakes and can send your resume into a black hole because of an unreadable font or from a lack of space between sections. A hiring manager could even be turned off by a misaligned bullet. Read through your resume more than once before you send it — it can make all the difference between getting an interview and not.
6 Resume Writing Mistakes to Avoid
Even if you think your resume is bulletproof, you might be making fatal mistakes. Follow these five simple rules to avoid sending your resume to the “no” pile.
Don’t lie. According to Monster’s 2019 State of the Recruiter Survey, 85 percent of recruiters say candidates exaggerate skills and competencies on their resumes. That’s crazy! Although not unusual, lying is a fatal mistake when you have to back it up later and can’t. If you get caught, not only could you lose the job but it could damage your ability to get hired at that company in the future. Worse, you might wind up in jail, as was the case for an Australian woman recently. Always assume you’ll get caught and stick to the truth. If you’re not the right fit for the job, move on until you find your match.
Don’t get fancy. It’s not just bots that prefer clean and simple resume layouts — humans like them too. A recent study confirmed that 65 percent of hiring managers are not impressed with flashy and unconventional resumes, and 42 percent have a negative impression of applicants who include a photo. Keep your resume clean and easy to read — and save the photo for your LinkedIn profile.
Don’t be vague. Your intent must be clear for employers to understand your potential value to the company. Beyond that, vague resume language makes employers suspicious. A study by staffing firm OfficeTeam, a Robert Half company found “using ambiguous phrases like ‘familiar with’ or ‘involved in’ could mean the candidate is trying to cover up a lack of direct experience.” Don’t announce that you’re a “results-driven problem-solver” — prove it with specific information relative to the job.
Don’t be repetitive.To inspire employers to give you an interview, use dynamic words. For instance, other ways of saying that you “improved procedures” at old jobs might be “enhanced day-to-day functions,” “optimized techniques” or “revamped team processes.” Change is good.
Don’t make it about you. Objectives that only mention what you want from the job, lists of job duties filled with pronouns such as “I” or “me,” life stories instead of summaries — according to employment expert Marc Cendendella, these are some of the biggest mistakes you can make on your resume. This may seem counterintuitive because, after all, you are trying to sell yourself; but if you want to work for a prospective employer, you have to write in a way that speaks to your future boss. This means you should focus on how each skill, achievement and experience you have learned can help them.
Don’t let just anyone review your resume. As mentioned above, it’s crucial to proofread your resume to make sure it’s polished before sending it. It is so crucial, in fact, you might be tempted to ask your peers to review it after you’ve made your own edits. However, beware the perils of peer review. If your reviewers are not HR professionals or experts at the job you’re going for, then they could give you the wrong advice and hurt your chances of getting an interview. While your sister means well, unless she is a grammar expert, she shouldn’t play copyeditor with your resume.
Resume Writing FAQs
How do I write a resume after a long period of unemployment?
When writing a resume after a long period of unemployment, spin your story in the best light. . Use your summary statement to emphasize the value your unique skills can bring to the table. Don't lead with your last job but rather, lead with the most relevant. If you have relevant training, put that above work history. Omit exact dates and simply include years.
How do I write a resume for a career change?
To write a resume for a career change, use a functional or hybrid format. These formats will emphasize your most relevant skills, accomplishments, and work experience. Our resume builder can help you decide which format to use based on the information you provide as well as your prior work history and the job you want. Use our resume builder to build an immediate resume.
What is important when writing a resume?
It's important to bear in mind each employer's immediate wants so that you can tailor your resume to fit. Always pull keywords from the job description when crafting your skills section and summary statement to help your professional resume bypass ATS.
Should I include references in my resume?
No, you should not include references in your professional resume. Prior to an interview, if an employer asks for references, include them in a separate document or in the body of an email. The only time it's okay to put references in a resume is if an employer specifically asks you to. Also, remember to ask your references ahead of time if you can share their information.
What should I do to make my resume stand out?
To stand out, lead with a strong summary statement that emphasizes your greatest and most relevant skills. Stress the value you can bring to the company. Also, list your duties as accomplishments. If you were responsible for cleaning the store at which you worked, say you "maintained the premises and helped the retailer win an award for the cleanest branch in the district."
Create a Professional Resume in Minutes
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