1. Choose the best format
Wondering how to start a resume the right way? Choose a format.
The three standard formats are:
- Chronological: This traditional format focuses on reverse-chronological work experience.
- Functional: This format, the most popular alternative to chronological, emphasizes skills and abilities.
- Combination: This format balances work history and skills equally.
The best resume format for you will depend on your career goals, work experience, skill set, and whether or not you have unique challenges like employment gaps.
But for most job seekers, the chronological resume is the way to go.
Why? Recruiters spend only seven seconds glancing at a resume before deciding whether to give it a closer look, which makes paying attention to your resume outline critical. In it, they expect to see your work history. If they don’t see it immediately, they think you’re trying to hide something. It’s as simple as that.
Here’s what to put on a resume using the reverse-chronological format:
2. Style your resume
You can make the words on the page say so much more with an eye-catching resume template. Templates provide the design and layout to put your skills, qualifications and work experience in the best possible light.
We have many different styles to choose from.
Here’s an example of how a well-chosen template can transform your resume:
3. Add contact info to
The goal of a resume is to get calls from employers, so you want to make your contact info easy to find. That’s why you always place this critical information at the top of your resume, whether it’s toward the left, right or center.
Now, you don’t want to make your resume feel cluttered, so it’s important to be discerning in what you include in the header.
Every resume header should include the following:
- Your name
- Phone number
- Professional email address
If you’re in a creative industry, your header may also include:
- Personal website or portfolio
- Social media channels
No headers should include:
- Full address
- Date of birth
- Zodiac sign
4. Write a compelling
Writing an effective professional summary is how you start a resume that makes a great first impression. Professional summaries are three- to five-sentence career summations that are packed with action verbs and power words.
When the right words don’t immediately spring to mind, take a closer look at the job listing. What keywords does the employer use? Is there a way to rewrite your work experience to include these keywords?
Beyond keywords, your summary should include your greatest accomplishment, most relevant skills, and an accolade or award if possible. It should sit at the top of your resume, close to the header.
Here’s what a good professional summary looks like:
Passionate writer with 10+ years of experience telling stories in a wide range of formats. Work has appeared in Fortune, Dwell and National Geographic. Skilled in using Adobe Creative Suite and social media to create multimedia reports across multiple platforms. Recognized by the Poynter Institute for Excellence in Journalism.
Professional summaries are best suited to applicants who have at least one year of experience. Anyone who is new to the workforce or changing careers may want to consider the alternative — the resume objective statement.
Is a resume objective right for you?
Resume objectives are the professional summary’s no-nonsense cousin. In an objective statement, you tell the employer exactly what you intend to do.
Here’s an example of what to write in a resume objective statement:
This job seeker means business. After citing her experience level, she tells you which department she’s interested in, the skills that would transfer into the role and why she wants to work for the company
Objectives are best for candidates who are:
- New to the workforce.
- Switching career paths.
- Coming back to work after a lengthy break.
5. Describe your work history
Work history is one of the most important sections of your resume. Employers want to know you can deliver results, and here is where you show them your track record.
Start by listing your most recent employer first and move backward. Work experience that’s more than 15 years old may not be relevant anymore, so as you get further into the past, carefully weigh the benefits of adding each job. Don’t be afraid to cut a job that’s no longer pertinent or add a second page to the resume if you need more space.
The most valuable parts of your job history are the quantifiable achievements. Hiring managers prefer metrics over lists of job duties because they show the results of your work, suggesting you can do the same for them.
Writing your work history as a list of measurable accomplishments will help you stand out from the competition. Here’s an example:
When an employer reads “retention rates,” they see value in their bottom line.
Quantifiable achievements can come from various activities, such as increasing customer satisfaction or saving a company money. Accomplishments may be hard to quantify in retrospect, so keep careful track of them while you’re working. Most success can be measured in terms of time, dollar amounts, volume and percentages by putting in a bit of thought.
For some, you may be wondering how to write a resume with no experience, and we get it. We all have to start somewhere. When writing a resume without job experience, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Use a functional resume format. This style puts skills and qualifications center stage, minimizing the focus on work history.
- Highlight other experiences. The workplace isn’t the only place you learn valuable skills. Touching on the skills you learned through volunteering or personal projects can help.
- Emphasize your education. The classroom is another forum for learning. Be sure to mention any special projects you took part in.
Customize your work experience to the job ad
To get an advantage over other job seekers in a competitive market, you need to draft a resume that’s targeted. The one-size-fits-all resume is a thing of the past.
A good rule of thumb is to match everything to the job description. But be honest! If the job calls for someone with strong math skills and yours aren’t that great, focus on your skills that match the position and tailor your achievements around those.
What may seem like a silly exercise could make all the difference. Employers use Applicant Tracking Software (ATS) that hones in on keywords and disqualifies applicants who don’t include the right ones.
They search for keywords that match the job description, so use as many of those keywords as you can — if they truly apply to you. And don’t just stick them all in your resume skills section. You’ve got to sprinkle them throughout your resume, particularly in your work experience section, so that the hiring manager can see how each keyword applies to your experience.
Here’s a targeted resume example that shows you how to update a resume work experience section with keywords pulled from a job listing:
Highlight your achievements
If you’re wondering how to do a resume that highlights your achievements, you should start by asking yourself a handful of questions.
5 questions to help you identify results-oriented achievements:
- Did I save the company money? How much? How?
- Did I create a new program, process or initiative that saved time, enhanced productivity, or increased revenue?
- Did I meet or exceed my or the company’s goals? How? How did that benefit the company?
- Did I lead a team on a special project? How many people were on the team? What was the project, and what did we accomplish?
- Did I receive a promotion in record time?
Your list of answers will help you create much stronger bullet points.
Here are four examples of well-written, quantifiable successes:
- Organized monthly volunteer projects with more than 30 volunteers per event.
- Provided award-winning in-home medical care for 10 senior citizens over the span of three years.
- Implemented a filing system that organized more than 500 past and current employee files, increasing efficiency by 100%.
- Exceeded sales goals by an average of 30% every quarter in 2020.
See how much stronger work experience sounds when you have data to back it up?
Next up, the abilities that make you uniquely talented: skills.
6. Emphasize your most
Skills are the lifeblood of your career; Without them, making a resume would be impossible.
The key to writing a resume that employers love is to showcase the breadth and depth of your skill set. By including a variety of soft and hard skills, the employer will recognize your versatility.
Soft skills are personal attributes, innate abilities and personality traits we are born with and develop throughout our lives.
Examples of soft skills:
Hard skills are practical abilities learned in school, on the job or through training.
Examples of hard skills:
Additionally, you should name-drop specific software or technical knowledge you use in your day-to-day job, whether it be PhotoShop for graphic design or a working understanding of OSHA safety procedures.
When matching your skills to the position, comb through the job requirements. Employers often list “Required Skills,” “Essential Duties” or “Skills and Competencies,” which often mix together all types of skills.
Employers also weave soft skills throughout job descriptions, like so:
It’s perfectly acceptable to use a skill twice in your resume, such as in your job history and skills section, but you must provide context (and don’t overdo it!).
For example, look at this job requirement:
In your work history section, you could add an achievement like:
Simultaneously, you can mention “organization” in your skills section.
Another example is if the job description for a server position says they expect their employees to build rapport with guests. In that case, one way to show you can do this might be to list interpersonal skills in your resume skills section. Then, in the job history section of your resume, point out a time you were recognized for building relationships with clients, which resulted in increased sales and customer retention.
Pro tip:If you lack work experience or you’re changing careers, then lean into your transferable skills, which are attributes and abilities that you can apply to most jobs and industries. Examples include persuasion, negotiation, organization, time management and communication skills.
7. List your education and
In the quest to make a good resume, education remains one of the most important stops. However, you don’t want to overload your education section with too much information; There are facts you should include and others you shouldn’t.
Your education section should include:
- The name and location of schools you’ve attended.
Any degree(s) and academic honors or awards you’ve earned.
- Relevant coursework or special projects.
Your education section should not include:
- Your GPA (unless it’s at least 3.5).
- The years you attended.
- Your graduation dates, which could introduce bias into the hiring process.
Pro tip:If you are a student, recent graduate or applying for your first job, it’s acceptable to put your educational details at the top of your resume, under your objective or summary and work history. Otherwise, place it at the bottom of your resume.
However, sometimes education isn’t a straight line. For example, there are millions of people who’ve only finished a few years of college.
In that case, if your area of study isn’t relevant to the job, don’t bother including it. But there are cases where it should be listed, particularly if your studies relate to your desired position or if the role requires some education.
How to list unfinished college on a resume:
- Mention the name and location of the university.
- List your GPA (if it’s above 3.5).
- Note the subject of your coursework.
- Cite the number of credits you completed.
- Showcase any awards accrued.
In cases where you’re still attending school, you should also include an expected date of completion: [Month] + [Year].
What about certificates? If you have professional certifications, you can create a separate section for them. While it isn’t necessary — “Education and Certifications” would do just fine — giving them their own space could call attention to how you’ve formalized your skill set.
How to list certificate of completion on resume:
- Create a heading on your resume or CV called “Certifications.”
- List the name of the certificate and year completed.
- Cite the organization that gave you the certificate.
- Write as many entries as needed.
Pro tip:Licenses and certifications can boost your resume if you don’t have much on-the-job experience because they verify that your technical skills are different from the average.
8. Add optional sections
Resumes shouldn’t be generic. Every candidate has unique abilities to bring to the table, and that may require adding a new section.
Perhaps you took continued education classes or went overseas to volunteer. Maybe you joined a professional organization or parent-student council. These are all details that belong on your resume.
Your volunteer work may count as work experience, your classes can fit in the education section; but for professional, parent or community organizations, well, you’ll need to create a new section for those.
In fact, you can create a new section for any of your outside-the-box experiences. The key is that they must be relevant to your job of interest. Recruiters don’t need to know about your Yahtzee meetups, for example.
Here’s some advice on creating new sections to highlight your experience.
How to list volunteer work on a resume:
- Full-time, consistent volunteer work belongs in your work experience and should be given the full treatment.
- Otherwise, create a dedicated section called “Volunteer Experience” or “Community Service.”
- Include the organization, location, your title (likely “volunteer”), the dates you served and one or two bullet points describing your contributions.
How to list publications on a resume:
- Create a distinct section titled “Publications.”
- Place it below your “Education” section.
- Use reverse-chronological order, beginning with your most recent publication.
- Include the year and title of each one.
- Only mention publications relevant to the job.
There’s one additional section we should touch on: professional references. These days, you only need to include a line at the bottom of your resume That reads, “Professional references available upon request.” Then, create a separate page listing your references in case the employer asks for them.
How to list references on a resume:
- Use a separate page for your references list.
- Give a title to your resume references, for example: “Professional References” should work.
- Include at least three people.
- List their full names, job titles and companies.
- Add their contact information — both phone number and email address, ideally.
Resume writing FAQ
If you’re wondering how to build a resume, you can get started for free with a resume builder. Simply follow these steps:
- Open the resume builder.
- Share your level of experience.
- Choose a resume style.
- Upload your existing resume (if you have one).
- Add your contact info in the header.
- Fill in your work experience.
- List your degrees and certificates.
- Type in your skills.
- Customize a professional summary.
- Download your resume as a Word doc or PDF.
A great tip for making a resume after a long period of unemployment is to spin your story in the best light. Use your professional 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 it above the work history resume section. Consider omitting exact dates and simply including years if you believe that would be beneficial to your profile.
To write a resume for a career change, use a functional or hybrid format detailing your transferable skills. 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 your information, prior work history and the job you want.
Employers expect to see a reverse-chronological resume, beginning with your most recent job and working backward. We recommend the vast majority of job seekers use this format because it’s popular, easy to use and passes through applicant tracking systems (ATS) without a problem.
That said, there are exceptions to the rule. If you lack professional work experience or you’re making a big career change, you may find an alternative format like the functional resume a better fit. This is a skills-based format that puts skills and qualifications in the limelight, downplaying work history.
Finally, use a modern template or creative template to give your document a fresh contemporary look.
No, you shouldn’t include references in your resume. That said, you should have a separate page for your professional references at the ready, and include a line near the bottom of your resume that says, “Professional references available upon request.” Then, if the employer asks, you will be prepared to give them a polished list.
Read more on how to make a resume: