This resume writing guide will help you create an outstanding resume that lands you interviews with the companies you want to meet.
In it, we offer tips for writing a winning resume regardless of your experience, position, and industry.
We’ll tell you what employers want (and don’t want) to see in a resume, how to get your resume to survive the ATS screening software most employers use and which of the latest resume tricks you should definitely put into your resume.
Why A Well-Written Resume Still Matters - a LOT
In today's world of LinkedIn, job boards and social media you might not think having a well-written resume matters as much as it used to.
But you'd be wrong. A well-written resume remains your most potent tool when selling your skills and your experience to potential employers.
But today, writing a winning resume isn't just about documenting your experience, skills and education into a 1-page resume.
If your resume isn't written correctly for your intended job and doesn't contain the right kind of language and keywords to make it through modern HR screening software, then you'll never get to the first interview. Especially in a larger organization.
To win, your resume must be both technically perfect AND be written to communicate your unique value proposition clearly - and briefly.
‘Briefly’ is an essential part of this equation.
You may have already heard this about recruiters - they look at each resume for a few seconds. Actually they spend 6.25 seconds according to one study.
Within that blink of an eye, a recruiter look for immediate clues as to whether this is a resume worth considering.
A few of these clues – little tidbits and details that you include or omit – will determine which pile your resume lands in.
It’s the information you include in the first bullet points, it’s the way you arrange your details, it’s the font you use, and it’s the keywords you have used to emphasize to explain your value to the company.
DIY or Not?
One other thing: resumes look misleadingly simply to write. I mean, who cannot put together a 1-page summary of their education, skills, and experience. Right?
But recruiters are extremely selective who rely on technology today. So the resume writing game is different.
You need to consider your tone, use of specific words, font, design and myriad other details.
You have to get it right. So don’t be in a hurry to finish your resume.
This guide should tell you everything you need to know to write a winning resume yourself.
But if you are not sure you can do it yourself - or simply don't want to try - then find a good professional resume writer. On this site, you'll find reviews of the top resume writing services online and the best resume writing apps.
Before You Start
A great resume is completed before a single letter is typed.
By the time you start writing your resume, you should already know what your 2-3 key unique value propositions (UPVs) are you want to convey to prospective employers about yourself.
You should, in particular, have a single value proposition that you will rally your other skills and accomplishments around.
That value depends on your skillset and the position you are seeking.
Do you want them to see you as a leader, a problem solver, someone with initiative, a creative or a team builder?
For the best resume, here’s what you should do before you start writing.
Determine Your Goals
The Do-or-Die Elements of a Winning Resume
With just 1 page worth of space to sell yourself, there isn’t much room for mistakes.
Your resume lives or dies based on a few essential elements. Fail on any of these and your resume may be doomed.
- Basic Elements
- Your Value
- Brevity, Relevance, and Clarity
- Keyword Optimization
We’ll have a more detailed discussion of the basic elements of a resume in the formatting section below. For now, I just wanted to mention an interesting study that involved several recruiters.
The eye-tracking software was used to monitor recruiters as they perused through resumes for more than two months.
The study showed that recruiters spend just 6.25 seconds scanning a resume during the first pass. 80% of that time is spent looking at six specific elements; Name, current position, and company, previous position, and company start and end dates of current and previous positions and education details.
We’ll tell you how to arrange and format these elements optimally further below to make sure recruiters can quickly scan them and glean all the relevant details.
How to Format Your Resume
First things first: don’t add your mailing address or street address to your resume.
Unless specifically requested, these are antiquated additions. Adding your city and zip code is often enough to identify your location.
Also leave out the date you wrote the resume, your sex, marital status, religion and other irrelevant personal details.
Most companies will not accept any resume with a photograph attached as it carries the risk of discrimination.
Don’t mention irrelevant hobbies, a criminal history (if you have one), outdated skills, salary history and unrelated work experience.
Do not add a list of references in your resume and don’t say “references available upon request.” If they need them, they’ll ask for them. You’ll then submit them in a separate document.
There are three types of resume formats: chronological, functional or hybrid - or some combination of these three.
Chronological is the most basic. It uses the traditional format of laying job experiences in a chronological manner. It’s ideal for those who are seeking a job in the same field they have been working in for years.
The functional format focuses on skills more than experience. It's ideal for those with little experience or large gaps in their careers.
The hybrid format borrows from the chronological and functional formats. It highlights skills as well as experience. It is the preferred format in most modern resumes.
Regardless of the type of resume, they all have a roughly similar outline with just a few variations.
3. Experience and accomplishments
5. Additional skills
Writing a Web-Friendly Resume
Whether you are submitting your resume by mail or to job boards, it should be web-friendly.
That means it should be easy to read by ATS software and on computer screens.
Here are some tips to make your resume web-friendly.
- Get your keywords right. Do not overstuff. Instead, use them around natural industry themes.
- Simple, minimalist design. Forget graphics and fancy fonts. Use an easy-to-read font like Georgia and Arial. Make sure there is enough space between lines and lean more towards bullet points rather than block paragraphs.
- Have multiple document formats. If you are sending the resume by mail, PDF is the preferred format. If you are submitting it to a job board, create an ASCII plain text version. You can easily do so from the Notepad program on your computer.
- Use a common structure. Don’t mix up your sections. Follow an accepted structure such as the one we have laid out above. This makes it easy for humans and software to scan your resume for the most important bits.
Modern Resume Writing Trends
Here are the most important trends in resume writing that you should consider incorporating in your next resume.
Not all of them will be relevant to your resume. Pick the ones that add value and will get your resume noticed.
- Minimalism –modern resumes are getting even more minimalist. There are barely any graphics elements; just black letters on a white background. This focuses attention on the words and the various sections of the resume.
- Personal–recruiters are encouraging job seekers to use a more personal tone in their resumes. That human connection can put you ahead.
- Creative - you can try something different to stand out, though it’s risky. One guy decided to include some of his failures in his resume, and it got more responses than his standard resume. If you can find a creative way to make, your resume connects more with the hiring manager, go for it.
- Hyperlinks –with so little space in the resume, you can add links to more of your work or your full portfolio. But don’t hide any relevant information behind a link when you can include it in the resume. The links are just for recruiters who want to dig deeper.
- Video –depending on which industry you work in, a video can provide a more engaging overview of your skills and experiences. If you include a video, keep it less than 1 minute. 30-45 seconds is ideal.
Warning Flags That Will Get Your Resume Tossed
Recruiters are very perceptive to red flags on resumes.
They will quickly notice dates that don’t align, so don’t try to hide a career gap with some date tricks.
Another thing they quickly notice is an irrelevance. That is, your stated skills and experience don’t match the job requirements.
Just as bad are non-specific accomplishments. If you don’t specify what percentage you increased sales or how many new customers you brought in for the company, then don't tell them you are a great salesperson.
If there is an abnormality in your resumes such as a career gap or an industry change, make sure you explain it in the resume.
Finally, some recruiters will check your social media and LinkedIn profiles. If they don’t match what’s on your resume, it’s a red flag.
If you take one thing from this guide, let it be this:
A resume is all about communicating your unique value to the job, in a clear and brief manner, using the words and metrics that your industry and your job use to describe success.
Nothing else really matters as much.
Let the recruiter know exactly what you are bringing to the company and why you are so sure you are qualified for that job.
If you don’t feel confident writing a resume, the recruiter will doubt you too. Even if you have little experience or you think the job is a bit above you, don’t let them see it. You are applying for that job because you believe you can be of value to the company. Find a way to communicate that value. If you can’t, that’s probably not the job you should be applying for.