Preparing a resume can feel like a daunting task — just one more item on the job hunter’s endless to-do list. But if you’re hoping to score an interview for your dream job, knowing how to write a resume, and doing it well, can help you get an invitation. Put another way, your resume and cover letter are key pieces of your personal marketing collateral.
Resumes have changed over the years, and it’s important to make sure yours meets today’s standards. Whether you’re starting your resume from scratch or just want to freshen it up for your job search, we’ve got you covered.
1. Craft a lead
Every list of resume writing tips will tell you the same thing: Start with your contact information. Your name, phone number, email address and, if applicable, links to your website and LinkedIn profile all belong in the header. But the top of the page is valuable real estate. If you want the reviewers to give your resume more than a quick scan, you need something up there that’s going to make them want to keep reading.
Back in the day, resumes had an objective statement just below the contact info that explained the type of job a candidate was seeking. Today, hiring managers and recruiters expect to see a short, snappy paragraph that’s more like a profile. Think of these important two or three sentences as your 30-second elevator pitch: They should quickly summarize your experience and training, your relevant skills for the role you’re seeking, and why you’d be a great hire. Expand on your qualifications deeper in your resume and in your cover letter.
2. Show impact
The bulk of your resume should focus on your work experience. List your past jobs in chronological order, from most recent to oldest, and take a results-driven approach to describe your duties and accomplishments. That means including meaningful information about how you benefited a project or the company.
To show how you excelled in the position, use action verbs, give specific examples and add quantifiable results. Don’t simply say, “oversaw project management,” for instance. Instead, give a concise, specific project description, along with your role (“Project manager for a six-person team with impeccable deadline accuracy”) and concrete numbers to show impact — the costs you saved your employer, for example, or the percentage growth in sales revenue. If you don’t have that kind of data, report the solutions your team delivered or other project outcomes. The goal is to show you made a difference.
3. Include soft skills
Remember that interpersonal skills are critical to your career success. Effective writing and verbal communication, critical thinking, time management, creativity, and problem-solving abilities are all highly prized soft skills in today’s workplace. It’s important to add them to your resume. But how do you show, rather than simply list, these attributes?
A thoughtfully written resume and cover letter are a start. Both documents, if carefully organized, free of grammatical and spelling errors (see tip No. 7), and tailored for the role you’re applying for, will be clear demonstrations of your writing skills. (If you have them, include links to published newsletters, reports or PowerPoints you had a hand in as examples of your work.) You can also frame your work history and accomplishments to show such abilities as collaboration, adaptability and leadership.
Other soft skills might be more difficult to showcase. Few of us can point to a TED talk or other online video or podcast to prove our verbal and presentation skills, for example. But we all have a LinkedIn profile. Ask a handful of your colleagues, former coworkers or others in your professional network to write recommendations that include some mention of your creativity, leadership qualities, teamwork or other soft skills.
4. Highlight tech skills
Share your software skills and technical knowledge. As an example, job candidates for an admin position or similar role are expected to have Microsoft Office experience. If that’s the case, include your levels of proficiency with each of the suite’s applications.
Other jobs, such as in the finance or IT fields, will require more advanced tech skills. Using the job description as a guide, discuss your expertise with the software required for the role. Certifications and training should be listed. Even better, include mention of relevant software in your work history to demonstrate professional experience.
Read more about skills to include on your resume.
5. Be unique
Highlight talents that are relevant to the position or company. Foreign language fluency, for instance, could give you an edge in getting an interview if the employer has international operations. Your role as an organizer for a Meetup group related to your industry can show leadership qualities and other soft skills. Whatever your passion, use your unique qualities and experiences to make yourself stand out.
Don’t go overboard listing your personal activities, however. Some hiring managers like to gain insight into job candidates’ personalities this way. But keep in mind that your resume is a professional document. Sure, include volunteering at an animal shelter on your resume as an accountant, but only if you’ve been keeping the shelter’s books or you’re applying for an accounting job at a veterinary hospital. Otherwise, keep your personal life personal.
Oh, and this: Avoid using flashy fonts or unusual formats to attract a hiring manager’s attention.
6. Include keywords
Many companies scan resumes and cover letters for the keywords used in their job postings. Tailor your resume for every job description you reply to — and that means sprinkling the document with some of the language each posting uses. For example, if an employer is seeking an applicant with experience “maintaining executives’ calendars,” use that same wording in your resume instead of a more casual phrase like “keeping track of schedules.”
Even in this tight job market, an employer sorting through a dozen or more resumes doesn’t need much reason to remove you from consideration. Meticulously proofread your resume for spelling and grammatical goofs. In addition to running spell-check, read your document aloud slowly so you can focus on each word. Finally, ask a friend to double-check your work. One simple typo can kill your chances of landing an interview.
Our “Resumania™” archive is full of real and embarrassing examples of errors that crept into job seekers’ resumes. Want to know how to write a resume? Don’t write things like this:
- “Education: Earned a diploma from a very repudiated college.
- “Experience: Academic tudor.”
- “Skills: Excel at working within a tea-oriented culture.”
- “Work history: My last employer fried me for no reason.”
- “Qualifications: I ooze mangnetism.”
- “Salary requirements: Looking for a bass salary of $40,000.”
- “Referees available by request.”
The last word on how to write a resume
Every job, every industry and every candidate will require some adjustments of these resume writing tips. Creative professionals, for example, will want to include links to their portfolios. Freshly minted college grads won’t have much work experience to highlight, but they can still draw from class projects, labs and seminars to talk up their hard and soft skills. Just make sure that unless you have more than a decade of experience in your career, you should limit your resume to one page.
Whatever your profession or stage in your career, the key takeaway is this: Employers want to hire people who can make an impact. Write a tailored resume that shows a distinctive, results-driven professional, and before long you may find yourself preparing for the job interview.