A great resume is the written equivalent of the perfect elevator pitch. On a single page that can be scanned in seconds, it tells a busy hiring manager enough about your skills and experience to make them confident you’re worth interviewing.
If that makes resume writing sound important, that’s because it is important. It is your most valuable marketing document in your job search and the go-to reference for your career.
The craft of resume writing is evolving. Your great resume from 2019, or even 2020, may be showing its age — and not just because of the promotions you received in the intervening years. The pandemic experience caused many companies to reevaluate what they look for in candidates and employees. Present-day hiring managers may be more interested in the remote working skills you sharpened during the past two years than the college degree you acquired way back when.
Whether you’re writing a resume from scratch or updating an old one, follow these do’s and don’ts to make yours sparkle.
- Customize your resume every time. Tailor the document for each position you apply for by highlighting your qualifications and expertise that match the specific job requirements. These days, even small companies often use screening software to scan resumes for keywords that echo the phrasing in the job listing. So if the job post uses phrases like “customer experience” or “product management,” you should too (if they apply to you, of course).
- Showcase your skills. Don’t leave a hiring manager guessing whether you have the skills they’re looking for. Include a brief skills section where you make it explicit that you have all the must-have skills required for the role. For hard skills such as software or foreign languages, it’s enough to name the skill, your proficiency level and any certifications you’ve acquired. This isn’t true for soft skills, though. Don’t just list attributes like organization or time management; convey them through your experiences and accomplishments.
- Highlight your achievements. When mentioning your past positions, give tangible examples of how the projects you worked on helped move departmental or company objectives forward. Did they increase sales, broaden the customer base or reach target markets? And just as important: Did you receive more responsibility in your company after proving yourself in your current job?
- Give examples of your adaptability. The pandemic gave workers a chance to shine in ways hiring managers now value highly. Perhaps you set up or maintained a new system to help your coworkers collaborate remotely? Draw attention to any projects or achievements that demonstrate your resilience and adaptability during these challenging times.
- Note your credentials. Include a brief list of any special recognition and awards you’ve received. It’s also helpful to note participation in relevant professional organizations and any conferences or workshops where you led sessions.
- Proofread and proofread again. Typos and mistakes tell the hiring manager right up front that you are not detail-oriented. Ask a few friends or trusted colleagues to have a look at your resume. Fresh eyes are always more likely to catch errors.
- Give a heads up to your references. If you’re going full-steam-ahead on your job search, give your key contacts a heads up that they may be getting calls or emails about you. Send them your most recent resume, so they’re up-to-date on your current accomplishments and have all the facts in front of them.
- Keep it updated. Even if you’re not job-hunting, update your resume every time you accept a new job or complete a significant project. Also, make sure the skills, experience and qualifications you list on your resume mirror those you list on LinkedIn or other social media channels.
Looking for tips on how to write a stellar cover letter to complement your resume? Check out this post.
- Misrepresent your education or job experience. Even one fabrication can be grounds for termination. Stay honest in all of your job application materials, as well as on your social media public profiles.
- Give reasons for leaving each job. Some employers might ask about your reasons for leaving your current position at the interview — and you should be ready to talk about why you left — but you don’t need to include that information on your resume.
- Get too personal. Don’t put personal information, such as your photo, height, Social Security number, marital status or religious affiliation, in your resume. You don’t want to expose yourself to conscious and unconscious bias on the part of the hiring manager.
- State “References available upon request.” The interviewer will assume that you can provide these contacts when asked. Some companies will ask for names up front — follow the instructions in the job posting.
- Worry about using exact dates. Trying to remember the exact day you started a job 15 years ago is difficult, to say the least. Using the month and year you started and left each position is fine.
- Experiment with a quirky format. Stick to a clean, easy-to-read format. Catch a recruiter’s eye with your experience, not with wacky fonts, colors or designs.
- Use your company phone number or email address. It’s always better to use your personal email address and phone number rather than your professional contact details, even if your current boss is aware of your intent to leave.
- Include your high school education if you’re a college graduate. But if you’re still in college, or a high school diploma is the highest academic qualification you hold, you can include your high school under your education.
- Include your college GPA. The only exception to this is if you’re still in college or have just graduated or if the job posting asks you to include that information.
- List past salary information. If the ad requests that applicants reply with a salary range, state it in the cover letter. Otherwise, wait until later interviews to discuss money. (Not sure what type of salary you should earn, based on your skills and experience? Get insights in our latest Salary Guide.)
A polished resume is the foundation of your job search. But to land your dream job, you’ll need to do more. You’ll need to develop a sound and winning overall strategy. Contact a professional recruiter for tips on how to write a cover letter, prepare for an interview and salary negotiations, and other career advice.