Writing a resume can feel like a daunting task — just one more item on your never-ending to-do list. But if you’re hoping to score an interview for your dream job, bear in mind that a well-written resume can be your foot in the door. Put another way, your resume and cover letter are key pieces of marketing collateral for your career.
Resume formats have changed over the years, and it’s important to make sure your resume meets today’s standards. Here are three guiding principles to begin with:
- Unless you have more than a decade of experience in your career, limit your resume to one page.
- Avoid using flashy fonts or unusual formats to attract a hiring manager’s attention.
- Rely on integrity and professionalism when writing your resume rather than gimmicks to get an interview.
Whether you’re crafting your document from scratch or just want to keep it fresh as you prepare for a job search, follow these seven tips on how to write a good resume:
1. Grab attention quickly
Minimally, your resume needs your current contact information at the top. Include your name, phone number, email address and, if applicable, links to your website and LinkedIn profile page.
Historically, resumes included an objective statement at the top of the page, which explained the type of job a candidate was seeking. What hiring managers and recruiters expect now is to see a short, snappy paragraph that’s more akin to a profile. Think of these important two or three sentences as your written 30-second elevator pitch; they should quickly summarize your experience and training, the outcomes you’ve achieved, your relevant skills for the role, and why you’d be a great hire. Expand on your qualifications deeper in your resume and in your cover letter.
2. Show outcomes from your contributions
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 result-driven approach to describing your duties and accomplishments. That means including meaningful information about how you benefited a project or the company.
Take time to explain how you excelled in the position. Use action verbs, give specific examples and include as much quantifiable data as possible. For instance, instead of simply saying “oversaw project management,” show the value of your work by including the following type of details: “Project manager for a six-person team responsible for $500,000 in client work, with impeccable deadline accuracy. Created new calendar system to streamline requests and minimize meetings.”
3. Showcase your soft skills
As you’re writing your resume, remember that soft skills are critical to your career success. Your resume should provide examples of how you’ve used skills such as communicating effectively, being organized or maintaining a positive attitude to achieve your goals.
Remember to show, not tell. Rather than saying simply that you’re a good communicator, give examples. Maybe you have excelled at public speaking and creating presentations, or perhaps your email newsletters have succeeded in bringing in X percent more leads to the company website. Want to show that you’re organized? You could describe the event where you were responsible for coordinating with 20 vendors, arranging travel for 50 individuals and managing on-site details, and then point out that your work helped generate sales.
4. Highlight your technical knowledge
Show off your software skills and technical knowledge as you’re detailing your work history. Every industry is different, so make sure that you share your levels of proficiency with any software an employer expects you to use. Use the job description as a guide for what programs the employer is interested in knowing about.
Employers generally assume job candidates have Microsoft Office experience, but do list your levels of proficiency with each of the suite’s programs, noting if you have completed any training or certification programs.
5. Show off specialized skills
Include any specialized talents, such as French language fluency — it could give you an edge in getting an interview, especially if the employer operates in Quebec. Likewise, list any awards or recognition you’ve been given relevant to the position.
There’s no need to highlight all your hobbies or personal interests on your resume, but if some are relevant to the position or company, be sure to include them. For example, you might not normally include volunteering at an animal shelter on your resume as an accountant, unless you were applying for an accounting job at a veterinary hospital. Some hiring managers love to get more insight into job candidates’ personalities this way, while others are more neutral.
6. Include keywords
Many companies scan resumes and cover letters looking for the keywords they’ve used in their job postings. The key to writing a resume that gets through their filter is to use words and phrases that match their job listing. Update your resume for each job you apply for, tailoring it to highlight your most relevant work experience. For example, if an employer is looking for an applicant with experience “maintaining executives’ calendars,” use the same wording in your resume, instead of a more casual phrase like “keeping track of schedules.” Following the employer’s lead on keywords also shows that you pay attention to detail and that you understand how to write a resume tailored to the specific job.
One simple mistake could be all it takes to kill your chances of landing an interview. An employer who’s been inundated with resumes probably does not need much of an excuse to remove you from contention. 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 trusted friend to double-check your work.
Need some cautionary tales about typos? The following job seekers from Robert Half's archives let easily avoidable errors trip them up:
- “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.”
As the need for professional talent grows, employers want to hire people who are able to make an immediate impact. The right job applicants understand their industry inside and out and have a track record of showing initiative. Knowing how to write a good resume is the first step in proving to a hiring manager that you fit the bill and deserve an interview.