How to Write a Professional Resume in 6 Easy Steps

By Karan Munyal May 9, 2017 at 6:35pm

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, the resume is your proverbial foot in the door. Think of your resume and cover letter as marketing collateral for your career. 

Resume formats have changed over the years, and it's very important to make sure your resume meets current standards. Unless you have more than a decade of experience in your career, you should limit your resume to one page. And avoid using flashy fonts or unusual formats to attract a hiring manager's attention. It's better to make your documents the best they can be than to rely on gimmicks to get an interview. 

Whether you're writing a resume from scratch or just want to keep it fresh as you prepare for a job search, follow these six tips to create a resume that shows why you're a professional candidate worth hiring:;

1. Start with the facts 

Every resume needs to include your up-to-date contact information. At the very least, include your name, phone number, email address and, if applicable, links to your website and LinkedIn profile page.

Years ago, resumes typically included an objective at the top of the page, which explained the type of job you're seeking. Now hiring managers and recruiters prefer to see a short, snappy paragraph that's more akin to a profile, briefly summarizing who you are and what you do best. (Some industries' resume formats omit this altogether.) Your summary needs to answer the question "Why should we hire you?" using just a few sentences. Think of it like a highlight reel — focus on the skills and experience that make you a top candidate. Expand further on those ideas in the cover letter.

2. Show how you've added value

The bulk of your resume should focus on your work experience. That doesn’t mean simply copying and pasting your job descriptions. Instead, 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 kinds of details: "Project manager for a six-person team responsible for $500,000 in client work, with a 100% on-time completion rate. 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 per cent 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 so many sales leads for your company.  

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. If you've already found something you want to apply for, 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 out your levels of proficiency with each of the suite’s programs, noting if you have completed any training or certification programs. Also include any significant research experience you have, along with a brief explanation of how it contributed to the success of a past project. It may seem like a given, but good internet research abilities are an asset to any employer. 

5. Show off specialized skills 

Definitely list any specialized talents, such as English and French bilingual language fluency — it could give you an edge in getting an interview, especially if the employer is a government agency and/or operates both inside and outside of Quebec. Likewise, list any awards or recognition you've been given relevant to the position.  

There's no need to list 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, 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. 

As the need for professional talent grows, employers want to hire people who are ready to make an immediate impact. The right applicants understand their industry inside and out and have a track record of showing initiative. Your resume and cover letter are the first step in proving to a hiring manager that you fit the bill and deserve an interview. 

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