In this guide, we’ll teach you the most vital elements about writing the perfect resume from start to finish.
If you’re being turned down for the jobs you apply for, the problem may lie in your resume. On average, a hiring manager will only scan a resume for 6-7 seconds. With such a small window, you have to make a great first impression, and fast.
Your resume is essential to showcasing your relevant work experience and skills to prove you’re the right person for the job. Thankfully, the key to landing your dream job is knowing exactly what to put on your resume, and where, to truly wow any hiring manager.
In this guide, we’ll teach you the most vital elements about writing the perfect resume from start to finish. Keep reading to find out how to format your resume, what to include in your resume summary, the correct way to list your work experience, and so much more.
Here are the key steps for writing your own resume from scratch
- Step 1. Have all the information you need at your fingertips
- Step 2. Define your resume format
- Step 3. Pick the right resume format
- Step 4. Add a resume header
- Step 5. Add your contact information
- Step 6. Start with a resume summary or resume objective
- Step 7. List your work experience and key achievements
- Step 8. Highlight your top skills
- Step 9. List Your education
- Step 10. Add other important resume sections
- Step 11. Complete your resume with a cover letter
- Step 12. Proofread
- Step 13. Save your resume as a PDF
Step 1. Have all the information you need at your fingertips
When writing a great resume, preparation is key. Before you start, ensure you have the following important information on hand:
- Significant achievements from past roles
- Your skills, including core abilities, skills learned through training or education, and technical capabilities
- Information about previous employers, including date of employment, location, job title, and duties
- Qualifications such as university degrees, certifications, or licenses
These details will be used when creating your resume. Therefore, having them already accessible will save you time and prevent further disruptions during the resume writing process.
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Step 2. Define your resume format
Begin your resume by starting a new document in a word processor of your choice, such as Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or Apple Pages.
Then, follow these resume format best practices:
- Set your page to US Letter size and portrait orientation
- Ensure your page has ½”–1” inch margins and that they are exactly the same on both the left and right sides
- Pick one font and make sure you use it throughout the entire document. Arial, Helvetica, Ubuntu, Roboto, and Overpass are all professional and legible options for a resume.
- You’ll also want to ensure you use an effective font size. As a general guideline, regular text should be 11– 12 pt, while section headers should be 14–16 pt.
- Commit to a comma strategy that is consistent. To do so, you must decide whether to keep or remove the last comma in a list. Both methods are correct; just be sure to choose the approach that you prefer and apply it throughout.
- You should also ensure that your text spacing is uniform. Even though it appears to be a little detail, it might cause the hiring manager to become distracted. Maintain one space after each period and make sure all bullet points and paragraphs have the same spacing in-between.
- Maintain consistency in your capitalization of words. When it comes to department titles (IT, Finance, Legal, and so on), consider capitalizing them to make the words stand out to the reader.
- Make sure your tab, bullet, and line alignment are consistent across your document too. Aligning any bullet points to the left rather than indenting them allows you to fit more information on the page and is more legible when reading online.
- Ensure you include a period after the conclusion of each sentence. Additionally, you should decide if you want to include a period at the end of each bullet point, or leave them without.
- Keep your resume to one page if you have fewer than 7–10 years of relevant job experience. If you have extensive experience within this field, however, then you can extend your resume to a maximum of two pages.
- If you do have a two-page resume, ensure each page is numbered as “1/2” or “2/2”. This tells them the right order to read your resume. It also allows them to ensure they aren’t missing a page.
Step 3. Pick the right resume format
There are three main resume formats to choose from: reverse chronological, functional or skills-based, or a mixture of both.
The format you should choose will be determined by the type of role you’re interested in and your level of experience.
This type of resume lists your work experience and qualifications in reverse chronological order. In other words, your most recent achievements or roles will be listed first. This is the most common resume style, and it’s perfect for those who have a lot of experience that’s relevant to the role they’re applying for.
The skills-based format is ideal if you’re lacking relevant job experience as a student or recent graduate, or if you’re switching to a new career. As opposed to the more popular chronological format, your relevant skills are listed first.
A combination resume is an alternative for job applicants with a wide range of skills. It’s particularly helpful if you’re applying for a position that needs experience in three or four different areas and you want to demonstrate this in your resume.
Step 4. Add a resume header
Your resume should include an eye-catching header at the top of the page to immediately emphasize any important information for hiring managers.
Most importantly, a resume header should contain your:
- First and last names
- Email address
- Phone number
Additionally, you may also wish to include:
- Links to your online portfolio or website
- Your LinkedIn profile URL
- Your mailing address
Within this header, you can also include a resume headline. Examples include “Business Copywriter with Over 10 Years of Experience” or “Honors Law Student and Top-Rated Legal Intern”. This subtitle should succinctly describe your experience.
Step 5. Add your contact information
We mentioned in the previous step that you should add your contact information to your resume’s header. These details are some of the most crucial information you can add to your resume. After all, if your work experience and skills have impressed a hiring manager, it’s essential they have your phone number or email to arrange the next steps with you.
When adding your contact information, check it multiple times to ensure your details are correct. You’ll also want to include a professional email address, such as your university email address or one containing your first and last name.
Additionally, unless specified in the job description, the hiring manager does not need to know your birth date. Furthermore, adding your photo isn’t required unless you work in the entertainment industry or the job posting requests it.
Step 6. Start with a resume summary or resume objective
A resume summary or objective is featured at the top of your resume underneath your name and subtitle.
A resume summary is a 2-3 sentence overview of your professional experience. It should include:
- Your profession and years of experience
- One or two noteworthy accomplishments or key responsibilities
- Your intended goal, such as a strong desire to work for a certain type of organization, and why
Most scenarios call for a resume summary unless you’re a recent university graduate or are changing careers. That’s when a resume objective is better suited.
A resume objective is simply the goal of your resume. It conveys your purpose for entering a new field. A resume objective, like a resume summary, should be no more than 2-3 sentences long. It should draw on your qualifications or skills and specifically outline how you’re looking to use that expertise to assist the company.
Step 7. List your work experience and key achievements
Your work experience makes up one of the most important elements in your resume, as it allows you to highlight your past achievements and responsibilities.
When listing your work experience, aim to format it in the following way:
1. Job title
This is displayed at the top of each entry. It allows the hiring manager to determine if you have the right experience for the position in a quick glance.
2. Company name, location, and description
You’ll also want to name your current or previous employer, as well as include where they are based. Additionally, if the organization isn’t well-known, include a brief description of who they are and what they specialize in.
3. When you were employed
The time period you spent at that company should also be included underneath the company’s name. The format mm/yyyy is commonly requested by recruiters and employers. This is particularly helpful if they use software to digitally analyze each resume.
4. Accomplishments or duties
This information forms the bulk of your work experience sections. Depending on what is more relevant to the positions you have held, you’ll want to either focus on your accomplishments or duties. This is because, generally speaking, most people working within the same role would have the same responsibilities.
Take a Sales Manager, for example, whose day-to-day duties would include:
- Cold-calling to generate leads
- Managing current company clients
Instead, listing your individual accomplishments will allow you to stand out.
In keeping with our example before, a Sales Manager could focus on the following achievements instead:
- Exceeded sales team KPIs for 25%+ for 4 months in a row
- Generated over $27,000 in sales in just 1 month
Alternatively, if you’ve worked in a field where it’s hard to distinguish yourself (such as in a warehouse), then you may not have any individual accomplishments to include. In this scenario, it’s more effective to list your job’s responsibilities instead.
Step 8. Highlight your top skills
Your main abilities should be clearly presented in the skills part of your resume. This provides employers with an instant overview of the hard and soft skills that make you the perfect candidate for the job.
Hard skills are acquired through particular training, workshops, job experience, or education and include the skills required to use work-related equipment.
Some common hard skills include:
- HTML / CSS
- Content Management Systems (CMS)
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- UX / UI Design
Soft skills are related to your personality and are developed via simple interactions with duties or people at work. Organizational skills such as time management are examples of soft skills that companies often seek.
Other common soft skills include:
- Critical observation
On your resume, include a combination of hard and soft skills to demonstrate that you have a good balance of technical knowledge and the ability to connect with co-workers and clients.
Don’t just restrict your skills to the skills area of your resume, however. These skills should also be presented with examples in your work experience entries. This is because soft skills are difficult to assess without background knowledge and they reveal very little about your proficiency to employers.
You might also consider expressing your level of expertise for each skill. For example, you can write “beginner”, “intermediate”, “proficient”, or “advanced” next to the skill listed. Alternatively, you can consider a visual method, such as a skill bar or graph.
Step 9. List Your education
Your education information is also an essential part of your resume. When writing this information, you should place your highest qualification first. This might include a university degree, for example, or another relevant certification.
Add your additional educational qualifications in reverse-chronological order. Keep in mind that if you’ve graduated with a university degree, then listing your high school isn’t necessary. If you’re in the process of college, however, then you can simply list your completed credits.
Don’t forget to include any relevant courses, honors, or awards (for example, Dean’s List).
Finally, adding any significant extracurricular activities is a good way to round out your resume.
If you have little or no work experience, put your education information first and your experience section afterward. Otherwise, keep your education section immediately below your employment experience on your resume.
Step 10. Add other important resume sections
So far, we’ve covered the most crucial sections of a resume. There’s also some other information you can include, however, to help give you a leg-up on the competition.
If you can speak more than one language, it’s helpful to list this on your resume – even if the position doesn’t require these language skills. The hiring manager may just see a need for these skills down the track.
When listing languages in your resume, be sure to determine your level, whether it be native, fluent, proficient, intermediate, or basic.
Hobbies and interests
If you have any spare space on your resume, contemplate displaying your individuality with a hobbies and interests section. Perhaps you love playing soccer on the weekend or are a keen artist. You and your interviewee could even have some things in common!
If you spend your leisure time helping others without expecting anything in return, you’re probably the kind of employee that is looking for more than just a paycheck.
Several studies have even shown that adding your volunteer experience to your resume can improve your chances of being hired. This is particularly true if you are a student with little or no professional experience.
Certifications and awards
Do you have any awards that distinguish you in your line of work? What about industry-recognized certifications?
Whatever the accolade may be, feel free to include it on your resume – as long as it’s relevant to the role you’re applying for.
If you’re in a creative or academic field, you might have some features published online. You can also include the links to these within your resume for the hiring manager to learn more about who you are and your accomplishments.
Working on side projects, whether they’re university class projects or part-time business initiatives, can really show off your enthusiasm and commitment for your field.
Hiring managers appreciate workers who spend their free time doing interesting work. Therefore, you should also include any noteworthy projects you’re currently working on or have worked on in the past.
Step 11. Complete your resume with a cover letter
Every job application has two components: the resume and the cover letter.
Consider a cover letter to be a direct statement to the hiring manager. It gives you the opportunity to briefly describe why you’re such an excellent fit for the role.
When writing a cover letter, you can follow this format:
1. Introduce yourself and make a good first impression
Begin by providing a brief overview of your work experience and explaining why you want to work for the organization you’re applying for. To make a positive first impression, list 1-2 of your best professional accomplishments.
2. Describe how you would thrive in this role
Determine the top three requirements in the job advertisement. Then, devote one paragraph to describing how you meet each of the criteria.
3. Conclude your cover letter and say thanks
Thank the reader for taking the time to read your cover letter and suggest the next steps. For example, “I would love to meet with you to further discuss my previous experience. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call me on [phone number] or email me at [email address].”
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Step 12. Proofread
Once you’ve finished writing your resume, it’s time to proofread it to ensure it’s written perfectly.
You’d be surprised how simple it is to make a small error, as well as how difficult it is to detect one in your own writing. Start by reading over your work multiple times and be on the lookout for any spelling or grammatical errors.
It’s also a good idea to give your work to someone so they can proofread it. Additionally, software such as Grammarly and Hemingway are very effective at detecting mistakes. Microsoft Word also has an in-built spell checker that can notify you of any pesky typos.
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When proofreading your own work, ensure that your resume:
- Contains your correct contact details
- Doesn’t contain sensitive information
- Is just 1-2 pages long
- Is easy to read, with fonts above 10pt and sufficient spacing
- Features a professional design that’s relevant to the position you’re applying for
- Includes all relevant sections
- Provides measurable accomplishments in your job experience section
- Addresses the requirements identified in the job ad
- Is free of spelling and grammatical errors
- Has information that is clearly formatted
Step 13. Save your resume as a PDF
Once your resume is completed and has been thoroughly checked for errors, it’s time to save it – preferably as a PDF file. Even if you use fonts that aren’t available on the hiring manager’s device, saving your work as a PDF will maintain its formatting.
If the job posting specifically requests a resume in Microsoft Word (DOCX) or another format, however, you should follow those guidelines.
You should keep your resume on your computer or hard drive after you’ve saved it. If you are called in for an interview, you can print physical copies to provide to the interviewers. You can also reuse your resume if you’re applying for a similar role down the track.
The file name of your resume should be simple and obvious, making it easier for the hiring manager to locate. Sarah-Clarke-Resume.pdf, for example, is a suitable filename since it comprises the applicant’s name, as well as the phrase “resume.”
Land your dream job with these resume writing tips
Your resume is essential to showcasing the most vital information to prove that you’re the right person for the job. Thankfully, after reading this guide, you now know exactly what you need to put on your resume, and where, to truly impress any hiring manager.
By following the steps outlined above, you’re closer to landing your dream job than ever before. All you have to do next is ace your phone screen interview, and the position is yours.
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