How to Write a Resume: Everything You Need to Know

Use these tips and advice to create the resume that’s right for you.

Consider this: Research shows that busy recruiters take an average of only six seconds to review each resume and make a decision about whether or not to interview a candidate. Add to that the fact that so many employers are now using applicant tracking systems (ATS) to scan resumes, and it is imperative that today’s jobseeker has a solid resume to make it past these two potential gatekeepers and get the interview.

When considering how to write a resume, jobseekers should concentrate on more than just their work experience. An appealing design, clarity of language, and identifying detailed examples that highlight your accomplishments are critical to getting the job you want.

Read on to learn how to write a resume that will tell recruiters and hiring managers a story about what you’ll bring to the table when they hire you.

Which Sections Should I Include in my Resume?

There are five critical sections in every resume. Organizing your work story according to these commonly used headers makes it easy to create a resume that’s both well laid out and inclusive of all the key information that hiring leaders want to see.

Here are the sections that we will cover in detail:

Contact information

Professional Summary

Work Experience

Skills & Achievements

Education

According to a study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), there are several factors that recruiters heavily consider when evaluating a resume. These include resume organization (66% prefer a chronological format), the use of bullet points in formatting a resume section (43% like them), and including skills and career summaries in the document. (Twenty-seven percent and 18% of recruiters, respectively, consider the inclusion of these sections when reviewing a resume.)

66% of recruiters and hiring managers prefer a resume in a chronological format, according to SHRM research.

Need more evidence? Another study that tracked recruiter behavior found that professionally prepared resumes scored far better on ATSs than poorly organized resumes. Read on for more pro tips on how to write a resume.

Professionally prepared resumes scored far better on ATSs than poorly organized resumes.

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How to Write a Resume Contact Information Section

The whole point of creating a great resume is to get called in for an interview, which can’t happen if the recruiter isn’t able to contact you. As you learn how to write a resume, be sure that you include complete contact information in the header at the top of the document.

Consider highlighting the header of your document with a slight change of font size or a rule line to pack a punch. Like with the rest of your resume, keep the font simple and legible. Helvetica, Times New Roman, or Georgia fonts are designed for readability and are an excellent choice for a resume.



What to Include in Your Contact Information Section

Your name

Tip: Consider making your name slightly larger than the rest of the header.

Mailing address

Tip: Today, snail mail is rarely a part of the application process, so it’s becoming passé to include your mailing address on your resume. Especially if you plan to relocate for work, it’s standard to leave your current address off your resume so as not to raise a red flag. If you’re searching for a position in your current location and want employers to know that you’re local, include only your city and state. In addition to it being unnecessary, adding your complete street address to your resume could open the door to identity theft.

Social media

Tip: Make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and consider including a live link to your profile in the header of your resume.

Phone number

Tip: Use a mobile number linked to a professional-sounding voicemail greeting.

URLs to personal websites or blogs

Tip: If you work in an industry that requires a portfolio – for example, if you are a copywriter or an architect – be sure to create live links to your work in your resume. Or, if you write and maintain a blog that demonstrates your knowledge in a particular field or subject, include links to that as well.

How To Write a Resume Professional Summary Section

A professional summary is a short explanation of your skill and experience. It lets employers know right out of the gate what you will bring to the table if you are hired. A professional summary should touch on your hard and soft skills and address a problem you can help the company solve.

Like an elevator pitch, a professional summary should be short, snappy, and to the point. The idea is to have it be full of relevant facts about you and your background but interesting enough that recruiters are going to want to learn more about you.

To execute this, look carefully at the job ad and gather the keywords that the employer uses. Also ask yourself, what is the company hoping to accomplish with this hire?

Here is an example that might work for a recent grad:


SUMMARY EXAMPLE


“Hardworking recent college graduate seeks an entry-level marketing position. Recently graduated at the top of class with a degree in marketing and a minor in creative writing—eager to put knowledge to use in a busy marketing department. Past experience includes a proven track record of being a team player who can pivot between assignments with ease.”

Unlike a resume objective statement, which typically expresses the jobseeker’s needs, a professional summary should focus on what you as a candidate will offer the employer. Again, identify the problem the company is trying to solve with this hire and then explain how you will solve that problem.

How to Write a Resume Work Experience Section

Next up, we will learn how to write a resume work experience section. The length of this section will depend on how long you have been in the workforce.

For recent graduates or those with a limited work history, this is the section that can feel sticky. In that case, list any relevant summer jobs, part-time work, or internships that you’ve held. It’s still important to list your past work experience and call out the skills and qualities that made you good at your job even if your past roles were not in the same industry as the job you’re applying to.

Use action verbs to describe your duties. Recruiters read many, many resumes in any given day; using dynamic words in your resume will help them picture you getting the job done. For example, if one of your responsibilities was to order office supplies, it’s more interesting to read that you “executed and maintained a new system for ordering supplies” than it is to read that you were “responsible for placing orders.”

Remember, your entire resume should be written in the third person. Don’t use first-person pronouns when writing your work section. Utilize bullet points to break up copy and only list 4-6 bullet points per position.

Finally, your work experience section should not just recount your past duties and responsibilities, but should rather shed light on your accomplishments and achievements. Wherever possible, use data to show the impact you had. For example, if your new system for ordering supplies saved the company money by reducing duplicate orders, explain it. “Consolidated the weekly orders into monthly orders thereby reducing duplicate ordering and cutting spending by 7%.”


Tips Section: How to Write Effective Achievements
  • For each entry, identify a problem that existed and the action you took to solve the problem.

  • Use interesting action words, such as “streamlined,” “mobilized,” or “dispatched” rather than writing less-engaging phrases like, “responsible for” or “handled.”

  • Include data to support your experience. Doing so will help paint a picture of the impact your work had on your last organization. Add anything that can be measured that will demonstrate your value, such as sales revenue, increased donations, information about website traffic, and other numbers.

  • Pull keywords out of the job ad and do your best to mention achievements that touch on those.

Here’s an example of a good entry in a work experience section:


WORK EXPERIENCE SECTION EXAMPLE


Marketing Associate, 2016 – Present
ABC Company, Albany, NY

○ Assisted the marketing team with building a global brand strategy for our top performing product.
○ Analyze market trends and recommend solutions, which has resulted in a 10% upswing in sales annually.
○ Organize travel and lodging for a team of 10+ marketing specialists to attend tradeshows.



How to Write a Resume Education Section

Employers are going to be interested in your education, especially if you are a recent graduate. While it’s always important to list your degree(s) on a resume, recent graduates with limited work experience may choose to make their education more prominent.

It’s okay to list your GPA if you are a recent grad, but if you’ve been in the workforce for a while, don’t list your GPA. It’s only relevant for a year or two out of college. After that, most employers won’t care.

When listing your education, be sure to include the following items on your resume:

  • University name, city, country or state

  • Full dates you were in school. For example, January 2016 – Present, 2013-2017, or list your anticipated date of graduation.

  • Degree title (B.A., MFA, etc…)

  • Your major and minor (if applicable)

  • Only include your GPA if it is 3.5 or higher and only if you are still a student or looking for an internship. In other words, if you’ve graduated, there is no need to include your GPA.


EDUCATION SECTION EXAMPLE


Harvard University
Cambridge, MA
MA in English Literature, minor in French – 2009
3.7 GPA



How to Write a Resume Skills Section

For everyone who is learning how to write a resume, the skills section might be the most important area on which to focus. In this section, you should list your hard and soft skills, paying special attention to the keywords in the job ad.

As you scan the job ad, echo the language the ad uses for skills exactly. This means that if the job description calls for a candidate with “strong customer service skills” you should write that exactly. Rephrasing the wording, even slightly, can make it difficult to get past an applicant tracking system.

Personalize this sections for every job you apply for. It only takes a few minutes and might be the difference between getting your resume into the hands of a human recruiter or not. Below, see the types of skills you might want to list on your resume. Again, these should be personalized to the job ad at hand.

Here are examples of some skills you could use for a customer service resume:

  • MS Excel – Advanced (Macros, Pivot Tables)

  • Bilingual in French and English

  • Strong written and verbal communication skills

  • Team player with excellent conflict resolution skills

When is it a Good Idea to Add a Section to My Resume?

While the sections above are “must include” information, there mighty be additional accomplishments or activities that you’d like an employer to know about.

Recent graduates who are learning how to write a resume might want to include interesting pastimes in a “Hobbies” section. Or, for those who might have had their thesis or research papers published, a “Publications and Conferences” section is an ideal section to add.

Here are some additional samples of sections you may consider adding.

  • MS Excel – Advanced (Macros, Pivot Tables)

  • Bilingual in French and English

  • Strong written and verbal communication skills

  • Team player with excellent conflict resolution skills

How Long Should My Resume Be?

This might be the most common question people ask when they are learning how to write a resume. The answer? While years ago experts told jobseekers never to have a resume that was longer than a page, today there is no hard and fast rule. Typically, the longer you’ve been working, the longer your resume will be.

A loose rule of thumb: If you have been working for less than 10 years, keep your resume to a page. If you have been working for 11+ years, your resume can be two or more pages. Remember, however, that listing 15- or 20-years worth of work experience on your resume could inadvertently age you in the eyes of a recruiter.

Making your resume three pages or longer isn’t advised, unless you’re a senior-level manager or an executive. A resume that is longer than two pages is also appropriate for academics or other professions where you’d want to list speaking engagements, publications, or other activities related to your work.

Choose Your Resume Format Wisely!

To be sure your resume makes it past an applicant tracking system (ATS), stick with one of these three time-tested formats when you are deciding how to write a resume: chronological, functional and combination. Using one of these three formats will increase your chances of getting your resume past an ATS and into the hands of a human recruiter.

Which one is right for you?




Type of Resume Best for Pros Cons
Chronological Resume
  • Jobseekers with a solid work history
  • Preferred format of hiring managers
  • Most likely to be accurately scanned by an ATS
  • Emphasizes a strong work history
  • Emphasis on chronology makes employment gaps obvious
  • Highlights limited work experience
  • Puts a spotlight on shifts in your career path
Functional Resume
  • Jobseekers with little or no work experience
  • Those with gaps in their work history
  • Workers with diverse experience
  • Highlights transferrable skills developed across fields
  • Deemphasizes limited work experience; focuses instead on skills
  • Helps obscure past work history issues, such as gaps in employment
  • Many hiring managers dislike this format because it’s non-linear
  • Can make candidates looks like they are trying to hide something
  • Some ATSs won’t scan these resumes correctly
Combination Resume
  • Younger workers with lots of skills but a relatively short work history
  • Workers who’ve held a handful of jobs for long periods of time
  • Marries the best elements of the chronological and functional formats
  • Highlights the accomplishments of workers who have held the same title or position for a long time.
  • This format emphasizes achievements and transferrable skills
  • Can make employment gaps or abrupt career shifts more obvious than the functional format
  • Not the preferred format of most hiring managers
  • Some ATSs may fail to properly scan this format
Type of Resume
Chronological Resume
Best for
  • Jobseekers with a solid work history
Pros
  • Preferred format of hiring managers
  • Most likely to be accurately scanned by an ATS
  • Emphasizes a strong work history
Cons
  • Emphasis on chronology makes employment gaps obvious
  • Highlights limited work experience
  • Puts a spotlight on shifts in your career path
Type of Resume
Functional Resume
Best for
  • Jobseekers with little or no work experience
  • Those with gaps in their work history
  • Workers with diverse experience
Pros
  • Highlights transferrable skills developed across fields
  • Deemphasizes limited work experience; focuses instead on skills
  • Helps obscure past work history issues, such as gaps in employment
Cons
  • Many hiring managers dislike this format because it’s non-linear
  • Can make candidates looks like they are trying to hide something
  • Some ATSs won’t scan these resumes correctly
Type of Resume
Combination Resume
Best for
  • Younger workers with lots of skills but a relatively short work history
  • Workers who’ve held a handful of jobs for long periods of time
Pros
  • Marries the best elements of the chronological and functional formats
  • Highlights the accomplishments of workers who have held the same title or position for a long time.
  • This format emphasizes achievements and transferrable skills
Cons
  • Can make employment gaps or abrupt career shifts more obvious than the functional format
  • Not the preferred format of most hiring managers
  • Some ATSs may fail to properly scan this format

Still not sure which professional resume will best fit your needs? Take a look at our resume format examples for more ideas and inspiration as you learn how to write a resume.

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Tips to Remember as You Begin to Write a Resume

Choose the format that best meets your needs. While the chronological format is the format most preferred by recruiters, it might not be the best choice for a recent grad or someone with gaps in their professional history. Think about what you want to emphasize and choose the format that best serves your purpose.

Always add quantifiable achievements to your resume. Add numbers about sales revenue, website traffic, employee engagement – anything that will demonstrate how your work has made an impact.

Always tailor your resume to the job at hand. This will likely mean rewriting your Professional Summary and reordering or rewording your Skills section to make the skills most relevant to the position pop. Remember, the more closely your resume echoes the language of the job ad, the higher it will rank when run through an ATS.

Choose a word document or a PDF format for sending your resume. These are the most easily read by ATSs. Avoid using photos, graphics or special characters in the document as these can confuse an ATS.

Use a clean, easy-to-read font such as Arial or Times New Roman. Use a font size of 10 or 12 to make your resume easy on the eyes.

Always proofread your resume before sending it to a recruiter. As an extra safety net, have a trusted friend read it as well.