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This how-to resume guide will show you everything you need to include in your document to impress hiring managers and help get you that coveted interview, including step-by-step instructions on how to maximize each section and write the ultimate resume.
Your resume is a one- to two-page document that clearly outlines your professional accomplishments. A well-written and detailed resume is a crucial tool in any job seeker’s arsenal. The resume is traditionally used by hiring managers in the United States to measure a job candidate’s qualifications and aptitude for the open position.
To successfully write a resume, you’ll need to include the following sections in this order:
1. Contact information:
Include your full name, phone number, email address, and basic location.
2. Professional summary:
Think of this as your personal sales pitch. Highlight your top accomplishments and the most coveted skills for the role.
3. Work experience:
List your most recent jobs in reverse chronological order and outline your most impressive achievements in each role.
Make a list of six to eight soft, hard and technical skills.
Display your college degrees, high school diploma, or equivalent to let employers know your education level.
Even the most experienced writer finds it intimidating to start a resume from a blank page. Before you dive into writing your resume, you need to understand what type of information you’re working with. Complete these series of preparation steps, so you have all your materials handy and your information ready before you get to writing.
Once your prep work is complete, you need to learn which resume format is the best fit for you. Depending on the resume format you choose, you will write your resume differently, but it will highlight your best attributes while downplaying your setbacks. Spend some time comparing the three formats to determine which works best for you.
The chronological format focuses on the work history section, so the bulk of your writing will be concentrated here. This format is ideal for candidates with a long and consistent career of more than 10 years. You should emphasize all the accomplishments and experiences you’ve gained in your previous roles.
The functional format is all about skills, meaning that candidates should spend a lot of time crafting their multiple skills sections. This format is particularly beneficial for candidates who just came out of college or have little formal experience but compensate with qualifications and skills relevant to their desired position.
When writing a combination resume, you need to put a lot of effort into both the work history and skills sections. Career changers or candidates looking for promotion would do well with this format since it shows how well-rounded they are as professionals.
Now that we’ve introduced the five primary sections of a resume, you’re ready to start writing. Read on to learn what to include in each section and how to structure your resume.
At the top of your resume, you will find your professional summary or career objective. This section functions as a type of sales pitch of yourself to your prospective employer. It consists of a two- to three-sentence-long paragraph that summarizes your top skills, accomplishments and qualifications for the job.
There are two strategies you can use to write this section. The one we tend to recommend to most candidates is the summary statement. The summary statement is written with the employer’s needs in mind. You should list a couple of hard and soft skills, background information that will pique the interest of your employer, and achievements that you can tie to the open position.
Check out this example of a summary statement:
“Innovative Marketing leader with 7+ years of experience executing exceptional marketing campaigns, content, and collateral based on established and innovative strategies. Results-oriented and collaborative professional bringing expertise in brand management and social media engagement. Adept in both online and traditional marketing approaches.”
The second strategy you can use is the career objective. The career objective is different from the summary statement because it focuses more on your professional goals and ambitions. A successful objective should explain what you hope to accomplish in this role and how you can help the company with your newfound knowledge and experience. The career objective is definitely more suited to young professionals and those applying for an entry-level position.
Check out the example below to learn how to write an exceptional career objective:
“Resourceful and collaborative human resources valedictorian with strong knowledge of office administration and everyday human resources operations. Eager to apply my skills in a corporate environment. Strong interpersonal, administrative and coaching skills.”
This section gives you another chance to highlight your technical know-how. When crafting your skills section, you should have around six to eight skills in a balanced variety of all skill types. Skills are divided into soft, hard and technical skills. Let’s break down what each skill type means:
Hard skills: These are objective and measurable qualifications you should present to a recruiter or hiring manager in your resume. Because they’re concrete, they serve as strong verification to a potential employer of your ability and skill set. Hard skills can include:
Soft skills: These skills are also helpful for you to showcase. However, unlike hard skills, soft skills are more subjective and harder to quantify. Most interpersonal skills fall under the umbrella of soft skills. These skills can include:
Technical skills: These fall under a specific umbrella of hard skills –– they involve nuanced or niche-specific technology and computer-based abilities. Technical skills often require more education, training or hands-on experience. They are very advantageous to showcase on your resume, especially if you’re applying to a job in the realm of computers and technology. These specialized skills can include:
You need to pick and choose these six- to eight- skills wisely. Will the skills you include make someone want to hire you for this role? Your hiring manager might be personally impressed that you can speak fluent French, but it’s best to save that fact for the interview portion of the job search if the job you’re applying to will never make use of this skill. Visit our Skills Library to review over 100 skills.
Personalize this section for each job you apply to. Scan the job ad for those crucial keywords we mentioned earlier and echo the exact same language it uses for skills. If it calls for a candidate with “strong customer service skills,” you need to duplicate this language in your skills section. Rephrasing the wording even slightly, like using a different tense, can make it challenging to get your resume past applicant tracking systems (ATS).
This step only takes a few minutes, but it might be the difference between getting your resume into a hiring manager’s hands or getting deleted by a computer program before you even meet a human decision-maker.
When writing a functional resume, it’s important to note that you will have an expanded skills section. Instead of writing a simple list of skills, you will pick three of your top skills that are relevant to the job and expand on them with three to four bullet points that describe instances where you’ve demonstrated your mastery of that skill.
Here’s an expanded skills list example:
The length of this section will depend on how long you’ve been in the workforce. A general rule of thumb is to add a page to your resume for every 10 years of experience — this section should take up most of that allotted space. Remember, your entire resume should be written in the third person — no first-person pronouns. Use four to six bullet points to break up the copy.
Elaborate: Do more than recount your past duties and responsibilities. Shed light on your accomplishments and achievements by using data to quantify those achievements. For example, if you introduced a new supply-ordering system that saved the company money by reducing duplicate orders, explain it with percentages and financial savings. “Consolidated weekly orders into monthly orders, thereby reducing duplicate orders and cutting spending by 7%.”
Be active: Use action verbs to describe your duties. Recruiters and hiring managers read several resumes on any given day — use dynamic words to stand out in your experience section. For example, suppose one of your responsibilities was to order office supplies. In that case, it’s more interesting to read that you “executed and maintained a new system for ordering supplies” than it is that you were “responsible for placing orders.”
Use relevant experience: Don’t stuff your resume with every job and responsibility you’ve ever held. Tailor your resume by focusing on the needs of the job at hand and what you can provide. If you’re a recent graduate or have a limited job history, this can be tricky. In these rare cases, you can list relevant summer jobs, part-time work, volunteer opportunities or internships that you’ve held. It’s still important to name any similar past work experience, and specifically call out the qualifications and qualities that made you good at your job — even if your past roles don’t relate to the current job you are seeking.
Your work history section is always going to include your job title, company name, location and dates of employment followed by a couple of bullet points outlining the accomplishments and work duties as we explained above.
If you need help visualizing it, check out this short work history example:
The Gap - Sales Associate
06/2018 - Current
Employers are interested in your education, although the amount of detail you offer in this section changes depending on when you graduated. If you graduated more than three years ago, this section is sparse. You can list the name of the school you attended, the date of graduation, and the type of degree you earned. However, most hiring managers will be more interested in your practical work experience if you’ve been out of school for a few years.
If you graduated less than three years ago, it’s OK to elaborate on this section since you don’t have as many years of professional experience to showcase on your resume. You can list your grade point average (GPA), special awards or commendations you earned, or any specialized classes or coursework related to the open job.
Structure your resume’s educational information with the following format:
Check out this education section example:
MA in English Literature, minor in French, 2019
There’s no point in creating a great resume if a recruiter isn’t able to contact you for an interview. It’s vital that you include your complete contact information in the header at the top of your resume.
Read on to learn what exactly to include in your contact information section.
Your name: This will be the first item read on your resume. You are establishing a professional relationship. Use your full professional name, and don’t include inappropriate nicknames. Consider making your name slightly larger than the rest of the header.
General location: Include your city and state so employers can know if you’re a local applicant. Some studies have shown that hiring managers have a preference for employees with shorter commutes, so this might act as an unconscious benefit to your application. You no longer need to include your mailing address, as most communications are handled through phone calls and emails.
Phone number: List a number that links to a professional voicemail greeting in case you can’t receive the call.
Email address: As we mentioned –– conventional mail is outdated. Most HR departments and hiring managers will communicate with you through email. Consider making a dedicated email for job applications that uses a professional handle like your first and last name. This dedicated account makes it easier to track communications during your job search.
Social media links: If you work in an industry that requires work samples, add live links to your professional websites, blogs or online portfolio. You can also include your LinkedIn portfolio. Remember, these are supplemental sites that help create a fuller idea of your professional expertise –– they don’t replace your resume.
Although the previous five sections are just what you need to write an effective resume, you have the chance to customize it further. You can add custom sections to share any other information you couldn’t fit in the existing sections.
For example, common extra sections you can add can be an Awards section, a Certifications or Licenses section, and even a Hobbies section if you feel like that would fit for the role and company you’re applying to.
There are many professions that require you to be licensed, such as brokers, engineers and teachers. You should make sure your licenses are up to date and include the license number, institution that provided it, and year of expedition.
The same applies to certifications, for example, if you’re a babysitter who’s certified in CPR and first aid, you should include all that official information in a separate section.
An Awards section can be especially helpful for professionals in advertising whose work is commonly submitted for award competitions, but also for individuals who have received awards inside their own company for excelling as employee of the month and such.
An optional but recommended step in your job application process is to pair your resume with a cover letter. If you want to expand your chances of getting hired, a cover letter is a great tool to share even more professional information with your employer.
Our Cover Letter Builder is equipped with the tools to speed up and optimize your process of writing a cover letter. Simply fill in your data such as desired role, years of experience, professional skills and qualifications, and writing style, and our builder will produce a personalized letter just for you. Always go in to edit with more specific accomplishments and skills to really make it your own.
In 2021, your resume should still include the five main sections of a resume which are: contact information, professional summary, work history, skills, and education. Some specific themes that recruiters will be paying close attention to this year are transferable skills. With the job market experiencing such high turnover, show you have plenty of transferable skills. Transferable skills are skills that can be valuable across industries no matter the role. These skills will allow you to apply to a wide range of jobs and guarantee employers you can be a high-performing employee.
Yes! Although the standard length of a resume is one page your resume can extend beyond that if needed. If you’re a candidate with more than 10 years of experience, your resume will be much longer. Between two to three pages is understandable if your information and the role you’re applying to merits it, for example, being an applicant with 30 years of experience applying for a senior management position. If this isn’t your case, your best bet is to stick with one-page resumes.
Although they serve similar purposes, a resume and a CV are used in different contexts. First of all, a CV is an abbreviation for curriculum vitae, which means “course of life” in Latin. CVs are much more detailed documents that chronicle all your academic, professional and some personal achievements. Instead of being tailored for the job like a resume, the CV is more about you. CVs are commonly used to apply to professional positions such as fellowships, research positions, PhDs, and government jobs. They are around 10 pages long depending on the amount of work you’ve done. CVs are also more popular in job markets outside of the U.S., especially in Europe.
Having no formal work experience shouldn’t discourage you from writing an efficient and impressive resume. First of all, you need to choose the functional format, which is tailored specifically for candidates like you. The functional resume format focuses on your skills rather than your work history. Meaning that even if you haven’t had a formal job, you can still showcase skills you’ve learned in other environments such as school, internships, or informal work you’ve done for family members' business, for example.
If you want to try writing a resume with no experience, you can check out the following resources:
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