Estimate Time6 min

How to write a resume

Key takeaways

  • A resume should clearly convey your skills, experiences, and accomplishments that qualify you for a particular job.
  • The right resume format for you may depend on your industry and years of experience.
  • Take the time to polish your resume and tweak it for each opportunity.

Looking for a new role? Then you probably need to know how to write a resume.

While many parts of the process have changed over the years, submitting a resume that highlights your relevant skills and experience remains a key step for most positions. And devoting time to crafting a compelling resume could get you noticed by more recruiters and hiring managers.

Here’s how to make a resume that helps you stand out as a candidate.

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1. Start with a fitting design

Some job fields allow creative freedom in how to make a resume. But other types of professions need a more basic layout. Seek out resumes pros in your industry to help you decide how to design your resume.

A good idea, no matter the layout: Highlight important info with subheads. These make it simpler for applicant tracking systems to scan your resume and potentially get you into a queue of top resumes.

For more traditional resume layouts, consider:

  • Picking a classic font—Times New Roman or Arial, for example—in size 10- or 12-point.
  • Left-aligning all your text
  • Putting in hard returns after each section to give your text breathing room
  • Using the default margins
  • Bolding, italicizing, and underlining critical info, such as employer names and positions you’ve held, but stay consistent. Think: If you bold your most recent employer’s name and italicize your most recent role, bold all other employers’ names and italicize all other roles too.
  • Bulleting points in each section instead of using sentences that turn into hard-to-read paragraphs

If, on the other hand, you’re applying for, say, graphic design roles, the above standards might not prove to a hiring manager that you’ve got solid creative chops. For instance, you might want to create a custom font for your name or design an experience timeline instead of merely listing your past jobs. You might even use icons to label typical resume sections—so instead of spelling out “Education,” you might place a graduation cap image next to your college’s name and degree.

2. Put the basics at the top

First come your name and contact info, including a professional email address with your full name, not your favorite hobby or sports team. Unless a job specifies that you must be willing to work in a particular city or have knowledge of a certain area, no need to include your physical address. You could also include your professional website and LinkedIn® profile and other social media accounts if relevant.

3. Draw in a reader with a summary

The average resume reviewer spends less than 8 seconds checking out a resume, according to an eye-tracking study from the careers site, Ladders, Inc.1 So don’t make employers look hard for the details that distinguish you from other applicants. Consider including a summary right below your contact info that quickly tells a reader:

  • Who you are
  • What you want
  • Why you deserve it

This is your one chance to convince a reader to keep reading—or a bot to keep scanning. So mention a couple of skills or experiences you have that appear in the job listing.

4. Let your life stage or industry guide what to put next

Listing your education after the summary is how students or recent grads might want to make their resumes. If you have multiple degrees, start with the highest one first, and if you had an impressive GPA—generally, 3.5 or higher—consider including that. Graduating with honors is a worthy inclusion, too. And if you’ve taken classes that are extremely relevant to the job at hand, consider describing a few of those, which could make up for a lack of professional experience. Then, move on to the experience section. List any internships, volunteer roles, or life experiences here.

If you’re further along in your career, consider putting your experience section after your summary and before your education instead. Then, list each role you’ve held, starting with the most recent, noting the month and year you started and ended each one. Rather than describe your duties at those jobs, point out accomplishments and your impact. Quantify achievements whenever possible: numbers prove you’ve made a difference. For example: “Grew revenue 150% year-over-year by taking on small-business clients.”

Or if you’re in a field where what you know is more important than anything else, consider listing your skills near the top or in a dedicated section on the side. These could be hard skills, such as computer programs, but also soft skills, such as communication skills and critical thinking, especially if the job listings you’re interested in mention these.

5. Optimize with keywords

Check out multiple job listings that interest you. See words and phrases that repeat from post to post? Try to work those into your summary, experience, and skills sections. Bots that scan resumes may be looking for those keywords and if they don’t spot them, your resume might not make it to an actual person.

6. Check that you aren’t leaving unanswered questions

If you’ve worked for a company your resume reviewer might not recognize, briefly explain what the company does. Similarly, if you have a gap between jobs of more than a few months, don’t leave the reader wondering what you were doing during that time. Share how you spent it, such as getting a degree or taking care of a loved one. And skip the jargon. The hiring manager may be unfamiliar with specific terms. But don’t turn your resume into a work of fiction. About 75% of employers have caught a lie on a resume, according to a CareerBuilder survey.2

7. Proofread

That same CareerBuilder survey found that 77% of hiring managers automatically reject a candidate for grammatical errors or typos.3 So use a spell-check program and read your resume (and then read it again) to make sure it’s mistake-free. Don’t have eagle eyes? Ask a friend or relative to check it over for you.

8. Tighten it up

Keep your resume to no more than 2 pages. If you’re just starting out, 1 page is probably enough. If you’re running long, look for opportunities to cut info that repeats or isn’t relevant to the job you’re applying to.

9. Give it a coherent filename

Saving your resume as just “Resume” could get your doc lost in a crowd of other similarly named files. Instead, consider including your full name, the date, and, if possible, the position you’re applying for.

10. Save it as the right file type

Many portals that accept resumes specify what kind of file to submit. If they don’t, or if you need to email it, save your resume as a PDF to maintain formatting. Send it to a few friends who can download it off different email platforms to make sure the file opens well.

11. Do it all again

It’s a good idea to tailor your resume to each job you apply to. That’s because different roles call for different qualifications. You may want to highlight different skills and experiences for different hiring managers. A set of keywords that gets you noticed by one role’s applicant tracking system might not work for another role.

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1. “Ladders Updates Popular Recruiter Eye-Tracking Study With New Key Insights on How Job Seekers Can Improve Their Resumes,” Ladders, Inc., November 6, 2018. 2. “Employers Share Their Most Outrageous Resume Mistakes and Instant Deal Breakers in a New CareerBuilder Study,” CareerBuilder, August 24, 2018. 3. “Employers Share Their Most Outrageous Resume Mistakes,” CareerBuilder, August 24, 2018. LinkedIn, the LinkedIn logo, the IN logo and InMail are registered trademarks or trademarks of LinkedIn Corporation and its affiliates in the United States and/or other countries.

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