Before you can breathe out and enter the door to your new workplace, you first need to eliminate all your competitors. Sounds very dramatic, doesn’t it? Almost Hunger Games-like. But don’t worry, there won’t be a cornucopia of deadly weapons and we won’t send you into an arena. Instead, we will supply you with the means on how to write a resume that will get you to lots of job interviews and in the end be the last applicant standing.
In this article we will show you a step by step guide on how to write a resume for a job. We will also give you lots of actionable tips and tricks that you can use straight away. Finally, we are going to show you examples plus dos and don’ts. So read on to learn more about:
- The basics - what is a resume?
- How to write a resume for a job you want - a step by step guide
- Which resume formats there are and which you should choose
- How much/how little you should include in your resume
- Dos and don’ts for writing your resume
What is a resume?
A resume, or a CV as it is called outside of the US, is the most important document in your career. It is a brief but informative summary of your professional experiences and achievements. It is (usually) a required part of applying for jobs. Think of it as a marketing document, where you are the product. Its sole purpose is to get you through the door and into a job interview.
You should always keep your resume as clear and concise as possible. Ideally, it should be only one page long. In other words, keep it simple.
How to write a resume for a job you want - a 10 step guide
Writing a resume is like following a recipe. There are variations for how to do it but the end-goal is the same: to land job interviews and get hired. Below is a clear and short step by step guide to write a resume. Each step will be explained in detail with tips and tricks.
- Choose your resume format
- Write your professional title (customize it to the job ad)
- Write a resume summary (customize it to the job ad)
- Add your contact information
- Add all relevant work experience
- Make sure to use power words and correct key words
- Add your latest education (keep it at max. two levels)
- Add your skills to your resume (customize them to the job ad)
- Select your resume font and theme
When it comes to deciding on which resume format you should go for, there are a few options. Which one you should choose depends on your situation. The three resume formats are:
- The reverse chronological resume format: choose this format if you have extensive work experience
- The functional (skill based) resume format: choose this format if you’re making a career change or if you lack relevant work experience
- The hybrid (combination) resume format: choose this format if you have relevant skills but not extensive work experience yet
Professional title is both the headline of your resume and the job titles you write down in your work history. Did you, like most other job searchers, think that you had to use the job titles given to you by your employer? That’s not the case.
To increase your chances of getting past the inevitable applicant tracking systems (ATS) you’ll need to be more strategic. For your professional title, your resume’s headline, use the job title that is listed in the job ad. For example, if the company is looking for a Marketing Manager, but your previous title was Marketing Executive you write Marketing Manager.
When it comes to your job titles for describing your previous work history, you should also stop up and consider them a moment. A lot of companies use their own more or less self-invented job titles, which in itself is fine. A company that uses the word Ninja in their job titles (like Accounting Ninja = Financial Manager) is probably a lot of fun to work at. But on a resume you’ll want both the ATS and the recruiter to recognize your job titles. Therefore, if your previous title was Accounting Ninja simply write Financial Manager. It’s not as sexy but it’ll get the job done.
A strong resume summary, or profile, will definitely set you apart from your competitors. The resume summary is a brief description of you and your qualifications in relation to the job you’re applying for. Therefore it’s critical that you target the right keywords from the job ad to make sure you grab the recruiter’s attention. Pro tip: adding measurable achievements in your resume summary is a surefire way to grab the attention of the recruiter. Maybe you were responsible for a 57% increase in sales revenue in your last job? Make sure to add that.
You will want to keep the summary short and sweet. About 50 words or even less.
Your contact information should be below your headline of your resume or at the top of the right column if you’re opting for a two-column design. You should include the following:
- Email address
- Phone number
- Physical address (street name, zip code, city, country)
This information is mandatory. It’s also an option to add your social media accounts but keep in mind that you invite the recruiter to look at them. So be sure that all your social media content is sober if you choose to add your profiles to your resume.
Relevant work experience
While it may be tempting to add all of your previous work history, don’t. The key here is the word “relevant”. When you add your work experience to your resume make sure you only include the relevant experiences. And don’t go back more than 10 years. It’s better to have a few and relevant professional experiences than a tangle of odd jobs here and there with no relevance to the job you’re applying for.
For each work experience you add to your resume make sure you’ve optimized it as much as possible for the job ad. That means you need to use the same terms as in the job ad wherever possible - cf. professional title.
Pro tip: Focus on what you did at your old job, not what your job was / your job description. This will also make it easier to tailor each position to the job ad.
Power words and keywords
Make sure you add as many power words to your resume as possible. Power words and action verbs have a great effect on the people reading your resume. They will make you seem even more competent and professional.
Also make sure to align your terms with the terms used in the job ad. These will work as keywords for both the ATS and the recruiter.
Adding your educations to your resume is a vital way to show your potential employer that you have the necessary knowledge to maintain the position. But don’t add all your education from elementary school. Only add the latest finished degree and any relevant courses and certificates you’ve attained since then. The key is to keep it relevant.
Your skills are an essential part of your resume. Keep in mind though, that there are some different ways to add them depending on what resume format you’ve chosen. Their role also change depending on where in your career you are at the moment. Let’s take a closer look.
If you have lots of relevant previous work experience and relevant skills you should go for the reverse chronological resume format. In this case you should add your skills either at the bottom or - if you’re opting for a two-column resume template - in the side column.
Skills at the bottom
Skills on right side column
If you are changing career or you are fresh out of school but with relevant skills you should opt for the functional resume where focus is on your skills. Another option is the hybrid format which is a combination of the reverse chronological and the functional resume. For both of these types of resume you should add your skills in the beginning of the resume.
Resume with skills summary section
Resume font and theme
This part may seem a bit trivial. After all, it must be the content of your resume itself that decides if you pass the initial screenings, right? Wrong. The layout of your resume actually means a great deal.
First of all, there are the applicant tracking systems (ATS) to consider. Most of them have a hard time parsing the very elaborately designed resumes. They simply won’t be able to find the keywords you’ve added and the result will be a tangled mess that makes no sense to neither machine nor human. Even the font you choose may affect their interpretation of your resume. Thus, if you choose a font with serifs like Times New Roman, the ATS will actually have a hard time parsing your information. The result might be a rejected resume.
Secondly, you have to consider the human factor. Most recruiters will read your resume on their computer screen. This means your resume has to be extra friendly to the eyes that read it. Keep the whole resume free of clutter. Organize it. You obtain this by making sure you have enough white space, especially around the margins.
Proofread and finish strong
The last step before submitting your resume and other application documents is to proofread. Always proofread your work a little while after you’ve written it. What sounded good while you wrote it, might not sound as good later in the day or even the day after.
When you write resumes for different job positions (and of course you always tailor your resume to the relevant job position) it is so easy to accidentally write the wrong company name or make another embarrassing mistake.
Also, it’s a good idea to get a second pair of eyes to look over your resume. So hand it over to your spouse, a family member, or a friend to let them give it a run-through. If something is unclear to them it’s a good indication that you need to make some adjustments.
Finishing your application process strong means to leave the recruiter with a great gut-feel. This means you need to make sure your resume is in a format that’s easy to open and review. So save your work as both a Word document and a PDF file. Both will work well for the bots and for the recruiter. It also means your email to the recruiter needs to be on point.
- Make sure to use the recruiter’s name (just like in your cover letter)
- Make sure it’s well written and without grammatical errors or typos
- Remember to attach your documents (this is a classic error so double check before hitting that send-button)
- Finish with a call to action where you let the recruiter know that you are available on email and phone for any further questions
Dos and don’ts when writing your resume
As you can see there are a lot of dos and don’ts when it comes to how to write a resume. To make it easier for you to learn how to write a resume, we’ve made a list. We hope this will help you navigate the resume-jungle.
- Use power words such as “achieve”, “manage”, “resolve”, “launch” (in moderation)
- Quantify your achievements (“grew revenue with 57% during first year of employment”)
- Include relevant previous jobs since the past 15 years
- Use a resume template that will present your resume in an ordered and pleasing-to-the-eye manner
- Include your name and contact information
- Include your latest educational degree, relevant certificates, and diplomas
- Use worn out terms like “go-getter”, “think outside the box”, “synergy”
- Describe your achievements generically (“was responsible for a much higher revenue during first year of employment”)
- Include all previous jobs since you had that news paper route
- Shift between fonts, use up all the white space, or change between date formats
- Include sensitive personal information like social security number
- Include all education since elementary school