Resumes are to jobs like a shirt and shoes are to a 7-11: They get you in the door. What you do once you’re in the interview (or how many Big Gulps you buy once in the convenience store) is up to you, but without a solid resume, you’re not going to get the call to come in and meet the hiring managers.
So how do you make a great resume? As with all writing, concision and clarity are critical. Your task is to lay out your experience, skills, and qualifications.
Before we get down to details, here’s your first tip: Even if you have a great job, have a great resume. You should have a crisp, up-to-date resume on file at all times, regardless of whether you’ve happily worked at your company for the past 10 years or you’re 10 weeks into unemployment.
Tips Before You Get Started
Keep It Simple
Hiring managers hate fancily formatted, loquacious resumes. Don’t worry about a lot of different fonts, text sizes, formatting blocks, logos, and all that jazz. Your resume should use one common font and one type of bullet point. Don’t use a bunch of triangles and dashes and emoticons to highlight your various accomplishments. And take it easy on the bold and italics, too.
One Page, Please
If at all possible, keep your resume to one page. Not only will the second page rarely be read, but that page makes it less likely that a hiring manager will even consider you at all. Unless you are in an extremely specific field (maybe herpetology?) or are applying for a high-level job (maybe head herpetologist?), you should be able to get your resume down to one page.
Don’t Write a Memoir
If you want to put a summary, objective, or mission statement-style sentence or two at the top of your resume, that’s fine, but keep it to no longer than two lines comprising a single, succinct sentence.
No one wants to hear your life story during the hiring process — save that for Martini Monday after you get the job. Just state who you are and the broad strokes of your experience and avoid saying things like “searching for a position” as that comes across as desperate. Be confident.
There’s a difference between self-promoting and lying. It’s OK to use big, exciting words and phrases (like “single-handedly” or “spearheaded” or “managed”), but it’s not OK to say things that aren’t actually true. If you’re caught, you’re gone, and your reputation may be tainted beyond that organization.
Your resume needs to display a certain knowledge of your profession’s lexicon, but keep it free from buzzwords.
Go ahead and be a “team player” and call yourself “fast-paced,” but remember that no one is a good “multi-tasker” (the human brain can’t complete more than one high-level activity at a time — it’s why you turn down the radio before parking) and watch out for “synergy” because the word is almost devoid of meaning outside of the scientific realm.
Edit, Then Edit Again
A hiring manager may well remember one typo or misused word more than they remember the entirety of your work experience. Edit your resume thoroughly, then have someone else edit it, too. Then go over it again yourself.
How to Write a Resume
Unless you work in or are hoping to enter a highly specific field where a unique resume format is expected — such as in the medical or design fields, for example — your best bet when building a resume from scratch is to use the classic reverse chronological layout. Keep that in mind for the professional experience and education or training sections.
We’ll work top down and we’ll keep it simple. We’ve included examples below; you can download the resume templates we used here:
At the Top of the Resume
At the top of the page, ideally in a header section, put your name, location (city and state; no need for your exact address), and contact info (phone and email, e.g.) on three lines. Consider making your name slightly larger than the rest of the info, and consider making all of this info bold. It’s also OK if it’s a slightly different shade (likely grayer) than the rest of the resume.
Stating Your Objective
If you’d like, add a brief statement of objective, purpose, or goal or a concise summary of yourself as a professional. Keep it short. Keep it honest. And again, no mention of the job search.
List Your Professional Experience
The body of your resume will consist of the most recent relevant jobs you have worked, listed in reverse chronological order. Under a caption reading something like “Professional Experience,” start with the job that’s most current and clearly note the employer, location, your title, and the duration of employment. Here’s an example:
Next, use three to four bullet points listing your primary duties, your accomplishments, whether you oversaw or worked with a team, and other highlights. If there are facets to the job that are obvious, you can omit them. Don’t bother listing a reason the employment ended.
Education and Training
You only want to call attention to your education if it’s going to give you a leg up. It’s equally important to showcase any professional training and certificates you have.
If you will be listing education beyond high school, start with the highest degree, then list the others below. Don’t list your GPA — that’s just annoying. And feel free to omit your graduation year if you feel it will date you one way or the other. Here’s a good layout:
Skills and Accomplishments
List anything germane to your prospective new position that it didn’t make sense to note elsewhere. You can also include any skills you have that are universally positive. List qualifications outside of your training; list your higher-level computer skills for most any work; and, by all means, list the languages you speak if it’s more than one, no matter what job you seek. Do not mention your hobbies.
Never list your references and their contact information right there on your resume. A reference could change a phone number or, worse, change their opinion of you. If you have great references, just say “references available on request” at the bottom of the page. If references are requested upfront, include on another page. And, if that request comes through, make sure to inform the people who may be called ASAP so they can be on their toes.