The most important marketing tool you have at your disposal when applying for a job is your resume, otherwise referred to as curriculum vitae (CV). A well-written professional resume helps demonstrate the personality of the prospective employee.
For many companies, resumes must first get past initial screening algorithms or applicant tracking systems (ATS) put in place to aid the employer in their selection process.
If your resume has properly utilized important keywords to pass the algorithm, it will make its way to the desk of an employee recruitment team member.
Now imagine being the hiring manager reading the resumes of dozens or perhaps hundreds of applicants to fill a single vacancy. It is a given that an applicant must have an effective resume that stands out amongst the crowd to catch their attention and land an interview session.
Resume writing can be daunting, but it is a skill that can be mastered. Before you write your resume, be clear about why you are writing it. What jobs are you interested in and do you meet the qualifications for them? Why do you want to work with a particular employer? Do your values align with those of the employer? Answering these questions is the first step to writing your resume.
Creating an Outstanding and Effective Resume
A successful job application is led by a strong first impression. To tick the right boxes in the employer’s list, a resume must have the information the hiring team is looking for.
One important point is to have a neat and structured resume template, which will help pitch your suitability for the position—one of the best ways to do this is to use a resume builder instead of the basic text editor.
Another point to ensure the resume has all the essential components. Below is a step-by-step guide to follow when writing your resume, which sections you must include and others you can consider.
Choose the Right Resume Format
There are four main resume formats: reverse-chronological, functional, combination, and targeted. The best format to use depends on the applicant’s professional experience and the job they are applying to.
As the name suggests, the reverse chronological resume format highlights the history of your professional experience from the most to less recent.
The format is preferred by recruiters and hiring managers and is often used by people who have plenty of relevant experience in the position they are applying for. Unlike the other two formats, applicant tracking systems can read this format without trouble, making it the most common and useful resume format for job applicants.
The functional resume format is also called a skills-based resume format as it emphasizes the skill summary or areas of strength of the applicant.
Functional resumes are particularly useful for fresh graduates who have not yet obtained relevant work experience. It can also be used in the events of a career switch by explaining how skills previously gained through time in one industry can be transferred to another.
A combination resume format is a mix of the two formats: reverse-chronological and functional. While it comes with an area of strength section, it brings attention to the applicant’s work experience.
The format allows demonstration of both skills and experience, which is beneficial for senior professionals who need to highlight more than just their job experience.
The fourth and final format is a targeted resume, which is customized to the specific position you are applying for. Your work history, skills, and education provide direct answers to the prospective employer’s questions.
When sending targeted resumes, the resume template will be edited and rewritten for each job which the candidate applies to.
List Contact Information and Personal Details
It is important to know which information to provide in your resume. As the hiring managers need to contact you, should your application proceeds to the next stage, your resume should include:
- Your name – first and last, supplying your middle name is optional.
- Personal email address – one with a professional username rather than one with an embarrassing childhood reference like firstname.lastname@example.org
- A phone number – make sure you have written all the right digits in the right order, otherwise you may not get that acceptance phone call you have been waiting for.
- LinkedIn profile – to provide additional detail for the hiring managers.
Unless the job listing requires it, there is no need to provide an address. Information such as date of birth, gender, health status, and links to personal websites or blogs should be kept off your resume.
There are exceptions to this rule, such as when the job description states that the employer is looking for someone within a specific age range or an applicant of a certain sex. Where it helps to strengthen your application, consider including some of these details.
Your contact information should be put in the main body of the document as some applicant tracking systems may have difficulty reading information written in headers or footers.
Write a Professional Summary
Think of a professional summary as a condensed cover letter. By that definition, a professional summary or summary statement is a description comprising 50 to 150 words which helps the hiring manager to get an overview of your skills and experiences.
As it provides a summary of qualifications, it is most suitable to include in resumes of experienced job seekers with past achievements to highlight.
A strong professional summary placed at the top of your resume can increase your chances of being noticed, especially when it is used to address requirements written in the job listing. Always tailor your professional summary to a specific job by reading through the job description to find the qualifications that employers find important.
A general format that you can follow when writing a professional summary is:
[adjective(s) / strong character trait(s)] [your job title] [your professional experience] [company name] [what you want to help the employer achieve and how] [relevant key achievement(s)].
For example, a professional summary for a sales position may read:
“Motivated sales associate with a passion for high-quality customer service. Possess excellent time management, organizational, and interpersonal skills through over 5+ years of experience. Eager to assist the prospective employer in boosting company productivity and revenue through collaboration with team members. Exceeded quarterly sales target by 10% every quarter in the previous position.”
List Relevant Work Experience and Achievements
Work experience is gained by an employee by working in a particular field or position. In resume writing, the work experience and achievements section is the most detailed and holds the most important information in your resume.
The section should be placed below the professional summary for an experienced job-seeker, or under the education section for fresh graduates.
Following the reverse-chronological resume format, start with the most recent job experience and go backward from there. Otherwise, you can begin with the roles that are most relevant to the position you are applying for.
Whichever experience is placed at the top should be described in the most details. Here is a list of things to include in this section:
- Position title – internships, volunteer work, paid, and unpaid jobs count as long as they are relevant.
- Company name and location.
- Employment period – month and year in the standard MM/YYYY format is a sufficient description of the timeframe.
- Outline of your levels of responsibility and accomplishment – four of five bullet points to focus on relevant duties and awards or promotions received.
Employ action verbs and/or power words when describing your key responsibilities and use numbers, percentages, or statistics to bolster your achievements. One method to guarantee conciseness and effectiveness of the bullet points is to utilize the Problem-Action-Result method.
Take note that while the best resume template should sufficiently highlight your experience and eligibility, it should go back no more than 10-15 years.
List Your Education History
The education section is an essential part of building an effective resume. Most of the time you only need to provide your highest level of education—a high school degree can be deemed irrelevant for an applicant who has completed university degrees and several other qualifications since. It adds no value to the resume and therefore can be left out.
Any coursework relevant to the position or honors and awards received throughout the degree should be listed, along with extracurricular activities. Quantifying your results here is unnecessary, it might even work against you if another applicant comes in with a higher number. Below is a list of information to include in the education section in your resume:
- Name of the educational institution and its location.
- Name of the qualification i.e., your degree and course.
- Years of study – when the degree/diploma began and ended.
Include Relevant Skills Matching the Job Listing
As the hiring process becomes more modernized, prospective employers use software that scans for important keywords and phrases in the application that are sent to them. The ones that do not use these keywords and phrases do not make it to the recruiting team.
This section should briefly list important skills you have to offer to prospective employers, whether it may be hard or soft skills, which are sometimes not immediately conveyed through the work experience section. If you have skills that are currently most in-demand, make sure to include them.
Hard skills are quantifiable learned abilities obtained and strengthened through experience. They can be gained through formal education, training, or work experience. The hard skills presented in a resume should be relevant to the job—pointing out that you are adept in typography while applying for a position in the healthcare sector is unlikely to boost your candidacy. Some common hard skills included by job seekers are:
- Proficiency in foreign languages.
- Mastery in programming languages.
- Certifications and licenses.
- Technical skills such as typing speed.
These are your interpersonal, individual and fundamental skills which are harder to measure or quantify. The term soft skills itself refers to the ability to communicate and interact with other people; research shows they are strongly desired by employers and becoming more important in the current job market. They are universal and transferable across professions or industries, not limited to a specific position. Some examples of soft skills are:
- Critical thinking – the ability to make decisions and take initiative.
- Leadership – the ability to be an excellent leader and supervisor, including conflict management and resolution.
Including a combination of both hard and soft skills in this section make up a skill set that helps the recruiting team to assess your eligibility for the position you are applying to.
Once again, it is worth revisiting the job listing and reading through the description given by the employer, as you can save time in resume writing by knowing which skills are relevant and which keywords will help set your application apart from others.
There are several ways to present your skills to prospective employers. There may be some skills for which you want to give more specific details regarding pertinent areas, but a simple bulleted list with key abilities and descriptions of proficiency level is the most common.
You can use graphics such as charts or boxes, or simply categorize your proficiency as “Professional,” “Advanced,” “Intermediate,” or “Beginner.” For foreign language skills, “Native,” and “Fluent,” are terms used to describe the level of mastery.
Never lie about your skill levels. Imagine showing up to an interview having claimed you speak a language, only to have your interviewer be a native speaker of that same language—that is certainly a situation you want to avoid at all costs.
Give Your Resume a Personality
The sections we have covered so far are crucial for any resume to have. That means every application that goes through the hiring managers will have the same components.
To create a unique resume that sets you apart from other applicants, provide additional information that shines a light upon your personal attributes. You can do this by building in one or more of the following resume sections into your resume.
Hobbies and Interests
Hobby and interest are two terms that are often used interchangeably, although there is a distinction between the two of them. A hobby is something one likes to do in their pastime, and there is a connotation that one dedicates a good amount of time to their hobby. On the other hand, interests are subjects that capture one’s attention, such as topic, event, or process.
Adding this section can be especially beneficial for fresh graduates with minimal work experience, as it helps to showcase hobbies and interests beyond your educational background.
Hiring managers may connect to you on a more personal level, gain an understanding of how you utilize your free time and what relevant skills you can bring to the organization through them. Hobbies and interests can show an employer that you are a well-rounded candidate, suitable for the position.
Be careful not to list any hobby or interest that may be dangerous or reveal personal information such as religion and political views.
Volunteering is defined as an act of an individual or group willingly giving time and labor for community service, without receiving financial compensation in return. A volunteering experience is another section that can be included in the resume template by fresh graduates or individuals with significant employment gaps.
Relevant volunteer work should be written in the work experience section, while the ones that are unrelated to the job description can be listed here.
Just because they are unrelated to the position you are applying to does not mean they don’t show valuable qualities the hiring team is looking for! Companies favor applicants who have real-world experience and contributed positively to the community.
You can format the volunteering experience section the same way you did the work experience section. The position title can simply be written as “Volunteer”.
Remember to include the organization name, the timeframe of your volunteering, and descriptions of your levels of responsibility written in bullet points.
The publications section usually follows education history. Publications can refer to academic journals or other works published through online platforms. Rather than listing all published works under your name, choose a select few that highlight your capabilities and expertise in particular subjects. This will enhance your profile and intrigue the hiring team—it might even give you talking points during the interview process. Aside from linking URLs to these publications where possible, note the following information:
- Title of publication.
- Year of publication.
- Name of magazine, website, or journal through which it was published.
You can provide information for each publication within one bullet point and hyperlink the URL to the title.
Some other sections that you may want to include in your resumes are internship experience, certifications and awards, and projects. Make certain that the sections you choose to exhibit add value to your application and help the recruiting team to find what they are looking for in you.
Some job seekers may feel pressured to sound eloquent by using flowery language and unnecessary jargons to decorate their resumes. This may have the opposite effect than intended and ultimately leads to redundancy and vagueness. In writing your resume, keep the content concise and to the point. Alternate the use of long paragraphs with bullet points, as the recruiter may miss key qualifications if your resume is too dense with text.
Lengthwise, a one-page resume is the most acceptable resume format. Only submit two pages if it is necessary and avoid sending in anything longer than two pages.
Write a Cover Letter
To support your resume, many employers will require you to write a cover letter. A cover letter serves as an introduction to your resume and is tailored to a specific job. Here you can expand on your work experience, skills, and qualifications in greater detail than in your resume. A well-written cover letter will show employers you possess strong written communication skills. Here are some tips when writing your cover letter:
- Remember to include your contact information.
- It should comprise 3-4 paragraphs including introduction, body, and closing.
- If a specific contact person is provided in the job listing, address your cover letter to them.
Visit this page for more information about writing and formatting a standout cover letter.
Take measures to ensure your resume format is easy to read and review by both ATS and the hiring managers. Using a simple font helps to deliver the crucial information clearly.
Basic fonts such as Times New Roman, Arial, Century Gothic, or Calibri are best for resume writing, and you should avoid using fonts in script or hand-writing style.
Depending on how much content you have, a 10- or 11-point font size is preferable for the body of the resume. Section headers can be 12- or 14-point. As consistency is important, use the same font in both your cover letter and resume.
Employers may request a specific type of document, usually to heed to the requirement of their ATS. Send in your resume in DOCX format when specified, as sending in a PDF file might mean your resume does not pass the ATS screening algorithm. Name your resume file accordingly.
If you are not sure that you have the appropriate format, using a resume builder can save you time and effort while simultaneously helping you present a professional front with your resume.
Do Not Include References
Unless requested, references are not to be put in your resume. Recruiters do not look for it early in the hiring process. Prospective employers may want to hear about your qualifications and work ethics from another person, but this is only a common practice after the interview stage.
However, it is always good to be prepared for the possibility from before your interview. Choose one or two people who can recommend you as an employee and highlight your skills and provide their name, position title, and contact information.
Ideally, you should forewarn them and obtain their agreement before putting their name down. This will avoid the recruiting team from contacting someone who claims not to know you.
Avoid Misspellings or Grammatical Errors
By making the effort to ensure that your resume is 100% error-free, you provide a positive signal that supports your candidacy in the eyes of the recruitment team. Checking your formatting, spelling, and grammar show that you are a meticulous person who holds yourself to a high standard—personal attributes that are valuable to have as a jobseeker.
On the other hand, making avoidable mistakes in the resume you send in will diminish your professionalism. Spell-checking before submitting is a must, you may even print a copy to make annotating errors easier.
Finally, get someone to proofread the end product for you. Bring your resume to friends, family, a mentor, or a professional resume writer who can help you enhance the quality of your resume.