How to Write a Resume

You may have heard complaints from friends and family like, “I’ve applied to hundreds of jobs, but nobody ever calls me back.” Statements like this may surprise you since help wanted signs are everywhere, but often, the issue isn’t a lack of employment opportunities. You generally still need an impressive resume to score a position even when your area has plenty of job openings. After all, it’s unlikely you’ll be the only applicant, so you need something that sets you apart from other job hunters.

Many hiring managers view hundreds — sometimes even thousands — of resumes for each open position, and they typically spend less than 60 seconds looking at each one before deciding whether the candidate is interview worthy. In fact, nearly 1 in 4 hiring managers confess they spend less than 30 seconds reviewing each resume. You have very little time to make a favorable first impression, but you can up your odds by providing accurate, appropriate information.

Tip!

When you finish with your resume, don’t forget to write a matching cover letter. Download one of our free cover letter templates and get started.

Feeling the pressure yet? Don’t worry, we’re here to help. We’ve created this detailed guide to take you through every step of the resume process, from choosing the correct format to avoiding red flags that may cost you your dream job.

The Basics of Resumes

Submitting a resume for an available position is the equivalent of swiping right or clicking the heart on a dating profile. You’re connected with the other party, but that doesn’t mean you’ve officially scored a phone call or a face-to-face meeting. Your words are important, and the wrong phrase can get you sent to the rejection list. That’s why it’s crucial that you learn the following resume basics before you apply for another job.

What's the Purpose of a Resume?

Anyone can express interest in a job opening, but that doesn’t mean they have the right skills or training. A resume lets an employer know that you’re qualified for a position, either through your educational history, work experience or a combination of the two. You can also share volunteer work, internships and externships on a resume if they help show why you’re a great fit for the position you want.

Think of a resume as your social media profile for hiring managers. When a stranger sends you a friend request or comments on a group post, you may skim their profile to learn more about them. If they seem like an okay person, you may decide to give them a chance. However, inappropriate content or posts that don’t mesh with your beliefs may cause you to press the ignore or decline button.

A resume lets an employer know that you're qualified for a position, either through your educational history, work experience or a combination of the two.

This is basically how things work in the business world, too. When you apply for a position, the hiring manager glances at your resume quickly before deciding whether you’re worthy of an interview. Red flags, such as typos or profanity, may keep you from landing an interview even if you’re well qualified for the position.

What Are the Main Elements of a Resume?

For starters, every resume should have your name at the top of the page so the hiring manager knows who you are. You should also include contact info, such as your phone number, email address and postal address.

After you provide this basic information, create an objective for your resume. An objective lets the interviewer know who you are, what experience you have and what type of position you want. Keep your objective short; one to three sentences are enough.

Back up your objective by listing key skills, employment history and educational background. If this is your first job, focus on skills, training or volunteer work instead. You can also list freelance gigs when relevant. For example, a five-star rating at a 1099 gig delivering groceries shows you have strong customer service skills, and a freelance blogging gig indicates you have excellent verbal communication skills. Mention that you volunteer at vacation Bible school if you’re applying for a daycare, and share your role as a foster parent for furry friends to help you land a gig as a vet tech.

Some applicants also add hobbies, interests, spoken languages, publications, projects and industry awards to their resumes. These can help you stand out if you’re applying for a job where this information matters, but sometimes it’s overkill. You may want to mention that you’re bilingual if you’re applying for a call center job, but it may not matter if you want a job at a local clothing boutique. Tailor your qualifications to the position you want unless you’re creating a general resume that you plan to use for multiple applications.

What Are Some Red Flags for Hiring Managers?

Hiring managers skim your resume quickly in search of obvious red flags. Grammatical errors and typos can immediately land you on the rejection list and so can profanity and slang. You should also avoid anything that hints toward instability, such as mentioning you’ve had 20 jobs in the last five years. Keep personal info, such as the fact that you have kids or are married, off of your resume, and don’t include a photo unless you’re applying for a modeling job.

Inaccurate info can also cost you a position, especially if it’s obvious. Don’t pretend you have a degree that doesn’t exist, and be truthful about certifications and work experience. It’s easy to get caught lying on a resume even if nobody calls to verify your information.

Steps for Creating Your Own Resume

Resumes come in different formats, including chronological, functional, combination and targeted styles. Your education, employment history and career goals should influence which type you choose. Job hunters who want a classic resume should go with a chronological format, while applicants with more education than experience can benefit from a functional resume. A combination resume lists skills as well as chronological work experience, and a targeted resume focuses on qualifications that match a specific job listing.

The steps for creating a resume are generally the same no matter which format you prefer. We’ve broken them down for you in our step-by-step instructions below.

1. List Your Contact Information at the Top

A recruiter shouldn’t have to go on a scavenger hunt to learn your identity. Make it obvious by including contact info at the top of your resume. Start with your name then provide a phone number, email address and mailing address. You may also want to include a link to your website, portfolio or LinkedIn profile. Consider using a slightly different font for your name so that it stands out.

Your contact information may look something like this:

Lincoln Tavera
123 Main St., Boston, MA 02111
LincolnTavera@youremail.com | (123) 456-7890
linkedin.com/in/lincolntavera

Do not include your date of birth or Social Security number on your resume. You should also avoid sending a headshot unless your potential employer specifically requests one.

Avoid using a nickname, and make sure your email address is professional. Some hiring managers may reject your application if you use an email address like CutiePieFromNorthCali@youremail.com even if you would have otherwise been contacted for an interview. Potential employers want to know that you can separate your personal life from your professional life.

2. Share Your Objective or Summary

As we mentioned earlier, some hiring managers don’t even dedicate a full 30 seconds to your resume, let alone take time to look at the entire thing. That’s why it’s important to highlight why you’re a qualified candidate before they even have time to review your full employment history or educational achievements. You can do this by creating an objective or summary.

Anyone can use an objective statement on their resume, but it works especially well if you have more training than actual work experience. Your objective lets you highlight your education, such as a degree in business administration or an internship at a respected magazine. You can also mention skills or qualifications, such as an outgoing personality or a strong knowledge of Adobe PhotoShop.

Here’s an example of a brief objective statement:

Retailer manager with 5 years of experience seeking a leadership role where I can utilize my strong customer service skills to boost sales and improve shopper satisfaction.

A resume summary works best when you have relevant experience to summarize. If you’re a teacher seeking a new position, you can mention you’ve taught for 17 years at an elementary school and hold a certificate in special education training. Mention your management experience at a local health care clinic if you want a front desk position at a hospital, or share how your skills as a sales manager boosted company revenue by 12% if you’re seeking a new commission-based job.

When writing a resume summary, you may say something like this:

Results-driven social media manager with seven years of experience ready to revamp your brand’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles. Previous campaigns averaged an 85% click-through rate and boosted lead collection by 30%. I’m creative, engaging and up-to-date on current trends.

Remember to only choose a statement or objective for your resume. Including both can make your resume look cluttered and unprofessional.

3. List Work Experience

Work experience lets a hiring manager know that you have the skills needed to do the job. There are several different ways you can approach work experience on your resume:

  • List all jobs in chronological order, beginning with your current or most recent position and working backwards.
  • Only list relevant jobs, such as jobs involving children or education if you’re applying for a position as a daycare manager or sales jobs if you want a marketing position.
  • Mentioning volunteer work, internships and externships in the format usually reserved for employment history if this is your first job.

Listing all of your jobs is common if you use a chronological format for your resume. However, this is not ideal if you’ve had numerous gaps in your employment, even if the gaps were due to unexpected circumstances such as illness or a spouse’s military relocation. If you have an extensive work history, limit yourself to the last 10 or 15 years. It’s not necessary to mention that you made hamburgers or washed cars for a year in high school unless you’re a recent college graduate.

Focusing on relevant work experience works well in a targeted resume, and it can make you look more stable. You may consider yourself a jack of all trades when you think about your eclectic work history, but a hiring manager may deem you unstable or fear you may leave for a different industry.

Don’t forget to mention achievements, preferably ones that you can back up with data. Mention if you improved company revenue by 15% or decreased customer complaints by 10%, and highlight achievements, such as an employee of the year award or a certificate for managing the top-earning sales team.

4. Include Your Educational Background

Many employers prefer candidates with some type of formal training even if you don’t have a college degree. List all of your relevant education on your resume, from the bachelor’s degree you received 10 years ago to the special certifications you earned during summer break. You may also want to mention internships and externships, especially if you haven’t had much work experience in your field yet.

When you list your education history, put your highest degree first, such as a master’s degree or doctorate. Follow this up with other degrees or certifications, even if you haven’t completed the program yet. For example, you can say you are currently pursuing a master’s degree in creative writing if you already have a bachelor’s degree in marketing. List your master’s degree first even though it isn’t complete then mention your bachelor’s degree below.

You may also find it helpful to mention awards or special honors, such as a 4.0 GPA, on your resume. Leave this information off if your GPA reveals that you barely survived your college years.

5. Mention Your Key Skills

When adding skills to your resume, make sure you include a combination of hard skills and soft skills. Hard skills involve a specific program or duty, such as being able to use Microsoft Office Suite or bake an apple pie from scratch. Soft skills include career skills and personal traits, such as being an effective leader or having an outgoing personality.

Focus on skills that match what the company wants. If the employment ad says a company wants someone who won’t flake on work constantly, mention that you are dependable or punctual. If you’re applying for a customer service position, don’t mention that you’re CPR certified. Instead, say that you have strong customer service skills or enjoy working in a fast-paced environment.

Don’t lie about your job skills, especially when listing hard skills. It’s likely your potential employer will find out, as many companies test applicants prior to offering them a position. You may also have a probation period after you get the job, and your boss will quickly notice if you can’t actually create an Excel spreadsheet or use Slack to schedule meetings.

6. Proofread Your Resume

A single typo may result in a rejection letter, so proofread your resume before you submit it. Consider having a second set of eyes, such as a friend or former colleague, look at your resume as well. Sometimes our brains skim over our own mistakes because we know what something is supposed to say, so enlisting help makes it easier to catch errors you overlooked.

Double-check your contact info, too. A hiring manager can’t offer you the job of your dreams if you accidentally transposed some digits in your phone number or listed an email address that you rarely check. If you’ve recently moved, make sure you have the correct postal address listed.

7. Include a Cover Letter

When you apply for a job, include a cover letter with your resume. This is an optional step, but it may help you land the job you want. In fact, some hiring managers automatically reject resumes that aren’t accompanied by cover letters.

A cover letter gives you a chance to showcase your personality and explain things listed in your resume. You can highlight achievements, mention how you learned about a position and discuss why you feel you’re a qualified candidate. This is a good time to name drop by saying sales manager Jackson Baker told you about the open position or Professor Johnson, a long-time friend of the company’s owner, referred you.

A resume is an essential part of your job hunt. Increase your chances of scoring an interview by crafting an impressive resume that reflects your skills and personality traits.