How to Write a Good Resume

What You Need On Your Resume: How to make your resume stand out against the crowd and land you the job of your dreams.

During the five years I was in college, I learned a lot about resume writing. Several of the classes I took focused on it, I worked as an Office Manager and reviewed hundreds of resumes during my time there, and I have been involved in numerous resume review sessions. Although I’m sure I am not a total expert, I feel like I’ve learned  a decent amount about creating a good resume.

Having a good resume is so important. I’ll be honest, reading resumes is boring. I would look for a few key elements, and if the resume didn’t have it, it was usually tossed aside. Here are some of the tips I’ve learned over the years, and hope you can find some benefit in this!

Resume Type

When creating your resume, you first must choose the type you want to create. This really depends on the type of position you are applying for. Here is a brief overview of the four different types of resumes, and you can easily find examples of these by doing a simple Google search.

  • Chronological: This resume typically includes education at the beginning, then a summary of your jobs (with the most recent job being first.) This is a very common format to use. 
  • Functional: Focuses on skills and experience, rather than putting dates and times. I would recommend using this if you have big gaps in work experience (for example, if you’ve been a stay-at-home mom for 25 years and are newly entering the job force) or if you are starting a new career.
  • Combination: Obviously, a combination of the chronological and functional resume. In this format, you would put your skills first
  • Targeted: You would use a targeted resume if you want to highlight certain skills and experience that are relevant to the job you are applying for. I haven’t seen this resume a ton, but if someone asks for it, now you know what it basically is!

What To Include

Work Experience

Always, always include this. Unless, of course, you have never had a job, but in that case, you may not be applying for a job that needs a resume anyways. Put your jobs in order chronologically, with the most recent job being the first. If you’ve had a lot of jobs, you may not need to put all of them in. Say you’re 20 years into your career and you are seeking a new job — you really don’t need to put the job you had at Dairy Queen in high school. As a general rule, the three most recent jobs is typically sufficient.

Education

This may or may not always be relevant. And, unless you just recently graduated from high school, I would leave that off, and just include college education. If you’ve been in the work force for a long time, moving your education to the end of the resume may be more effective, so your most recent experience is the first thing the person reviewing your resume sees.

Contact Information

Even if you had the most stellar application, if there is a lack of contact information, it may go in the reject pile. It can be very hard, if not impossible, to find the contact information for a resume that includes no email or phone number.

Always include your name, phone number, and email address. You may even want to include an address, especially if you are from out of state.

Objective (sometimes): On occasion, writing an objective at the top of your resume can be useful. I wouldn’t always use this, especially if it’s very more of an entry level job or you are applying for a specific job, or if you are including a cover letter. Personally, I think it just takes up a lot of extra room. I would use it if you are just applying at a company that may be hiring several different positions that you are interested in, or that may not even be hiring, but you want to get your foot in the door.

Skill Set

I don’t always include this on my resume, but sometimes it’s good to have. In this section, you can just highlight some of the different skills you may have, that may not have been apparent in job descriptions. I typically put things about the computer programs I know how to use, my typing speed, etc.

Key Words

If you are responding to a job posting, look for key words that were used in the posting and use them in your resume. If a company uses a computer to sort through resumes, sometimes it will be set up to pull resumes that have certain keywords in them. So if the job mentions Microsoft Office, and that’s something you know how to use, be sure to use it in your resume. Pay close attention to these details (but don’t use the keywords if you don’t have a reason to, of course!)

What NOT to Include

Photo

Unless specifically asked for a photo, don’t just offer one up. I’ve seen some resume templates that have an option for one, but all it really does is take up space, and make a resume a little harder to read.

Personal Information

Don’t include personal facts about yourself, your family, or your past. There will be a time later where it might be appropriate to talk about these things, but a resume isn’t really the place for that.

Salary

Unless this is specifically asked, you really do not need to put how much you made at previous jobs. 

How Much Time You Need Off

I think one of the funniest things I’ve heard is about people putting down dates they need off, before they were even hired, on their resume. Going into a job, stating all the time you need off, is not a good idea! Obviously, if you get to the hiring process, it would be a good idea to mention if there are any events coming up that you absolutely won’t be able to miss, but just get to the hiring process first before bringing those things up!

Length

This really depends. As a general rule, keep it at one page. If someone is sorting through hundreds of applications, they may only have time to only briefly look at the front page of all the resumes, looking for key phrases. If you are applying for a very competitive job, or a job that has a lot of specific qualifications, then it is probably a good idea to include a lot of details, which will likely go into two pages. For these types of jobs, the recruiter may only have a few applicants to sort through, and they want to do a thorough job before bringing someone in for an interview.

Style

When creating my resume, I’ve always started with a base resume that I found in the template section of Microsoft Office. This isn’t a bad place to start, but be aware that not all of these resumes are appropriate for your situation. First of all, skip over the ones that have pictures or tons of colors. Plain, simple, and to the point are best. It’s nice to pick something that is aesthetically appealing, though, and that there are clear definitions for different areas. Be sure to make different sections stand out by bolding, or using a larger font, or even using dividers. Color isn’t necessarily the worst thing — I mean, mine actually does have a little bit. But there shouldn’t be so much that it distracts from the content of the resume.

In addition, when typing descriptions of each of the jobs you worked out, use bullets, and include only three to four bullets for each position.

Be Wise With Wording

Instead of writing “Edited Manuals,” you could say “Edited five manuals a week for six months.” Using numbers shows more details, gives a better idea of what you’ve done, and just helps to set you a part.  Using action verbs, and don’t be passive. Don’t use super fancy words either, especially if you are just trying to show off. As with the design, simple and to the point is better.

Proofread

And then proofread again. And then have someone else proofread for you. One of the worst things to find in a resume is a grammatical or spelling error, especially when it is blatantly obvious. Mistakes happen, but your resume is something you should pay very, very close attention to. In a tough competition for a job, it truly could come down to a spelling error that keeps you out of the position.

Professionalism

Let’s get one thing straight — if your email address is something like cutegirl072@yahoo.com, you need to change it. If you are so attached to your email address and can’t let go, at least make a new one for business ventures. Head over to Gmail, and you can set up an account in five seconds. Seriously, if you have an unprofessional email address, that will put you on the bottom of the stack 9 times out of 10. Just keep it simple — use your name, maybe a number or two.

Believe it or not, what you name your resume can make a difference as well. Simply save it as “NameResume” (obviously, putting your name instead of the word name) or maybe “Resume2013” (or whatever the year is.) Don’t put what version of the resume it is, or use some cutesy name. Plain, simple and to the point.

Be Honest

Don’t lie, or even embellish the truth, on your resume. Many companies do fact checks on their employees. Don’t try and make things look better than they were. With that said, you don’t have to include every single detail of your life. If you were let go from a job, I wouldn’t necessarily include that — just put beginning and ending dates, and if your potential employer asks about it, that is when you should talk about it. Don’t be shy about accomplishments, either. If you’ve won awards, it’s totally fine to include them. Just make sure everything in your resume is factually true, and you should be just fine.

Master Resume

This is a tip I got from one of my old bosses. Create a spreadsheet or document that has all the information about previous work and education, as well as addresses of all the places you’ve ever lived. This would include starting and ending pay (as well as when you received a pay increase), supervisor names, skills used, tasks accomplished, address of job, awards won…anything you can think of. Chances are, you won’t need all of this information in every resume or application, but it can be very helpful when a prospective employer randomly decides to ask for previous salary, or for your supervisor’s name.

One way I like to keep track of all my jobs and accomplishments is with LinkedIn. I’ve talked reasons why you should be on LinkedIn, and I suppose this would be another great reason! It’s easy to track all your information that way.

Customize and Follow Instructions

Finally, make sure you tweak your resume for each job you apply for. Many times, you won’t have to do anything. But it is worth it to go through and make sure it looks like it is fit for the job you are applying for. Make it look like you actually put some effort into applying for the job! This is where having a master resume comes in handy.

And, if a job posting has specific instructions, follow them! There’s no quicker way to the reject pile than not following instructions. That shows that you may not be willing to follow instructions on the job, either!

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