How to Write a Great Resume: The Definitive Guide

It’s easy to get overwhelmed on your job search.

Between networking, taking extra courses and applying to hundreds of jobs, searching for a job is a full-time job in itself.

However, what remains true is that your resume is the most important tool you have when it comes to a traditional job search.

A good resume can land you several interviews in a short time period, while a poor resume can leave you frustrated and searching for jobs for a LONG time, we’re talking years here.

Without a great resume, you are literally wasting hundreds of hours with your applications.

Take the time to develop a great resume upfront, and you’ll get a much higher rate of return from your application efforts.

Introduction

Contents

Why did we write this guide?

There are many guides to writing a good resume, but most of these leave out important details or actionable steps that will actually help you. This guide will take you from start to finish through all the aspects of a great resume and help you transform your current one into an interview-winning resume.

Who is this guide for?

We wrote this for beginner and intermediate job searchers. If you are having trouble getting interviews, or simply not getting as many as you would like, this guide will help. Even if you have a good grasp of the basics of writing a resume, this guide will provide you with examples and clear explanations to help you take your resume to the next level.

How much of this guide should you read?

While you can, and are free to read a particular section of interest, this guide is designed to be read from start to finish. All the pieces of a resume should fit together to present an impressive image of your skills and knowledge to an employer.

Note: This guide is approximately 7,000 words long, and may take a few readings to get through. You can download this handy cheatsheet that contains a summary of each section of the guide.

Resumes and Optimization

Not all parts of a resume are equally valuable.

An average hiring manager will spend approximately 6 seconds looking at each resume.

It’s a lot like when you click a link to an article online, you quickly make a decision about whether you are interested or not in spending more time on it.

If you want your resume to peak the interest of hiring managers, you need to put important information in the right spots.

Take a look at this resume heatmap (from this study):

If you’re not familiar with heatmaps, they simply track eye movement. Red indicates the most attention, followed by yellow and then blue.

Looking at the heatmaps we see that when evaluating a resume, the majority of attention will, of course, be focused near the top and left of the page.

Note that the resume on the right is overall much better, which attracts a substantial amount of attention even down the page (don’t worry, we’ll address all the elements later in the guide).

The takeaway: The space near the top of your resume is prime real estate – don’t waste it. This is a concept that will be referred to throughout this guide, both on a macro and micro scale, so spend another 30 seconds looking at that heatmap before we move on.

The Header – Personal Information

The first thing on your resume should be your name, nothing new or complicated here. It should also be the biggest text on your page by a significant margin. A name that stands out will help a prospective employer remember you and associate your name to the qualities in your resume.

How much is too much?

Some people miss the point of including information at the top of your resume and seem to turn it into a mini-version of their Facebook page:

The purpose of basic personal information on a resume is not so a hiring manager can get to know you, it’s so that they know where you reside and how to easily contact you.

While a residential address is common, a city and postal code will typically suffice by themselves, it’s up to you if you want to include your address.

You should have 2 or 3 methods of contact, just in case one fails and also to make it as convenient as possible for an employer to contact you.

A note on email:

It really shouldn’t have to be said, but use a professional sounding email address. If you include ‘banana_unicorn69@jazzymail.com’, your resume instantly hits the garbage. Stick with a first+last name combination at a professional sounding email provider. For example:

  • Rawger.Smith@gmail.com
  • R.Smith@mail.com
  • Rawger.E.Smith@email.com

Avoid numbers, random words and questionable email providers as much as possible.

Finally, if you have a professional, relevant personal website, feel free to include it. Don’t link to a site that is a personal blog (unless applying to be a writer/blogger) or looks like it was made in 1998. Personal websites should showcase relevant work, research and achievements.

Should You Include Social Media on Your Resume?

One aspect of a resume header that is still up for debate is the inclusion of links to social media profiles, specifical sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. It’s a known fact that more and more hiring managers are looking at the candidate’s social profiles.

Including a link may not be a bad idea, but is far from necessary still. If you google “your name” + Facebook (or any of the other networks), see if your name comes up. What you want to be aware of is if someone else profile comes up first, it could make you look like someone you’re not, and could be detrimental. In a case like this, think about including a link.

Would the real Jane Smith please stand up?

The more important action for you to take is to look at what is on your profile from a public viewpoint.

How you can check what an employer sees:

  1. Open an incognito or private browsing window in your favourite browser
  2. Find your social profiles through a simple Google search
  3. See what a public visitor can see, and remove any questionable material

In the case of LinkedIn specifically, make sure the information matches your resume.

Qualities of a Solid Header

Take a look at this simple, but good example of a resume header:

Here’s another with a slightly different orientation and information included:

Which Type of Resume is Best?

Before we start, there’s one more important thing to address. There are three types of resumes: chronological, functional and combination.

  • Chronological: Focuses almost exclusively on work experience, typically listed in order of most recent jobs to oldest jobs.
  • Functional: Focuses on the skills that you hold. This is sometimes preferred when a position’s main requirement for an applicant is having a wide variety of specific skills (that you have).
  • Combination: Features both your most important work experience and skills. The most common type of resume and the one that I recommend for 95%+ of applications. It allows you to pull out your most important skills to get the hiring manager intrigued, and then present your previous work accomplishments.

There’s no ‘set’ template that you need to follow all the time. Sometimes you may want to beef up your work experience sections, while other times it makes sense to focus more on your skillset.

Take each application by itself and construct a resume that presents yourself in the best way.

This guide will walk you through all of the sections and information you will need. Whether you choose to include all of it will be up to you.

All About Objective Statements

The objective statement used to be a staple of every resume, but has become quite the controversial inclusion to a resume.

However, not all objective statements are the same, and if you do include one on your resume, you better make it good.

  • The argument in favor of objectives: With two or three sentences, you can highlight your personal ambitions and most valuable skills.
  • The argument against objectives: There is often redundant information with later sections (like a skills summary). More importantly, most objectives are not written to have any great impact, which means you are wasting a significant chunk of the most valuable space on your resume.
Overall, objective statements should be left off of your resume unless you have a really good reason to include one. If you have your heart set on including one, make sure you do it as well as possible, as it is not likely to make your success, but could break it.

How to Write a Good Resume Objective (as good as possible at least)

Again, while you rarely should have an objective on your resume, there are certain elements of a strong objective that you should include when needed:

  • Career position (Executive, PhD, Senior Manager, etc.)
  • Main assets/unique skills
  • The benefits of hiring you (to the organization)
  • What you offer over other applicants

What not to include:

  • “I am seeking to obtain a position” – The most common, lackluster and self-important opening to an objective.
  • Using vague terms and phrases like “utilizing my skills”
  • Writing only about what you want, and not what the company gets from hiring you
  • Writing a large paragraph

Examples of a Typical (and BAD) Objective Statement

Here’s an example of a bad objective statement (that I actually found on a job advice site):

Obtain a position at ABC institute where I can maximize my training experience, program development skills and my teaching abilities.

Why is it bad? Everything is about “me”, what do “I” want. Everyone who applied at the job wants to “obtain a position at ABC institute”, so it literally adds no value to your statement and wastes the hiring manager’s time. Remember, you have a very limited window to impress, don’t waste it with bland statements (this is going to come up a LOT in this guide).

Again, the person writing this statement wishes to maximize their experience, skills and improve, but why does a potential employer care about that? It sounds cold, but this is the perspective in which a hiring manager looks at resumes with.

Examples of a Good Objective Statement

There are certainly some objective statements that can intrigue a hirer. Here’s an example of one:

Award-winning newspaper and website editor, adept in community relations, managing staff, and growing print circulation and online readership, with a flair for identifying important local stories and building community awareness.

Why is this good? It starts off with impressive personal credentials (“award-winning”). While it would be good to be specific with which award if it’s prestigious, this is just an example objective.

In a concise 2 sentences, this applicant has highlighted important relevant skills to the job he/she is applying to. The benefits for the business are clearly highlighted – a growth in readership and more community awareness.

An Alternative: Cover Letter or Objective?

While this guide is focused on creating a great resume, you might recognize a lot of similarities in a “good” objective statement and a cover letter. In fact, it’s almost like a miniature version of a cover letter.

This begs the question:

“If you want to include an objective statement because you have important skills, credentials or benefits to highlight, why not just do so in a cover letter?”

And it’s a good question. In many cases, you are better off doing so, which allows you to leave the objective statement off your resume. This gives an employer the choice of skipping to your resume instead if they would like.

Crafting a Killer Skills Summary

A skills summary, qualifications section, or any other name you’ve heard for it is arguably the most important part of your resume other than perhaps work experience.

Unlike the header and objective, which typically don’t help you, but can hurt you if you do them poorly, a skills summary is one of the key factors in whether or not you get an interview.

Is it Required?

No.

Is it a good idea to include this section on most resumes?

Yes.

Like I mentioned before, a skills summary usually has a fair bit of overlap with an objective statement when written correctly. In order to avoid redundancy, many leave out the skills summary.

While this is okay in some situations, it is overwhelmingly better to omit the objectives section and include a skills summary. There are two main reasons to do so: clarity and depth.

  • Bullet points are easier to parse than a wall of text. Have you noticed how even in this guide I avoid large paragraphs in favor of bullet points, quotes and images?
  • As for depth, while you must still be concise with skills and qualifications, you have enough room to expand and provide metrics for most (or all) of your points. What are metrics? Read on…

The Power of Metrics

A metric is none other than a number (or statistic) that is used to measure something. Common examples applicable to resumes are:

  • productivity
  • revenue
  • profit
  • turnover
  • etc.

Pay attention, this is really important: Using metrics as often as possible on your resume (within reason) has two HUGE benefits.

  1. They show a benefit

I’ll be bringing this up often until the end of the first part of this guide. When you say “…and improved productivity by 34% over the span of 6 months”, whoever is reading your resume will instantly picture the same results applying to the company they are representing.

  1. They will be remembered

Think about the last book you’ve read, what do you remember? People remember events and people that are specific because the extra detail forms a more vivid picture in their head. Being memorable is a good thing when it comes to your resume.

In short: Include metrics on your resume – they are great.

How Long Should a Skills Summary Be?

This section typically consists of 4-8 bullet points. This is going to depend on your skills and experience, as well as the job posting. Include the skills that match up to the job posting at the top, as you want the hirer to see those first.

The Difference Between a Good and Bad Skills Summary

Much like the objective statement, good bullet points will focus on the benefits from hiring you. While you don’t need to say “If you hire me, I will improve productivity X%”, your points should each allude to something that you can accomplish, that the company you are applying for would want.

Adjective + Skill + Benefit = Great bullet point

Examples of a Bad Skills Summary

Let me give you an example of some typical points included in a skills summary:

  • Excellent communications skills
  • Strong team player
  • Won employee of the month contest twice at Company A
  • MS Word, Excel and Powerpoint and IDS
  • High attention to detail

These statements are poor because they do not describe when skills were clearly demonstrated, nor do they allude to a benefit for a potential employer.

Note: “IDS” is just a random acronym I made up, that could stand for a program. Don’t use acronyms without first spelling it out – i.e. Internal Database Systems (IDS). The hiring manager may not have the same experience you have in the industry.

If your resume has many points like this, don’t worry, you can fix it. One day you’ll look back and laugh about how some universities recommend terrible points like those above.

Examples of a Good Skills Summary

Here are some examples of possible good points to include:

  • Conducted root problem analysis to identify the cause of high customer complaint rate; implemented a new process flow that resulted in 90% fewer complaints.
  • Managed a promotional team consisting of 5 members for the launch of Company A’s new product – amazed, which achieved a revenue of $62,000 in the first 30 days.
  • Reduced average process cost for the main product at Company B from $X to $Y by implementing Lean Six Sigma processes
  • Fluent in English and Spanish

There are some skills, like language, where simply stating your ability is sufficient; there isn’t a good way or necessary way to demonstrate that ability. However, make sure that being bilingual is actually an asset for the position, otherwise, you are wasting space.

There are also, of course, some points that are somewhere in-between bad and good. For example:

  • Hired and managed 6 students from Penn and Yale including programmers, salespeople, and graphic designers.

This does paint a picture, and associate the applicant with prestigious brands like Penn and Yale, but doesn’t quantify how effective these hirings were. It’s not terrible, but it could be improved.

How to Make a Great Skills Summary

What if you feel you don’t have any amazing skills or qualifications?

This is how everyone feels at one time or another, especially when you are starting off your career. While you may not be able to come up with amazing points, you can still present the skills you do have in the best light possible.

If you feel this way, you are probably applying for a job that isn’t a crucial position for an organization. In other words, the employer isn’t expecting you to revolutionize the business. As long as you can show potential benefits – even small ones – you’ll stand out.

Note: Do not lie or over-exaggerate your skills. Fluff words are easily spotted by experience hiring managers and usually result in your resume entering the garbage pile.

It’s best to come up with as many skills as possible so that you can pick a few for each application that is relevant and tweak them as necessary.

Because this is so important, we wrote an extended post about this very topic to help you create a great benefits-driven resume.

Step 1: List Your Skills and Qualifications

Open up Excel or Google Spreadsheets to a blank page, make a simple blank table with three columns, labelled as shown in the picture below.

We’re going to start by listing all your skills first in the middle column. While I recommend coming up with these on your own, here is a list of possible skills for a resume if you need help.

Try your best to get at least 8, but more is always better.

Step 2 – Add Adjectives

Adjectives refer to doing something, which is good for the reasons talked about earlier – to help the hirer visualize your skills. Here is a huge list of resume adjectives if you need help, although you can probably do this on your own.

Here’s what it should look like when you’re done (but with more skills):

Step 3 – Fill in Metrics/Descriptions

Here is the final part of this process, which is often the toughest part. Be patient and spend time on each and every row to make them as strong as possible. Include a metric wherever possible and a vivid description of how you applied the skill.

From here you simply combine the points with as few ‘filler’ words as possible. Keep it concise and meaningful. Feel free to refer back to the ‘good’ skill points above and see what the skills in the final table would look like when written out.

This is going to take time! Don’t be in a rush to get through it. Carefully lay out your skills on each resume and your application will attract much more attention. Considering how much time is spent on the actual application, it makes sense to spend the time beforehand on your skills.

Highlighting Work Experience on Your Resume

Notice how most job postings have a line that says “looking for a candidate with X years of experience”?

Experience is often the most important factor in getting or not getting a job. Some positions require not only extensive experience but highly relevant experience in a certain field. However, there are also entry-level jobs and internships that require little to no experience (doesn’t mean the work experience section of your resume is not important!).

Anatomy of Work Experience Sections

The work experience section on your resume should be divided into the different positions you have held in the past.

The simplest and most common way to order your positions is by date, with the most recent job first. However, if you see a good reason to re-order them, usually if you only have one position that is highly relevant and you held it far in the past, feel free to move them around a bit.

The Subheading

Each of your previous jobs should be clearly indicated. You’ll want to include:

  • Job title: If you didn’t have a formal title, think hard about this. Don’t just put ‘Engineer’ or ‘Marketer’, try to be more specific and relate it to the job posting.
  • Company worked at
  • Date worked (from XXXX to XXXX): If you have a series of short term positions, include months, otherwise, you are free to just use years and minimize wasted space.
  • City, State (or Province)

We’ll go into your formatting options in the second part of this guide, for now, let’s just keep working on the content.

Bullet Points

The meat of your work experience sections will be in the bullet points beneath each job.

There are a lot of similarities between these bullet points and the ones used in the skills summary. However, do not repeat word for word something you’ve already included in a skills summary. If your skills point was:

  • Reduced average process cost for the main product at Company B from $X to $Y by implementing Lean Six Sigma processes

A bullet point under the position for Company B might be:

  • Obtained Green Belt Lean Six Sigma certification and trained 18 staff members to implement processes in 3 priority projects, resulting in process costs declining by 42%

Note that while it is on the same topic and still about a specific accomplishment, it highlights other impressive skills (initiative and management).

Here are a few key points to remember:

  • Use adjectives
  • Use metrics as often as possible: The power of metrics remains valid even down in your work experience. Stand out by showing how the work you did benefited past employers.
  • Be specific: Don’t say “created spreadsheets for Project A”, be specific to the type of sheets you made: “created pivot tables for Project A, resulting in a 25% decrease in weekly inventory labour”.

A note about tense: Many resume advisors recommend using past tense in the bullet points for previous jobs and present tense if you are still working at a job. i.e. “created spreadsheets” versus “create spreadsheets”. I tend to stick to all past tense to stay consistent (and it sounds more natural in my opinion), but you are free to use either.

How Much Work Experience to Include?

It’s likely that the work experience portion of your resume will be the biggest. At the same time, if you’ve worked in several positions, you don’t want to have 2 pages of jobs.

While it can vary based on the position you are applying for, you typically want to expand on no more than 2 or 3 jobs. You can still list other previous jobs below (to potentially talk about in an interview), just don’t include extensive bullet points with them.

The second issue of quantity is in regards to bullet points for each job. Typically, 1-4 points are perfect for highlighting your most important responsibilities and contributions. Quality is more important than quantity, make sure every point adds value to your resume.

Formatting note: You can include a period at the end of each bullet point or omit it, it’s up to you. Either is fine as long as you are consistent throughout the resume

Example of a Bad Work Experience Section

Here is an example of a poor section for a sales job:

Note the main problems with this section:

  1. Vague and unprofessional job title
  2. Vague bullet points
  3. While some metrics are used, no detail on how improvements were made or scope

Example of a Good Work Experience Section

What happens if we transform those above points? We get something like this:

Much better! The two main improvements are:

  1. Descriptive job title
  2. Bullet points with adjectives, actions, results and important details

Now, what about that final point? In many industries, there are common tools, software or systems that help you stand out as an employee.

For one of these that is obviously used extensively and the whole time, you work at a place, like in this example, not much of an explanation is needed. However, say you had started a new communications process by having your staff or co-workers start using a specific type of software, it would make sense to explain the reasoning behind it and the results.

Warning: There’s a fine line between sufficient detail and too much. Try to keep each point as short as possible, while still including all-important detail and metrics, while still having correct grammar.

Volunteering On Your Resume

I know some of you reading this have had little work experience. After reading the above section, you might be feeling discouraged. However, everyone starts with little to no experience at one point, and within a short while your resume will get much stronger. One of the best ways to get relevant experience is volunteering or through an internship (co-op position).

When it comes to volunteering and your resume, the key concept is relevance. In an ideal situation, you want to volunteer at an organization in your field, doing work similar to the position you are applying for. Now while ideal situations are rare, you should try to get as close to one as possible, and seek out related positions in your field of interest.

Where to Volunteer

Not all volunteering is the same. If you are looking to build some base experiences for your resume, choose carefully. While serving soup to the homeless is a great thing to do, it’s not souper impressive on most resume (unless you want to work in a kitchen). Feel free to do it anyway if you enjoy it, but look for other positions for career purposes if needed.

Here are some websites that can help you find volunteer positions, but look in newspapers, ask friends and family, and look for other online resources for more opportunities:

  • www.idealist.org
  • www.volunteermatch.org
  • www.handsonnetwork.org

Including Volunteer Positions on Your Resume

You can typically include volunteer positions in the work experience section of your resume, just put in brackets “volunteer” or “unpaid” beside the job title. Other than that small distinction, you still want to present your experiences and skills learned at that position the same way as a normal full-time job.

Over time, as you get more actual work experience, you can decide to leave off your volunteer experience. Its importance diminishes quickly once you have full-time and relevant work experience.

The Education Section on Your Resume

If you’ve made it this far, keep going, we’re almost done the content portion of your resume!

The final few sections are not as important, but you should still give them some attention to ensure your background is clear.

The education section is very simple, keep the same formatting you’ve used on your other sections, and list your degrees/diplomas from most recent to oldest. You should include:

  • the school
  • degree name
  • date started – date finished
  • location

As we’ll see in subsequent sections, there are opportunities to add more to this section like coursework and awards.

Note: You don’t need to include all your education back to elementary school. Typically your most recent degree is all that is needed. For example, your G.E.D. if you just graduated from high school, or your post-secondary degree if you are almost done or graduated from college or university.

Here’s a simple example of the basic structure you should be looking for:

Should You Include Coursework?

This section primarily affects those either currently in school or freshly graduated with little work experience. Once you have substantial work experience, you can typically do away with coursework on your resume.

I come from an engineering background where there are many different paths you can specialize in. For example, taking electives in petroleum engineering can prepare you for work in the oil industry.

Including relevant courses that you have completed (or are about to complete) is a good way to show that you have knowledge in that area, but that you are also passionate enough about that topic to take a class in it. While I mentioned engineering in particular, this holds true for many fields.

Unless you have absolutely zero work or volunteer experience, it is typically best to not include a separate “Related Coursework” section. Instead, under your education section, include a bullet point under your degree (or start on a new line) and simply list your courses.

For example:

  • Relevant Coursework: Accounting, Quantitative Analysis and Microeconomics

Key point: Only include courses that are highly relevant. If it’s not obvious how the course would be beneficial for the position you are applying to, drop it.

Where Should You Put Awards?

Similar to coursework, awards can almost always be contained in other sections. You can include a few bullet points under education if they are school related, or as a bullet point under an individual job. If it’s really impressive, highlight it in your skills/qualifications section.

Should Hobbies be Included on Your Resume?

Hobbies are a very controversial subject when it comes to resumes. Many argue that they are necessary to show that you have a personality and are not a simple cog, while others say that they waste space and can appear unprofessional without adding any value.

So who’s right?

I’m afraid there’s no crystal clear answer for this. Some considerations however are:

  • The nature of the position: If it requires you interacting with people all day, having a pleasant personality is important. Hobbies can help express that on a resume
  • The length of your resume: If your resume is already quite long, cutting out the hobbies may be the easiest way to free up some space
  • Your hobbies: Listing drinking beer or writing fan fiction is going to be a bad idea for most positions. Don’t lie, but try to only include hobbies that there’s a good chance that an interviewer/co-workers may share.
In the end, for the very small amount of effect a hobbies section will have on your results (barring mentioning “bad” hobbies), it really shouldn’t attract such big arguments. Include it if it makes sense, but don’t lose sleep wondering if you should or should not have put it on your application.

References for the 21st Century

There are rare occasions you might want to put contact information for your references right on the resume, but for the most part, you won’t. This leaves you with the option of putting something along the lines of “references upon request” or omitting the section.

Again, one line at the bottom of your resume won’t make or break your success, but I’m in favor of minimizing non-value adding words and lines.

If an employer wants references, they will ask for them at the interview, regardless of if you have a reference section on your resume.

Verdict: Leave the references off the resume, although it’s not a huge crime if you leave in a line at the bottom.

The Importance of an Attractive Resume

If you’ve made it this far, you’re almost there!

You have killer content that is ready to get you some interviews, but there’s one more thing that could be holding you back: the design.

Some people have designed some really cool resumes, like the one below…

And now it’s time for you to build one! – Just kidding.

Unless you are a designer, a resume like that is not only unnecessary, but might actually hurt your chances of being hired for three reasons:

  • It’s busy. While it’s nice to look at, hiring managers are trying to quickly find certain important information. They typically don’t want to waste time figuring out where everything is
  • Color can be dangerous. If a hiring manager sees your resume in color – no problem. However, an interviewer may not be the one that selects you for an interview, and if he/she gets handed your resume in black and white, all your colors will show up grey.
  • It can confuse computers. Many large companies use software to quickly filter out resumes based on keywords, dates worked and other factors. While some of the latest software is quite sophisticated, much of the older systems can’t handle fancy layouts very well.

Does this mean that design isn’t important?

No! The design of your resume is very important, you just don’t need to go crazy with it.

You should be aiming for a professional, sleek, attractive resume that helps an employer easily find the information they are looking for. Combined with having the right content (everything in this guide up until here), you will have the highest chance of convincing them to spend more time on you.

In order to understand how your resume should be laid out, we’re going to look at some important design concepts and then some examples.

Basic Design Concepts

Depending on who you ask, there are anywhere from a couple to 30 principles of design. This isn’t a design course, however, so we’re going to focus on the simplest and most important that will get the job done for your resume.

Space

White space is just as important as words and elements on your resume

In particular, white space. There’s a such thing as too much white space, where the elements of your resume don’t flow together and it’s hard to read, but also too little white space, where elements seem crowded and resemble a wall of text.

The hard part is deciding the right amount of space to include between the elements of your page. There’s really no single right answer, but the examples in the next section should help shed some light on it.

Balance

Another part of using your page effectively is to have a similar amount of text in each part of the page. A simple way to check this is with the quadrant test. Divide your resume into four parts like in the picture below. All sections should have roughly the same amount of content.

 

 

 

 

The most common problem is having too much text on the left side of the page, like in the first picture on the left above. By using tables and aligning dates and other information differently, you can create a resume that uses space more effectively.

Consistency

I’ve already mentioned this briefly in a few of the earlier sections, but be consistent. In a well designed resume, all the sections should be laid out similarly and have the same formats.

Making an Attractive Resume

Now that you know the main principles to keep in mind, we can go over actionable advice that you can use.

Font

Is a font going to make or break your chances of getting an interview? Probably not. But it’s still another piece of the puzzle that adds to the overall look of your resume.

There are two main types of fonts:

  • Serif: A serif refers to the ‘hooks’ on the end of letters. The most popular serif font is Times New Roman. Georgia is another popular one.
  • Sans-serif: As you might have guessed, sans-serif fonts don’t have any hooks, and are generally much smoother. Examples include Arial, Calibri and Verdana.

So which is best?

Serif fonts are generally easier to read on hard copies of resumes, while sans-serif fonts are easier to read on a computer or tablet.

Here’s the thing: your resume is likely to be viewed on a screen and on a hard copy. However, your resume is almost always going to be evaluated on a screen these days, and will only be printed if you make the shortlist of interview candidates. Because of this, I recommend you pick a sans-serif font.

Create an Original Resume Design or Use a Template?

While many have grown up using MS Word or a similar alternative, making an attractive resume can be frustrating and difficult if you haven’t. In these cases, you may turn to a template (If you’d like some free templates, check out our post of 44 free resume resources).

Templates are, in all honesty, a good option if you are struggling to make a good looking resume and can’t afford to hire someone to do it for you. While you still want a unique resume aesthetic, you can typically modify a template just enough to make it your own.

Warning: Not all templates have a good design. Carefully evaluate your different options and find one that matches all the criteria laid out in this guide.

Revising Your Resume

When a professional writer finishes a piece, it is read by multiple people and edited at least 2-3 times. While you’re probably not a writer, you need to take this same rigorous approach to make the best resume you can.

When revising your resume, check for:

  1. Grammar/spelling
  2. ‘Fluff’ words that don’t add any value to your resume
  3. Design issues

Edit your resume yourself, but also have friends or colleagues do it if possible. There are also many online resume editing services that you could use to get a comprehensive edit. You can then apply these changes to all future versions of your resume.

How Long Should Your Resume Be?

They say the ideal length of a resume is one page; this is partially true.

If you’re new to the work force, you probably should be able to get it down to one page if you cut out all the fluff. However, if you’ve been working for 10+ years, you will probably have more than a page of quality information. In cases like these, 1.5-2 pages is completely normal and expected.

Instead of trying to conform to a specific length, focus on only including information that is needed. If you do this, the length should take care of itself.

There may be the odd case where you have one or two lines on the second page. In order to get it down to one page you may slightly decrease the margins or spacing between the sections. If you do this, make sure it doesn’t have a detrimental effect on your resume’s design.

Using Your Resume to get an Interview

So now you that have a killer resume, the job offers are going to start flowing in…right?

Despite the large amount of work behind it, creating a great resume is only half the battle. Now it’s time to get it in front of the people that can actually give you an interview to jobs that you want.

In this guide (which is almost over), we’re not going to get into in-depth tactics of finding job availabilities, but there are a few really important parts of applying online that concern your resume.

ATS: The Enemy

An ATS, also known as applicant tracking system, can single-handedly lower your success rate of getting interviews by a significant amount if you don’t take it into effect.

When you submit your resume into an ATS, it is stored in a database. Hiring managers or recruiters can then search the database for certain keywords, dates or other criteria to filter out resumes they are not interested in. If your resume doesn’t have the right keywords, you may be looked over even if you are a great candidate.

Optimizing for an ATS

What makes the problem even more difficult is that there are many different types of ATSs. Older ones simply look for repetition of a keyword searched, while new ones are able to take into account the context they are used in.

For example, if a recruiter searched for “Java” to find java programmers, the ATS would also look for other relevant terms around like “developer” and “application”. Luckily, if you followed the steps in the earlier sections of this guide, you probably already have extremely relevant keywords all over the place.

Here’s a neat little website that will tell you what the most common words that are used on resumes in the tech industry.

Now while we can’t optimize perfectly for every ATS out there, the goal is to optimize for the majority of them. Here are some general best practices that you should employ:

  1. Use terms from the job description: Try to include as many industry-relevant terms from the description as possible without going overboard. Most times this simply means switching out certain terms that you originally used with similar words in the description. A great little tool for comparing your resume to the job description is jobscan.co
  2. Use popular fonts: Universal fonts are picked up the most accurately by the ATS. We already talked about some above, like Arial or Trebuchet. Sizes 10-12 are recommended for body text.
  3. Avoid weird characters: It’s rare to see someone use uncommon characters on their resume, but if you did, get rid of it. Most ATSs won’t be able to read them properly.
  4. Avoid images and fancy borders: Extra lines and images often give older ATSs trouble. This is one of the main reasons it was recommended in the earlier section to avoid making a complicated design for most jobs.

Bringing it All Together: Making a Great Resume

Now that we’ve gone through everything you need to know about making a great resume, let’s put together a finished product. I’ve gone ahead and pulled the following job description from a simple search on Monster.com, and will craft a resume for this position.

Now it’s time to create a resume that incorporates the most important parts of the job description and relates them to the applicant’s skills.

Here’s what we end up with, a final polished resume that incorporates all the advice in this guide:

Wrapping it Up

That’s It! Wasn’t That Easy?

By now you probably appreciate the level of effort that goes into making a great resume. This is the end of this guide, now it’s time to apply the information in it if you haven’t started to already!

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