Write Your Resume in 7 Steps (20 Minutes)

1. Choose Your Resume Format.

Before you actually write your resume, the first order of business is deciding on the right format for your document. Your format will depend on your specific skills and experience, and how they match up with what the job demands.

Chronological

The most commonly used format, a chronological resume, features an extensive work history section, which means it’s best for jobs that require a lot of experience. When writing in this format, provide strong examples of work accomplishments, showing how you’ve made consistent progress throughout your career.

Functional

A functional resume emphasizes your skills, education and training, breaking down your abilities into categories such as “Soft Skills” (intangible skills that are valuable for the job) or “Technical Skills” (skills you’ve received training for). This format fits first-time or inexperienced job seekers who can spotlight skills that are suitable for the job.

Combination

As the name suggests, a combination resume is a mix of the chronological and functional formats, with a focus on both work experiences and skills. This format can work if you have a few years of experience under your belt, or are transitioning from another career field but have transferable skills you can highlight.

For more tips on how to make the best of each format, visit our resume formats section.

2. Use the Right Template for Your Resume.

What should your resume “look” like? That depends on the job you’re applying for. For more creative industries, or for jobs that require out-of-the-box thinking or proactivity, pick a modern resume template that shows you’re up to date with the latest trends. If you’re applying for a job in a more conventional or buttoned-down company, you can’t go wrong with a straightforward professional template that communicates your qualifications simply and clearly. For a selection of over 20 free templates for every conceivable type of job, check out our resume template section.

3. Present Professional Contact Information.

No need to write your full mailing address here — just include your name, email, town and state of residence, and phone number. If you have additional social network links (e.g., LinkedIn) that are useful to display, this is the place to put them. Just remember to keep your information professional — using an email address like “BigHottie@xxxx.com” isn’t going to project the right image.

3. Present Professional Contact Information.

4. Grab Employers’ Attention With Your Summary.

Think of your summary as an opening “sales pitch” in which you’re promoting a great product: you. In a few sentences, present top qualifications and work experiences that fit with what the job requires. Be specific about your accomplishments, and gear your summary to answering one question: Why you’re the right person for this job. For even more tips, visit our article How to Write the Perfect Summary Statement.

Bad example:

Sales representative with experience in home design consultation. Provides good customer service.

Good example:

Energetic sales representative with 5+ years of experience providing in-home design consultations for over 1,000 clients, as well as project management and installations. Renowned for superior service, with 97% customer satisfaction ratings

4. Grab Employers’ Attention With Your Summary.

5. Present a Mix of Hard and Soft Skills.

Your skills section should include both practical or technical (also known as “hard”) skills that are necessary for the job, such as proficiency in specific tools or software, as well as intangible (or “soft”) skills. Look over the job description to pinpoint the skills your potential employer is looking for, and feature abilities of your own that best match these requirements. As with your summary, be as specific as possible when listing your skills.

Bad example:

Good with computer programs

Good example:

Proficient with Microsoft Office, Google Docs and Outlook

5. Present a Mix of Hard and Soft Skills.

6. Highlight Your Work Achievements.

Limit your work history to the last 10 years, and include your job title, name of the company (with city and state where the company is based), and dates of employment for your present and previous jobs. Write 3-5 bullet points for each job, focusing on top accomplishments rather than just listing usual daily tasks. Use active verbs like “managed” or “initiated” to describe your achievements rather than passive language like “was tasked with,” and use numbers and metrics to illustrate your impact.

Bad example:

Was responsible for office inventory, coordinating meetings, and travel itineraries.

Good example:

Managed inventory for 100-employee office, and organized travel, accommodations and meeting schedules for 500-person annual meetings.

6. Highlight Your Work Achievements.

7. Feature Educational Credentials and Training.

In your education section, feature your highest diploma or degree, as well as the name of the institution and location (town/city and state). You can also include any advanced or specialized training or courses you’ve taken that relate to the job. For example:

Bachelor’s Degree in Business
North State University, Anytown, CA

Project Management training and certification
Management Training Institute, South City, OR

7. Feature Educational Credentials and Training.

Top 10 Resume-Writing Tips

1. Keep your resume concise.

Most employers only take a few seconds to read a resume, so the last thing you need is a resume with mounds of text. Just follow these rules of thumb:

  • Shoot for two pages at maximum.
  • Focus on skills and work examples that directly address what the job needs.
  • Limit your work history to the last 10 years (unless you’re applying to a job that specifically requests more than 10 years’ experience).
  • Use punchy phrases and bullet points rather than complete sentences.

To keep your resume neat and succinct, use our Resume Builder tools, where you can preview, adjust and save your document easily.

2. Keywords are key.

Employers will inspect your resume for important keywords that relate to the job, and so will applicant tracking systems (ATS) that recruiters use to scan resumes. To make sure you’re covered on keywords, go through the job description and find phrases and words that spell out what the job requires, including specific tasks, as well as hard and soft skills. Then find experiences and skills of your own that match these keywords, and include them throughout your resume.

Example:

If the job calls for knowledge of online teaching software like Google Classroom, you could use keywords in three different ways in your resume:

  • List “Proficiency in Google Classroom” as one of your skills.
  • Give an example in your work history section of how you used the app to teach large groups of students.
  • Mention Google Classroom as one of your top attributes in the summary statement (e.g., “Enthusiastic teacher well-versed in using Google Classroom to educate elementary students”).

For more advice on how to use keywords to get a passing grade from ATS, check out How to Write an ATS-friendly Resume. Our Resume Builder can also help you find the right job-specific phrases and keywords.

3. Keep your layout straightforward.

You may be tempted to “dress up” your resume using fancy graphics, charts and striking fonts. But doing so runs the risk of confusing recruiters as well as ATS scans. When in doubt, it’s always best to go with a straightforward, easy-to-read design. The one thing you don’t want is employers being unable to find the content they’re looking for because they’re thrown off by unusual fonts or images. For more expert advice on resume layouts, see our special section How to Design a Resume. To make extra sure your layout is employer-ready, you can also base your resume on an expert-designed template.

4. Don’t use too much jargon.

You might want to prove you’re a seasoned professional who knows all the lingo, but loading your resume with too many acronyms and specialized terms can work against you, especially if your resume is being reviewed by a recruiting manager who might not be familiar with the job. If the job posting features a technical term or acronym (e.g., “PostgreSQL” for a software engineer position), you’re probably safe to use it; otherwise, spell out your jargon (e.g., “proficient in government-off-the-shelf (GOTS) software”).

5. Go heavy on action verbs.

When describing your previous or current job experiences, always use active verbs. Stating “Was responsible for project X” is a lot different than stating “Managed project X,” or “Oversaw project X.” Some other examples of action verbs you can use in your own resume:

  • Accelerated
  • Achieved
  • Administered
  • Advised
  • Boosted
  • Campaigned
  • Coordinated
  • Created
  • Delivered
  • Designed
  • Developed
  • Directed
  • Documented
  • Enhanced
  • Established
  • Executed
  • Facilitated
  • Formed
  • Improved
  • Initiated
  • Instituted
  • Maximized
  • Mentored
  • Motivated
  • Negotiated
  • Organized
  • Overhauled
  • Planned
  • Promoted
  • Resolved
  • Revitalized
  • Secured
  • Supervised

6. In your education section, focus on honors and advanced courses.

No need to feature your GPA — instead, include any honors or advanced coursework you’ve had that relates to the job you’re applying for. For example, if you’re applying for a geologist position, it’s helpful to note specific courses you’ve taken in college that involve field work or geochemical data review.

7. Create additional sections if needed.

Don’t be afraid to create special sections in your resume to show off your best qualifications. For example, you could create an “Activities” section that points out extracurricular and volunteer activities you’ve participated in, showcasing skills that are useful for the job you’re applying to. Or you can break down your skills section into subcategories, as you can see in our functional format example above.

8. Remember: Your resume should tell a story.

Everything in your resume should be geared towards one purpose: explaining who you are, and why you’re the best fit for the job. Make sure your skills and qualifications are demonstrated through your work accomplishments, and tie everything together in your summary, which should provide a clear overview of your top traits.

9. Review your resume for mistakes before submitting it.

A survey of employers showed that of the most common mistakes applicants make on their resumes, 58% are misspellings. Always take time to perform a resume check, and review all the information you provide for accuracy. If you use our Resume Builder to create your resume, it will scan your document for mistakes and misspellings.

10. Create different resumes for different jobs.

Even if you’re applying for a similar position, each job will have its own unique requirements. Don’t use a “one-size-fits-all” resume — instead, revise each section to reflect what the job is looking for. For example, one administrative assistant position might emphasize heavy usage of Microsoft Office, while another might place a premium on scheduling meetings and assisting executives. Pull skills and experiences from your own background that best match each job, and feature them in your resume. For more insight on customizing your resume, see our article How to Create a Targeted Resume.

Resume Writing FAQ

1. What makes a successful resume?

A successful resume is one that contains skills that match the job description, a relevant work history that features quantifiable metrics and a succinct, engaging summary.

2. How do you write your resume for the first time?

Writing a resume can be a challenge, but the best way to begin is to make a list of your top soft skills (such as teamwork or communication skills), any programs you know well (like Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Word or Excel), and any training you’ve completed. This will help you determine what types of jobs to search for, and how to tailor your resume so that ATS programs can find it faster.

3. What do you need to include on your resume?

A resume is composed of five standard sections:

  • Header/contact information
  • Work history
  • Education
  • Skills
  • Professional summary

These five sections are must-haves on any resume, but their order and content can change, depending on your experience and the specific position you’re applying for. See our resume format examples up above for how you can organize these sections for different cases. You can also include additional sections of expertise in areas such as language, programs and portfolio links if requested. The most important thing is to feature and emphasize the most relevant skills and qualifications you possess that align with the job description.

4. What should not be included in a resume?

Don’t put anything on your resume that isn’t relevant to the employment story you are trying to tell. Your skills should match what an employer is specifically looking for; your work history should include relevant points that show that you’re a good fit for the position; and your professional summary should explain why you would be an asset to the company, addressing details and requirements from the job description.

5. What do employers look for in a resume?

Employers want you to keep it simple. The top one-third of your resume often determines whether a hiring manager chooses to keep reading, so tailor your details to that employer, focusing on a strong “pitch” in your summary. A well-written resume should tell your story as an employee, and display accomplishments and training that show why you’re a great fit for that company.

6. How do you fill employment gaps in a resume?

The best way to take care of employment gaps is not to try and hide them, but instead, identify and highlight any skills or accomplishments you’ve gained during your time off, or important skills acquired in past work experiences. Take these transferable skills and relate them to the position you want. Focus on accomplishments. Use a functional resume format that will enhance your skills, and explain any gaps directly in your cover letter.

7. What is an objective statement, and should you use it?

An objective statement is a shorter version of the professional summary (about 30 words or less). It also features a statement of your professional goals as they relate to the job you are applying for. For example:

Looking to leverage my social media marketing experience in managing consumer email campaigns for a Fortune 500 company.

Generally, employers prefer to see summary statements instead of objective statements — they’ll want to know what you can do for them, more than what you want. As a general rule of thumb, save objective-type  statements for your cover letter, where you get into your ambitions and goals in more detail.

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