There’s no overstating the importance of your resume. In this highly competitive labor market, companies might receive hundreds (if not thousands) of applications for a position — however, a well-crafted resume can make you stand out above the rest and get you much closer to an interview for that dream job.
But what makes for a great resume and what should you include? Read on for our comprehensive, step-by-step guide to writing your resume.
How to make a resume
There are a few things to keep in mind if you want to create a resume that really gets a hiring manager’s attention.
Understand the basic principles of resume writing
A resume is a summary of your professional experience that describes your achievements, skills and qualifications. Its purpose is to showcase your strengths, create a good first impression and convince hiring managers to offer you an interview.
However, really noteworthy resumes are much more than just a list of your previous jobs and where you went to school. A great resume should be carefully tailored to the employer you’re applying to, including the skills and information that are most relevant to them.
To do that, it’s important to understand the three most important principles of resume writing.
Research the company and its culture
Researching the company you’re applying to gives you useful information about its culture, values, goals, positioning in the industry and even new workplace trends that might impact their operations. This will, in turn, help you determine which achievements and skills to showcase in your resume.
You can start by carefully reading the company’s website and any recent press releases they have posted. You can also check out both the company’s and some of its employees’ LinkedIn pages to get an idea of what they generally look for and what they might need.
You can also check out some of the best job search sites, like Glassdoor, Indeed and ZipRecruiter, which sometimes include reviews of former employees’ experience with the company.
Tailor your resume
According to Beatriz Ferreira, a talent acquisition and development manager, generic resumes rarely work.
Ferreira, who has more than 12 years of experience, suggests that “you should think of your resume as a step that helps you get an interview. And because you’re aiming to get an interview, you should prepare your resume with that goal in mind. Therefore, your resume has to be tailored.”.
Keep in mind that many recruiters use applicant tracking systems (ATS), which lets them filter resumes by keywords. Your resume should be optimized for ATS by adding relevant keywords found in the job listing.
For instance, if the job description mentions that they’re looking for experience using project management software, and you do have that experience, make sure to include that under the skills section. Chances are, their applicant tracking system is probably looking for that keyword.
Keep it simple (and short)
Most experts agree that there are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to writing your resume. There is, however, one good rule of thumb to follow: keep it simple and short (one page, preferably), but full of valuable information.
Choose the best resume format
The resume format refers to the design and layout you use for your resume (including font size, style and margins), and the order in which you present information to potential employers.
As a general principle, you should use easy-to-read fonts such as Arial, Helvetica, Times New Roman and Calibri, and avoid any convoluted or cursive font that may be confusing.
Here are some resume formatting tips to keep in mind:
- Keep your font size between 10 to 12 points
- Use page margins between 1” to 1.5”
- Stick to single or 1.5 line spacing
- Use bold or slightly larger font (up to 14 points) in headers
- Use bullet points when listing relevant information — skills, achievements, etc.
Types of resume format
When it comes to resume structure, there are three standard formats you can use depending on your situation: chronological, functional or a combination (hybrid) resume.
Many sites and resume builders online offer free resume templates you can download and customize, but it’s important to know which format would fit your work experience and academic credentials best.
A chronological resume is a great choice if you have a long employment history. This format lists job experience first, in reverse chronological order — that is, the most recent position followed by previous jobs.
Chronological resumes help highlight career growth and experience. However, it may also show gaps in employment or frequent job changes more prominently. If that’s your case, a hybrid resume (see below) format might work better.
A chronological resume typically includes the following sections:
- Name and contact information
- Objective or resume summary
- Work experience
A functional resume emphasizes your skills, abilities and accomplishments rather than your work experience. It’s a good option if you’re a recent graduate or changing industries.
Use this format when you don’t have a ton of experience, but have skills that meet the position requirements. Make sure to group skills under categories that are relevant to the job you’re applying for and describe specific job skills.
Let’s say you are applying for a graphic designer position. Relevant skills to include would be any design software you’ve used regularly and any impactful, quantifiable results you might have gained, such as helping a previous employer achieve a high conversion rate in an ad you created. In your resume, it would look something like this:
- Used Photoshop to create website images, ads and infographics
- Designed social media ads that attained a 70% conversion rate
A functional resume typically includes the following sections:
- Name and contact information
- Objective or resume summary
- Skills and abilities
- Relevant work experience
A combination or hybrid resume combines elements from both the chronological and functional resumes. Many employers prefer this format because it showcases both your skills and relevant work experience, which gives a more comprehensive picture of your qualifications.
The first half of the resume should list your skills by category, preferably before the work experience section, which is typically shorter than in most chronological resumes. This section could include just one or two relevant prior positions and a few bullet points detailing your most significant accomplishments.
A combination resume typically includes the following sections:
- Name and contact information
- Objective or resume summary
- Relevant skills
- Work experience
- Awards and/or certifications
While the length of your resume will depend on the position you’re applying for and the length of your work experience, a one-page resume works for most positions — two pages at the most, if you feel you’d be leaving out crucial information otherwise.
However, there are a few instances where longer resumes are acceptable. “You may consider writing two to three pages, if for instance you’re applying for a director position,” says Ferreira, “but keep in mind that if you’re a professional with lots of experience you don’t really need to write that much to prove your qualifications.”
She adds that “two pages should be enough to tailor a solid resume that’s on par with the job description and that’s compelling enough for me to want to meet with you.”
Add your personal details and contact information
Your name and contact information should go at the very top of your resume, and include key information such as:
- Personal phone number
- Email address
- Location, city name or state
- Professional title (optional)
- LinkedIn profile URL (if you have one)
- Link to your online portfolio/website (if you have one)
Your resume header may look something like this:
YOUR FULL NAME
City, State | ###-###-#### | email address: | LinkedIn URL:
When writing your resume contact information section, keep in mind the following tips:
- You can include a professional title under your name
- Use a larger font (up to 14 points) or bold to highlight your name
- Make sure your email address sounds professional, preferably that has your name on it
- If you include a LinkedIn URL, ensure the information in your profile is updated and consistent with your resume
- There’s no need to mention your full mailing or physical address, but you can include your city and state
- Don’t include your current job phone number or business email address
Write a compelling resume summary or objective
After your contact information, you should write a short but compelling professional summary. This is a 30-second pitch, says Ferreira, where you list three key skills in bullet points and explain how your experience is a good fit for the company you’re applying to.
Your summary should be no more than three to four sentences (or bullets). The first sentence or header should mention your professional title and years of experience. You can then list three relevant skills and/or quantifiable accomplishments. For example, sales representatives could mention that they have hit and exceeded sales by 25% for three quarters in a row.
To write a compelling resume summary, read the job posting carefully and highlight the skills that match what they’re looking for. Your summary may look like this:
Customer-oriented Sales Associate with 5+ years of experience across multiple industries.
- Excellent customer service, organization and communication skills
- Helped over 60 customers per day select the best service plans for their needs
- Awarded Sales Associate of the year in 2022 for exceeding sales quota by 25% for three quarters in a row
Note that a summary statement can also be written as a paragraph, but bullet points are preferable because they’re easier to read. Additionally, when mentioning your achievements try to be specific about time frames and results.
How to write a resume objective
Not all job seekers need to write a resume summary. If you’re a recent graduate or are changing careers, you could write a resume objective instead.
A resume objective is a short paragraph that lets recruiters know your career goals, skills and why you’re applying for the position. Most effective resume objectives mention the job position sought, relevant skills and a brief career-specific goal.
Check out this example:
Business Administration graduate with proven communication and email management skills. Looking for a position as administrative assistant at X Company, to leverage my organizational skills to support and facilitate workflow procedures.
Note that a resume objective is short and to the point, preferably between two and three sentences at most.
List your relevant work experience and professional achievements
The work experience section is where you’ll list your previous positions, responsibilities and accomplishments — specifically those that are relevant to the position you’re applying for.
This section of your resume should start with a header in a larger and bolded font. You should then list previous job experiences in reverse chronological order.
Each position should be its own subheader and include the following information:
- Job title
- Company name
- Start and end dates
- Job location (optional)
Your subheader may look like this:
X Company, New York | 04/2020 – Present
After the subheader, you could mention key responsibilities and accomplishments using bullet points.
Here are some tips for the work experience section:
- Use action verbs — such as managed, achieved, coordinated, planned, etc. — to describe achievements and responsibilities.
- Keep descriptions as concise as possible, avoid using filler words
- Include measurable results and achievements using numbers and percentages, when possible
- Include any relevant volunteer experience, if you have it
List your education, certifications and awards
Next on your resume is the education section, which should include your academic preparation and any relevant certifications or awards. This section should be given particular importance if the job requires specific degrees to qualify, otherwise it can be a small section at the bottom of your resume.
The education section should include the following information:
- Name of the institution
- Degree or area of study
- Dates of attendance
- School location
Master of Business Administration in Accounting (GPA: 3.80)
University of Boston | Boston, MA | September 2018 – May 2020
If you’re a recent high school or college graduate, the education section should go above your work experience and provide some details, such as relevant coursework, honors, internships, leadership positions, extracurricular activities and your general point average (GPA) if it’s above 3.5. You can also mention a thesis project or investigations as long as they’re relevant to the job position.
Certifications and awards
Your certifications and awards can be mentioned in the education section. However, if you have important certifications that might be crucial to the job you’re applying for, you can also highlight them in a separate section.
List your relevant hard and soft skills
Your skills section should highlight both the hard and soft skills you didn’t have a chance to mention elsewhere.
Hard skills, also known as technical skills, are practical abilities that you’ve learned over time through training, practice and repetition. It includes things like speaking a second language, coding or using industry-specific software.
Soft skills refer to interpersonal qualities that aren’t as easily measurable (or as teachable) as technical skills, but that are essential for working with others. These include strong communication skills, emotional intelligence, adaptability, organizational skills, critical thinking or the ability to work in a team.
Hiring managers look for evidence of both types of skills when trying to find the perfect candidate.
Consider adding relevant, yet optional sections
If you still have some room in your resume, you could add some optional sections. These sections can help job seekers with little work experience — such as recent graduates — round out their resume.
Some optional sections you may consider adding include:
- Organizations or affiliations section: Mention professional organizations you belong to or where you have a leadership role.
- Personal projects section: List academic or personal projects you may have started on your own. For instance, if you’re a freelancer applying for a content writer position you could mention your blog or a social media account where your work is published.
- Interests section: List personal interests or hobbies that communicate personality traits that match the job position. For instance, mentioning that you play a sport with a local team can show you collaborate well and actively participate in your community.
Do note that any additional information you include should add value to your resume, support your credibility and ultimately help you get the interview.
Write an effective cover letter
The cover letter is your presentation letter — a brief, one-page document that clearly describes why you’re interested in the job, how your skills and experience match what the hiring managers are looking for and why you’d be an asset to the company.
Although seen less frequently in online job applications, Ferreira emphasizes that cover letters can be useful in positions where hiring managers want to see evidence of writing skills.
“The cover letter should be three short paragraphs,” says Ferreira, “ideally addressed to the person who’s going to receive your resume. The first paragraph is an introduction or opening statement explaining who you are, followed by a second paragraph with a brief summary of your experience similar to the 30-second pitch of your resume summary. You then finish with a short conclusion paragraph saying that you’re available for an interview and provide your contact information”.
If you’re not sure who’s going to receive your cover letter and resume, you can do a quick search on LinkedIn and find the hiring manager’s information.
Read, revise, repeat
The last step in writing your resume is to proofread and review that all your information is correct and free of typos.
Double-checking your resume (or triple-checking if necessary) can help you spot errors in your writing. You should also send your resume to a friend or relative so that they can give you feedback and spot any typos you might have missed.
Here’s a checklist to help you along:
- Is the font size between 10 to 12 points?
- Are your personal details accurate? Does it include your full name, email address and phone number?
- Did you write a short resume summary or objective?
- Did you use action verbs to describe your achievements and responsibilities?
- Did you include measurable results in the work experience section?
- Is your description of previous responsibilities tailored to match employers’ requirements?
- Is your educational information complete and accurate?
- Are your listed skills relevant to the job position?
- Did all your information fit on one page (or two pages at most, if highly experienced)?
Some final advice:
- Tailor your resume each time you apply to a new position by using keywords from the job posting that match your experience and preparation.
- Save your resume as a PDF (unless the employer requests otherwise), this way your formatting won’t be affected if a font isn’t compatible with the employer’s software.
Summary of Money’s Guide on How to Write a Resume
- Research the company you’re applying to. This can help you identify the skills the company considers most valuable.
- Tailor your resume for each application.
- Include your personal information at the top of your resume in a slightly bigger font.
- Write a compelling resume summary in three to four sentences (or bullet points) describing your professional experience. If possible include quantifiable accomplishments.
- List relevant work experience. Use action verbs to describe responsibilities and achievements.
- List your education. Include relevant certifications, awards or training you have.
- List relevant hard and soft skills, especially any industry-specific skills the employer mentions in the job description.
- If you have enough room in the resume, add other relevant sections, such as personal interests, personal projects or affiliations that might be of interest to that employer.
- Adding a cover letter can help you make a good first impression, and lets you elaborate on your experience.
- Proofread your information before sending your resume — if possible, have a few friends or family members read it over first.