Step 1: Choose a Format and Design

People say that you eat with your eyes first, and the same concept applies here. How you construct your resume can determine how a hiring manager takes in your credentials. For this reason, look matter when it comes to your resume.

To start, keep your resume as brief as possible. A rule of thumb is that your resume should be one-page in length for every decade of work experience you have. This means that new graduates and those applying for entry-level or junior roles should keep their resume to a single page. For those at the executive level, two or three pages is acceptable.

Specificity is key. Hone in on metrics whenever possible. It’s more effective to write that you, “boosted conversion rates by 18 percent” than something general like, “helped bring in more customers.”

When it comes to your resume’s design, a black-and-white scheme is always a safe bet, but color may be acceptable in more creative industries. Fonts should be easy-to-read and a minimum of 10-points in size — this is not the place to think outside-the-box.

Step 2: Add Your Contact Information

If you write the perfect resume and no one knows how to reach you, does any of it even matter? Hint: Not so much. Be sure all contact information is up-to-date, accurate and presented correctly in the header of your resume.

  • Only include post-nominals such as RN or LSW if the credentials are professional designations. Academic accreditations like PhD should be referenced in your “Education” section rather than placed after your name.
  • Your email address should be professional – ideally just your first and last name – and private. Never use an address associated with your current job to look for your next opportunity.
  • Use standard formatting for your phone number, such as (123) 456-7890 or 123-456-7890.
  • A full home address isn’t required, but it is recommended to include at least your city and state, especially if you are applying for a role that will require relocation.
  • Personal information such as date of birth, marital status and nationality should never be included on a standard resume, but they may be required when applying internationally. Always double-check the requirements if you’re applying for a job outside the United States.
  • Never put your social security number on your resume.

Step 3: Craft a Killer Professional Summary

This used to be where you’d put your objective, but these have become passé.  After all, it’s safe to assume that the reader knows that your objective is to get the job to which you’ve applied.

Instead use that space to deliver a short, high-impact pitch that sells potential employers on your why you are the most qualified for the role. Strive for a dynamic, memorable opening that differentiates you from the other applicants crowding the recruiter’s desk.

Use your professional summary to highlight your relevant skills, share a particularly impressive achievement, and show off what you’ll bring to the table if you are hired. Show the employer that you understand their needs and explain how you will fulfill them.

Step 4: Shine a Spotlight on Your Skill Set

Utilizing a “Skills” section near the top of your resume is a simple way to get your most relevant hard and soft skills in front of a recruiter. Be sure to study the job ad and personalize this section to focus on the skills the job ad calls out as critical. Use bullet points for readability and don’t forget to include your soft skills. Employers place a high value on soft skills like communication and customer service. Including these skills on your resume is an easy way to get an edge over the competition.

Put yourself in the reader’s shoes, and scrutinize your tone and the items you’ve chosen to include. Remove anything that could be construed as conveying a political or religious bias, or that is in any way controversial as these could negatively impact your employment opportunities.

Step 5: Focus on Critical Experience

Your most recent work history is the most important, so start there and work in reverse. If you have a solid work history, use a chronological resume format, that goes back no further than the 20-years. (If you have employment gaps or limited work experience, you might consider how to write a resume in a functional or combination resume format.)

This is possibly the easiest section to overwork (no pun intended). Resist the urge to delve into details such as your actual salary, your supervisor’s contact information, or typical hours worked unless you’re applying for a military or federal position.

For each job in your “Work History” section, be sure to include:

  • Company name
  • Location
  • Dates of employment
  • Job-specific duties and responsibilities
  • Any relevant achievements or accomplishments

Specificity is key. Hone in on metrics whenever possible. It’s more effective to write that you, “boosted conversion rates by 18 percent” than something general like, “helped bring in more customers.”

Begin each of your 5-8 bulleted achievements or job responsibilities with an action words such as created, automated, advised, oversaw, unified, innovated, or pioneered to stoke even more interest and generate excitement.

If you’re struggling to sum up a position, ask yourself the following:

  • What did I do there?
  • How did I do it?
  • What was my/our objective?
  • What results did I help bring about?

Step 6: Outline Your Education

Start by listing your educational history in reverse chronological order, just as you did with your work history. Classes or degrees that are still in progress can be listed as such (“anticipated graduation 20XX” works well. Unless you are a recent grad, don’t include your graduation dates. There’s no need to reference your high school diploma unless that’s the extent of your education.

In addition to traditional college coursework, you can include:

  • Internships in a related field
  • Continuing education classes and any courses, seminars or training done for professional development
  • Relevant certificates and licenses

You can create a subsection to showcase your professional memberships and affiliations, involvement in campus organizations, and other experiences not related to school. However, only list those organizations you currently belong to or those in which you held a leadership role.

Step 7: Review, Rework, and Cut the Fat

You can’t write the perfect resume without a lot of proofreading. Look back through your newly created masterpiece for typos and grammatical errors, and ruthlessly excise any content that doesn’t add clear value to the document.

  • Put yourself in the reader’s shoes, and scrutinize your tone and the items you’ve chosen to include. Remove anything that could be construed as conveying a political or religious bias, or that is in any way controversial as these could negatively impact your employment opportunities.
  • Your personal interests and hobbies are only relevant if they’re related to the job in question. There is one exception: volunteer work. Unpaid positions and community involvement show initiative, and according to research conducted by Deloitte, candidates who list their volunteer experience on their resume may be more likely to catch an employer’s eye. Include your time at the animal shelter or years as a mentor under a “Relevant Experience” header or in a separate, dedicated section.
  • Be mindful of tense. Always use the present tense when referring to your current job and the past tense for positions you no longer hold.
  • Only use abbreviations that are widely known. Otherwise, write out the full phrase first and include the abbreviation after.
  • Don’t be repetitive. If you’re using the same words over and over again, use a thesaurus (there are free ones online) to shake up your verbiage.
  • References aren’t necessary, and it’s understood that “references are available on request” so there’s no need to mention that.
  • Quadruple check your spelling and grammar. Reading your resume out loud can help you analyze the content for flow and catch any missing words. Use an online proofreading tool, like Grammarly, which will point out both typos and grammatical errors. Also, ask a friend to review your document.