Job hunting is a lot: You need to search everywhere, send a bunch of applications, and commute to numerous interviews. But before all that, you need to create a resume - the document that can make or break your attempts to land your first-ever job or make a career change.
Today, we’ll teach you how to write a resume, from the formatting to the sections to include based on the job you’re after. We will also take a closer look at any specifics related to remote jobs, as those are in high demand right now, and provide you with some tips for making your resume stand out.
The Purpose of a Resume
First, we need to cover a few important points: To start with, there’s a common misconception that a CV (Curriculum Vitae) is the same as a resume. Originally, your CV was a detailed record of your education and career, while your professional resume would serve as an abridged version of that, a one-or-two-page summary of your best qualities and experience. Over time, the two became synonymous, and employers no longer need lengthy overviews of someone’s professional life to determine whether they’re a suitable candidate.
Your resume is, therefore, a quick presentation of your career. It should allow recruiters to quickly assess whether you could be a potential hire. Basically, it’s a sales pitch, and you are the product. Therefore, creating an appealing resume that shines the best possible light on you, while being succinct and well laid out, can sway a recruiter’s decision. But, how to write a resume that will do just that? Read on to find out.
Choosing a Resume Format
A resume shouldn’t just be a list of your previous workplaces slapped together under your contact information. Remember, a good-looking resume is almost as important as the information contained in it, so you can’t just throw it together. That’s why we’ll be going over the layout first, so you can represent yourself and your accomplishments properly.
There are three distinct resume formats that have become the standard:
- Chronological - a detailed list of your previous jobs, starting with the most recent ones.
- Functional - a list of accomplishments and top qualifications without going into detail about work experience.
- Hybrid - a skills and accomplishments list followed by relevant work experience, with precise details on each.
Out of these three, the functional format is the only one you should steer clear of, especially if you don’t know too much about your potential employer. It’s highly situational, for example, for people without traditional work experience, and recruiters tend to dislike this kind of formatting. This should only be used as a last resort, in cases when the other two formats couldn’t score you a job interview.
The chronological resume template is the “traditional” option. Its central section is reserved for your work experience - start with the most recent job you had (or currently have) and go backwards through your career history to the very first relevant position you held. Each section should include your official title and a date range designating how long you were at that position, followed by a short paragraph detailing your responsibilities. Try to be brief here and avoid too many details for jobs that aren’t relevant to the position you're applying for.
Finally, the hybrid format is the most popular; as its name suggests, it takes the best parts of the first two formats and puts them together. How to write a good resume in this format, then? First, start by highlighting your relevant skills and accomplishments and then move on to a chronological overview of your professional career, with detailed descriptions for each job you had. The only real downside of this format is that you’re going to have to economize with space, since you have to list both your skills and work experience on two pages maximum.
Now that we’ve seen what the general layout of your resume should look like, it’s time to fill in some information. Keep in mind that we’re listing all the possible sections that could be used in a resume, but that you’re not obliged to use them all, nor to place them in this specific order.
Whether you’re writing a remote job resume, or one for an on-location job, you’ll want to provide some way for recruiters to contact you. This section should always be at the very top of your resume and stand out clearly from the rest of the document, with a particular emphasis on your name. Here’s what you should include in this section:
- Phone number
- Email address
- Physical address
- Link to your portfolio (when applying for creative positions)
Some argue that this section should also include a link to your LinkedIn profile, but that’s usually just redundant considering most of the recruiting already goes through that platform, or recruiters look up every candidate there themselves.
This section is optional, but it can be interesting. Still, not everyone knows how to write a summary for a resume, and most people don’t really need it. Nonetheless, a summary, accompanied with the objective of your resume, is a short paragraph about your career goals. You’ll add this to your resume only if you have limited experience in the job market, for example, if you’ve just graduated from college. If you’ve already worked a few jobs, forego this section entirely.
The professional history section is arguably the most important part of a resume, and should therefore be carefully written and formatted. You add sections in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent or current job and moving down to the oldest relevant job you had. The resume format for this section should include subsections for each job in your career, with clear headers and a summary of that position, as well as your responsibilities in it.
The headers should include this information:
- Job title
- Start and end dates (year and month)
- Location (optional)
Next, the description or overview of each job should, ideally, be presented in bullet points. Keep it short and to the point, but highlight your contributions. Also, provide measurements of your accomplishments whenever possible, e.g., “Streamlined the signup process, increasing user acquisition by 20%.”
In this section, you’ll need to provide a short list of the degrees and course certificates you acquired up to that point. Unlike older guides on how to write a resume, we recommend against going into much detail here. Just list the level of education you possess - a college or high school degree along with the names of those schools. No need to list specific subjects you studied - unless they’re extremely specific to the job you’re applying for - and your grades. Keep that space for other, more crucial information, like any relevant certificates you got in the meantime.
Including a skills and interests list is usually not required, but sometimes it can help you stand out from the crowd. The main rule on how to write skills on a resume is to list those relevant to the job you’re applying to, along with a descriptive level of your knowledge. That’s beginner, intermediate, advanced, and expert. For example, “Proficient in Premiere, After Effects, and Cinema 4D,” or “Expert in MySQL, PHP, and Ruby on Rails.”
Some like to turn this section into a list, or a matrix with visual representations of skill levels. Whatever you decide, it’s important not to overstuff this section and, obviously, stick to the truth. You don’t want to “oversell” yourself and get in trouble. The same goes for any soft skills you want to include here.
Tips on How to Write a Professional Resume
There are many ways to write an excellent resume from scratch, or update an existing one. If you’ve followed our guide so far, you’ve most likely already vastly improved your presentation so far. Still, there are some additional things to remember:
Don’t write an overly long resume. You might even consider shortening it to just one page! A single-page document does sound like it can’t fit everything you need to say about yourself, but most recruiters won’t read long files.
Tailor your resume for each job application. This is one of the essential resume-writing tips and holds particularly true in recent years, where recruiters are looking for specialized hires. For example, citing that you’re proficient in Microsoft Office is unnecessary when applying for a system administration job. You’re expected to have that skill, so instead, highlight skills that are required for that position. Use the job ad as a guide for what to write.
Speaking of ads, it’s no secret that recruiters are looking for specific keywords on resumes. Aside from writing in an active, concise tone, try to include words that were part of the original job posting. With some practice, this kind of resume writing will become second nature to you.
Consider some additional sections, if you’ve got space for them. Depending on the job you’re applying for, you can add any non-profit work, personal projects, and even hobbies. If any of those additions can support the rest of your resume, that might impress the recruiter.
You’re almost ready! But first, proofread your resume, and if you can, have someone else do it for you, too. Read it out loud even, and fix anything that sounds off. The perfect resume needs to be error-free, but also neatly designed. You don’t need to use any fancy visuals (but do consider them for graphic design jobs); instead, pick a standard font, use headings, and add enough space between sections. The document should be easy to read, with consistent formatting. Ideally, you’ll want to send your resume as a PDF document.
What Not to Include on a Resume
Certain information and styles are a complete no-go for resumes. Mistakes are easy to make, especially if you’ve never written this kind of document before, so we’ll go over some common mistakes and show you how to write a resume for any job without errors.
Third-Person Writing and Pronouns
A resume should always be written in the first person, but try to avoid personal pronouns, such as “I,” “me,” or “my,” whenever possible. Instead, use sentences with the subject omitted.
Too Much Personal Information
A name and basic contact information are all a recruiter needs. They don’t need to know your age, marital status, or political beliefs. Additionally, never put any ID numbers on a resume (e.g., your SSN).
Putting your mugshot on a resume has become frowned upon, due in no small part to biases towards more conventionally attractive people and gender discrimination in hiring. Unless the employer explicitly asks for them, leave photos out of your application.
“Quirky” Email Address
Keep it professional and, if you don’t already have one, create an email that contains your name only. Even a resume for a remote job at a gaming company will look silly if it has “email@example.com” in its header.
Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn’t include references on your job application, especially on a document where every paragraph counts. Keep those on a separate piece of paper and only provide them when asked during a job interview - and you will get asked; 80% of recruiters check references.
Never include explanations why you left any of your previous jobs, or use your resume as a public shaming page. That looks completely unprofessional, and recruiters will immediately dismiss your application.
Hopefully, by now, you’ve learned how to make a resume that will stand out from the rest. Catching a recruiter’s eye is a skill in its own right, and can therefore be learned. With more and more employers opening remote positions, highlighting your ability to work from home efficiently will be the key to your success.