I remember the first time I wrote a resume. As a recent college graduate, I had no clue what I wanted to do. There was no guide to follow for how to write a resume. And when I handed my resume to a recruiter, she laughed. She laughed. That’s one of the reasons I’ve spent nearly 20 years helping people write outstanding resumes. Nobody should feel ashamed about their background or their resume.
Maybe you think your resume looks pretty good. Or maybe you wouldn’t even bother feeding it to your dog for breakfast. Regardless of how you feel about your resume, I’ll tell you what I tell every client: the resume is always a work in progress. It’s never really completely done.
Ideally, you should tailor a different resume every time you apply for a job. I know it sounds like a lot of work. But here’s the thing: once you learn how to write a killer resume, you don’t have to completely re-write your resume every time. It’s all about matching the language of each job posting with the content of your resume.
The ultimate guide to writing a resume is the only tool you will need to write a compelling, well-written and expertly formatted document. Read below for my step-by-step, ultimate guide to writing a resume:
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Read full disclosure here.
Step One: Clarify Your Goal(s)
In other words, why are you writing a resume? To get an internship or a job? To apply for a program? If you don’t have a specific job you want to apply for, writing or updating your resume can be challenging.
Do you have a specific job in mind? Skip to step two.
Are you unsure about your career direction? I have a quick assignment for you:
- Jump on a couple job sites like Indeed, Simply Hired, or LinkedIn.
- Search for jobs that might be of interest to you (keep in mind, you are not searching for your dream job. Just find a job that sounds appealing).
- When you find a job that sounds good, print out the job description.
If nothing sounds appealing and you are feeling unsure about what you want to do, you might need to take a step back and do some self-assessment. Click here to gain access to the Career Counter’s Free Resource Library, featuring a Day on the Job Brainstorm Activity where you can picture your ideal job scenario, including work environment (where you want to work) and job functions (what you want to do). The Values Checklist can help you prioritize the most important elements that you need in a job, like salary and flexibility.
Step Two: Gather the Necessary Information
Before you sit down to write your resume, print out the following:
- The description of the job you want
- Your current resume (if you don’t have one, don’t worry)
- The Resume Action Verbs & Resume Accomplishment Statement Worksheet
Step Three: Pick a Resume Template / Format
The basic or most commonly used resume templates or formats are the following:
- Chronological, which is ideal for job seekers with a more traditional career background, or who have been working at the same company or within the same industry for a while and who are seeking a job in the same industry.
- A functional or combination resume format is ideal for job seekers who are changing industries or career field or who have a gap in their employment or career background.
- Student or entry-level resume templates or formats focus on education, including high school, college, and / or graduate school or any credential, certificate, or training program
There are many fancy resume templates out there with pretty colors, columns, text boxes, etc. While these resume templates are pretty to look at, they distract the reader from the content, or meat of your resume. And even worse, resumes with lots of graphics cannot be read by ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems).
Applicant Tracking Systems allow recruiters and hiring managers to collect and sort resumes. This is important because a recent study by JobScan showed that roughly 98% of Fortune 500 companies, roughly 60% of large companies, and 30% of small companies use ATS software to filter resumes.
Need some more in-depth help with selecting the best resume template for your particular background? Check out my recent post How to Pick the Best Resume Template 2019 featuring ATS-friendly chronological, combination, and entry-level resume templates.
Step Four: Write Your Resume Content
Ideally you want to tailor a different resume to every job you apply for. I know it sounds like a giant pain in the butt. But here’s the thing. Once you create a well-written resume (which you will have after following the steps in this post), you don’t need to completely re-write your resume every time you apply for a job.
You just need to match the content on your resume as closely as possible with the job posting. Then “save as” each time you create a new version of your resume. For example: “XYZ Company Resume,” “Marketing Resume,” “Sales Resume.”
Now I’ll walk through what to write on your resume, section by section:
Your header lists your name and contact information. This category goes at the top of your resume and can be displayed in different ways depending on the resume template you choose.
No, you don’t need to include an address on your resume, but be sure to include other contact information like email and phone. If you are applying for a job out of state or in another city, you can write “Relocating in (month / year)” to let an employer know you are either moving or are open to relocating.
Yes, you can list your cell. Regardless of the number you list, make sure your voicemail message recording is professional.
You can use your personal email account in your job search, but make sure you have a basic, conservative name like “firstname.lastname@example.org.” Avoid cutesy, creative email names as they can make your application appear unprofessional. If necessary, you can easily create a new, free gmail account specifically for your job search.
The professional profile is a category that typically goes underneath your contact information. You can use this category to showcase your job title and / or a brief snapshot of your skills, credentials, and achievements as they relate to the job for which you are applying. You can also title this category “Summary of Qualifications” or “Highlights of Qualifications.”
Most hiring managers and professional resume writers I network with are not fans of the objective statement and think that it’s antiquated. If you want to include an objective statement on your resume, ask yourself why. What purpose will it serve? If you decide to include an objective, make sure it’s employer centered vs. self-centered, and that it is very specific.
- Poor objective example:
- A sales job where I can use my people skills and can grow in the company.
- Strong objective example:
- Results-driven pharmaceutical sales professional with 10+ years of experience seeking sales manager position with XYZ company.
No you don’t need to include a title. The most important items to include in your profile are industry buzzwords and keywords relevant to the job for which you are applying.
Use the job description or job announcement as your guide. Take a highlighter or pen and highlight or underline keywords from the job description and make sure to include these words throughout your resume.
Keywords are the most important part of your resume because you want your document to be ATS-friendly. Applicant Tracking Systems allow recruiters and hiring managers to store and quickly sort resumes using algorithms that search for keywords. So you want as many keywords as possible from the job posting on your resume.
Want to see how your resume stacks up against the competition? I highly recommend signing up for a FREE account with JobScan. Their system will quickly scan your resume and give you valuable feedback so you improve it before ever submitting it to a recruiter. This has been shown to dramatically increase your chances of getting through the automated filters, enabling you to land your dream job!
Don’t fall into the trap of resume oblivion!
Yes, typically if you decide to include a professional profile, it will go at the top of your resume under your contact information, or header.
Your work experience will typically be listed under your professional profile. There are many different ways to describe your work experience. The format displayed below is used by most professional resume writers because it is easy to read and highlights two main components:
- Main job functions (written in a paragraph on top)
- Major accomplishments (written in bullets underneath)
It’s true that the unspoken rule for listing your work experience on the resume should be in reverse chronological order (i.e. most recent job first). However, for many job seekers this presents a challenge as their most relevant experience or skills are not necessarily their most recent.
If you fall in this boat, there are a couple things you can do:
- Create two categories on your resume for work experience. The first category can be titled something like “Related Experience,” where you can list your most applicable work experience, even if it’s not recent. Beneath your related experience you can include an additional category titled “Additional Experience.” This is where you can list unrelated work experience so that an employer can get a good understanding of your work history (you don’t need to go into as much detail describing this unrelated experience. If space is limited on your resume, you can even just list the employer name, your title, and dates of employment).
- If you don’t have any relevant work history to include and you don’t want to use a chronological resume template, you can use a combination resume format / template, which highlights transferable skills (i.e. skills used in all industries like communication and project management) vs. work experience.
It depends on if the experience is related to the job that you’re applying for. If it’s related, include it on your resume (even if the experience is over ten years old). If it’s not relevant, you can probably leave it off.
No, your resume doesn’t need to be one page. Typically, high school students, college students, and young professionals with less experience will have a one page resume. However, if you have acquired more relevant work experience and education and you can’t fit it all onto one page, you will need to expand onto a second page.
Keep in mind, employers only spend about six seconds scanning your resume, so you want to keep everything as succinct as possible. Therefore, it’s important to only keep what’s relevant on your resume, and exclude anything that’s not related to your current career goals.
There is a basic formula you can use to develop strong accomplishment phrases on your resume:
Start with an action verb, remove personal pronouns, then add nouns, adjectives, and quantify whenever possible. See example below:
Before: I was a guide and gave tours to people for two years.
After: Delivered over 300 tours in English and Spanish to populations from 20 countries during two-year period; received 97% customer satisfaction rating.
Want some free tools to help you write killer accomplishment statements? Sign up here to get access to The Career Counter’s Free Resource Library, including Resume Action Verbs and Resume Accomplishment Statements cheat sheets.
List your degrees / credentials / certificates in reverse-chronological order and include the title of your degree(s), name of the institution, city, state, and date you graduated. If you have not yet graduated you can write “Expected Month 20xx” or “In Progress.”
That depends. If you are a recent graduate from high school, college, grad school, or a certification or credential program and you don’t yet have relevant work experience, you might consider listing your education first.
If it’s been a few years since you graduate and you have a substantial amount of related experience, I suggest listing your work experience first.
Skills are an important category to include on your resume. Like every other category, your skills should be tailored according to the job that you’re applying for. Grouping your skills by category like the example shown increases readability and helps to highlight your relevant skill sets.
In our rapidly changing world of technological advancement, it is necessary for job seekers to acquire or sharpen job specific and / or technical skills on a regular basis. For example, there might be a job you want to apply for, but it requires a certain skill set or certification that you don’t have. Rather than panicking or including skills on your resume that you don’t actually have, you can re-tool and take an online course or program in the comfort of your own home.
Yes, you can still list skills even if you are a beginner. Use qualifiers like “roughly” nouns like “beginner,” or phrases like “basic knowledge of” to accurately describe your knowledge and skill level.
Activities / Affiliations:
This section of your resume can encompass any professional association memberships or affiliations. Be careful not to just list random activities that don’t relate to or support your candidacy.
You can include religious affiliations on your resume. However, this information is not required and can inadvertently influence or bias a manager’s opinion of you. Therefore, I recommend to leave it off.
Only list affiliations and activities that are relevant to the job you’re applying for. Space on your resume is limited and precious. You only want to include relevant information.
Step Five: Scan Your Resume for ATS
In the steps above I’ve explained the importance of making sure your resume is ATS (Applicant Tracking System) compatible, which basically means increasing the odds your resume will stand out among the thousands of other resumes in an employer’s database.
Sign up now for free to use JobScan’s technology to optimize your resume for ATS.
Specifically, JobScan will score your resume for a number of factors, including:
- Basic editing
That concludes the ultimate guide for writing your resume. If you’ve made it to the end of my post, first off, congratulations!
I know it’s a lot of information, but if you follow the five steps above you will stand out among thousands of other applicants.
Happy writing, friends!