The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Resume

Ultimate Guide to Writing a Resume

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:

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.

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)

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 featuring ATS-friendly chronological, combination, and entry-level resume templates.

If you want to download a professionally designed resume template, check out our wide variety of options, each tailored to specific industry or life situation. For example, we have resume templates specifically tailored to moms reentering to the workforce.

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:

Header:

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.

Resume Header Example

Professional Profile:

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.”

Resume Professional Profile Section Example

Experience:

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)
Resume Experience Section Example

Education:

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.”

Resume Education Section Example

Skills:

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.

Resume Skills Section Example

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.

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.

Resume Activities / Affiliations Section Example

If you’re reentering the workforce after a career pause and need additional guidance, take a look at our tips for writing a resume for a Stay at Home Mom.

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:

  • Keywords
  • Formatting
  • Basic editing
jobscan interview chances

Wrapping Up

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!

Do You Need Help Writing Your Resume?

Even after reading this ultimate guide to writing a resume, I know that the process can still be daunting. This is why I offer resume writing services, tailored to your specific needs.

Get Help Writing Your Resume – From a Professional Resume Writer

  • Lee Cristina Beaser

    MS, CPRW (Certified Professional Resume Writer)

    Lee brings over two decades of expertise in guiding individuals towards career success. Having helped thousands of professionals in a wide variety of industries, she has a deep understanding of the intricacies of the job market. Lee founded The Career Counter, a platform dedicated to providing busy people, especially moms returning to the workforce, with tools and services tailored to their unique career goals.

    Our Founder has over 20 years of experience helping people like you