Most job seekers struggle to write a resume that gets them noticed. Even if you think you've done an excellent job detailing your experience, skills, and achievements, you're not guaranteed to land a job interview.
Is it possible to figure out how to write a resume that gets you an interview almost every time you apply?
Follow this step-by-step guide (and this cheat sheet) to learn the art of writing a resume that will get you closer to landing your dream job.
1. Choose the Right Resume Format
Broadly, there are three different resume formats to choose from:
- Functional (also called a Skills-based Resume)
The reverse-chronological resume format is universal in its appeal. It's simple and foregrounds the information hiring managers want to see most.
The format can work for anyone, but it places emphasis on your work experience or education. That's because you will put either of these sections first after your contact information and your resume summary or objective (more on that later).
If you're a fresh graduate, consider writing a resume with your education section at the top. Professionals with a couple of years of experience will want to lead with their work history followed by their education section.
But let's say you've been in the game for a long time and you've got some killer skills you'd like to emphasize. In that case, you might want to pick a combination resume format.
The combination format differs by grouping the bullet points in your experience section under skills-based subheadings. Here's an example:
Marketing Manager, XYZ Inc.
- Created content for country-specific brochures, generating a 50% increase in engagement with clients at our MIPIM booth in 2015.
- Spearheaded an internal campaign to market our employee training program to incoming talent, doubling the number of candidate applications from the previous year.
This format puts skills first and forces the experience section to the bottom of the resume. While this can be tempting because it can mask a lack of experience, the result is that you don't back up your skill set to employers. That can create problems, because hiring managers have to take your claims at face value.
If you are short on experience, the best solution is to find an alternative way to prove your skill set. Try adding volunteer, freelance, or nonprofit work to your experience section instead. This combination approach is a popular choice with people lots of academic experience or skills like programming, but who may be short on job experience
2. Write a Summary That Grabs Attention
Everyone reads the top of a document first, including recruiters. And since recruiters spend an average of just 6 seconds scanning a resume, you should make sure that whatever they see in the top third motivates them to keep reading.
That's why your strongest qualifications, achievements, and experience should land in the top third of your resume. And why you should consider leading with a resume summary or objective.
A resume summary statement is a short, snappy introduction to yourself. It emphasizes your skill set and highlights key points in your career progress.
Reading your summary statement should help hiring managers see that you're going to be a valuable hire.
Here's how you write a killer resume summary:
- Have a look at the job offer. What kind of talent does the employer want? What do they want the candidate to bring to the table? What kind of value should this person provide?
- Determine your top selling points. Look for three or four skills and achievements that define you as a professional.
- How do these things position you to solve the problem described in the job offer?
- When you start writing, use keywords from the job offer.
- Keep it short and sweet (3-4 sentences).
Here's an example of a well-written resume summary statement:
Detail-oriented Software Development Project Manager with 8+ years of experience specializing in desktop and web app development. Diversified skills include client relations, administrative support, and the ability to write developer specifications. Created software that automated the preparation of annual reports for an investment firm with $150 million under management.
How does a resume objective differ from a resume summary?
A resume objective serves a similar purpose, but it's written differently. Resume objectives often provide either an explanation for why a professional is changing a job or why they have little to no work experience.
Who should use an objective for a resume?
- Career Changers
- Job Seekers Targeting Specific Positions
- Entry-level Applicants and Students
Here's an example of a resume objective:
Accomplished Project Manager with 10+ years of experience looking to leverage an extensive background in project management, departmental organization, and mass communication for the Software Development Project Manager position with Company X.
Here, the resume objective explains how the candidate plans to leverage their relevant experience to target a specific position.
3. How to Make a Resume Experience Section
The experience section is where you must detail the responsibilities from your past positions. For most job seekers, it's experience that matters most.
For those learning how to make a resume as a student, lead with your education section.
Here's how you write a killer experience section:
- Your jobs should appear in reverse-chronological order with your current or most recent position first.
- Each job should include five or six bullet points describing the scope of your responsibilities.
- The bullet points should reflect the information requested in the job offer.
- Add facts and figures to grab attention and make your experience tangibly valuable.
- Include achievements to stand out from other candidates.
- List non-traditional work like freelance or volunteer work in your experience section if you lack paid work experience.
Pro tip: To add achievements use the PAR approach as described in the next section.
4. How to Make the Most Of Your Skills for a Resume
Deciding what skills to put on a resume can be tricky—after all, they're what make your resume relevant to the position for which you're applying. They instantly grab the attention of recruiters and show that you might be a match for the job.
That's why you don't want to waste them by just putting them in a list under a section labeled "Skills."
So, how do you make the most of your skills on your resume?
Your first step is to include the keyword skills that the hiring manager listed in the job description.
Adding keywords is also one way to ensure that your resume can pass initial screening by Applicant Tracking System (ATS) software.
Not all companies use ATS software. But if they do, your resume must contain keywords, or a human will never read it. Keep in mind that advanced ATS software also knows if you used keywords in context.
When it comes to skills, recruiters want to know two things:
- Does the candidate have the skill set we want and requested in the job offer?
- Did they add extra skills that would make them a valuable worker?
That's why you should be precise and detailed:
Excellent command of MS Excel.
MS Excel - Advanced (Macros, Pivot Tables)
Another way to highlight your skills on a resume is by adding significant achievements. You can include them as bullet points listed in your experience section.
When adding achievements, use the PAR (Problem Action Result) Approach. Here's an example of the PAR Approach in action:
The Skill: Customer Service
Problem: My previous employer wanted to decrease customer complaints by 10%.
Action: I implemented a new customer care policy and provided training for staff.
Result: There was a 15% decrease in complaints and a 10% increase in customer satisfaction.
Reduced customer complaints through the implementation of a new customer care policy and training.
Implemented a new customer care policy and training resulting in a 15% decrease in customer complaints and a 10% increase in satisfaction.
By adding facts and figures, you'll help hiring managers imagine that you'll achieve similar results on the job.
5. Include Additional Resume Sections for an Extra Boost
If you feel that traditional resume sections don't cover your professional story, you can add others. For example, if you've got a technical background, consider adding a section that covers your certificates and licenses.
Students or recent undergrads can consider adding a section for awards and honors, or a section for relevant extracurricular activities.
For more serious academic candidates, you might find it useful to include a separate section for publications or conferences.
All job seekers can benefit from sections detailing a command of languages, exceptional achievements, and participation in projects.
When adding extra sections, make sure that the amount of information isn't overwhelming. Remember, the ideal resume is only 1-2 pages long.
One section that remains optional and underestimated is the hobbies and interests section. If you've got the space, you should include it.
But why would a hiring manager want to know about your love of chess and windsurfing?
Interesting hobbies help hiring managers remember you, connect with you, and get a fuller image of your personality. They also help employers to gauge if you'll fit in with the company's work culture. To make your hobbies section memorable, add a couple of interesting details.
Reading American Modernist Literature
6. Don't Forget to Tailor Your Resume to the Job Description
Want to know how to tailor your resume to any job offer?
For starters, you need to prepare a master resume.
A master resume is an updated version of your resume that includes all your work experience, skills, and achievements.
Once you spot an attractive job offer, you'll cherry pick relevant material from your master resume and tailor it to the job description by adding keywords.
You're applying for a job as a technical writer. The job description says: "Able to deliver detailed software documentation, often working under pressure and to tight deadlines."
To tailor your resume, you'll need to add some of the phrases verbatim to your experience section. Let's take the phrase "able to deliver detailed software documentation" as our example.
To make it stand out, add facts and figures.
Delivered detailed software documentation.
Delivered detailed software documentation for 4 projects at the same time.
7. Put the Finishing Touches on Your Resume
If you're wondering how to make a resume that gets rejected, the answer is simple. Make typos.
Typos will get your resume rejected by 72% of recruiters so you should proofread your resume twice.
Start with apps like Grammarly or Language Tool and then ask for help.
Even if you have the best resume in the world, you should ask for a second opinion. Your proofreader can also tell you how you're coming across to hiring managers.
One last thing.
Don't forget to clean up your online presence. Even though it's not a part of your resume, 41% of employers say that they won't interview candidates if they can't find them online.
So, be sure to clean up your social media profiles and optimize your LinkedIn account.
Natalie Severt is a writer at Zety.com. She writes about how to create successful resumes so that you can land your dream job. When she isn't writing, she eats tacos and reads complicated novels. Find her on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/natalie_severt.
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