You’ve already gone to your college’s career center for help on writing your resume. You’ve also asked your department advisor, your parents, and even the guy who works at 7-11 for their top-secret resume tips.
But you’re still struggling to write that perfect resume.
Crafting a great resume can be a long, frustrating process—but it’s crucial if you want to stand out from hundreds of other job applicants.
First of all, we have a full guide on “How to Write Your Resume.” But if you’re just looking for our top tips, you’re in the right place.
Here’s the problem: Even with all the resume samples available online, it’s hard to know where to focus your efforts and what will be most effective. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of tips that certified career coaches and professional resume writers use when creating resumes for new college graduates and seasoned professionals.
1. Keep it relevant
Hiring managers only care about how you’ll perform in this particular role at their particular company. You aren’t writing an autobiography, so focus on your recent career history and any experiences or certifications that make you the best candidate. Your high school diploma and an award from 10 years ago are unnecessary once you start college.
That being said, if you have space, feel free to add a line about your SCUBA certification or prize-winning rabbits in the “Additional Information” section. It’s always good to leave an impression.
2. Clean up your digital footprint
Before making a single change to your resume, Google yourself and see what turns up. Is there anything that you wouldn’t want your parents to see? Chances are employers won’t be thrilled with those posts either. Luckily, there’s a solution at hand. Log into your social media profiles and delete anything even vaguely inappropriate or controversial. Then, check your privacy settings and limit who can view your posts. Moving forward, always be careful about what you post.
Why is this listed as a tip for writing a resume? Because even the best resume won’t matter if a potential employer finds a bunch of unfortunate Facebook posts.
3. Format for success
We know you want your resume to stand out, but when it comes to formatting, basic is best. Stick with Times New Roman or Ariel in size 10-12. Use large margins and avoid bright colors. If you’re more of a visual person, our “Resume Samples and Templates” article features resume samples for multiple types of jobs and industries.
Your heading should also be clean and simple. All you need is your name, address, phone number, and email address. These should be the same font and size, though you can increase the font size for your name. You can also add the URL for your LinkedIn profile or personal website. One caveat: only include a personal website link if it’s relevant to the role to which your applying.
4. Start with a summary
Here’s the deal: Hiring managers spend an average of six seconds looking at each resume. But you can make an impression fast by starting with an attention-grabbing resume summary. Your resume summary is a great way to highlight relevant coursework, certifications, awards, or other accomplishments right away. Then, the hiring manager will want to keep reading.
It’s up to you if you want to do a short paragraph, a list of bullet points, or an objective. The important thing is to mention specific experiences, skills, or accomplishments that are listed as required or preferred qualifications in the job description.
5. Get past the ATS
It’s sad but true: a human being might never see your amazing resume if you don’t focus on the ATS first. An ATS, or Applicant Tracking System, is an automated system that filters out applications or resumes that are missing key terms and phrases.
Set yourself up for success by integrating keywords from the job description and triple-checking for typos. At the same time, you’ll want to use a clear font, large margins, and left justification. And don’t put any vital information in your header or footer; the ATS often won’t be able to read it.
6. It’s all about the value-add
Rather than saying what you can do, show what you can do. The best way to do that is by listing unique accomplishments from your previous positions. Use action verbs and include numbers wherever possible for that extra wow factor. For example, “Developed social media marketing campaign that increased company’s website visitation by 35% year over year.”
“The Importance of Resume Action Verbs” will show you how to utilize action verbs to convey your unique professional accomplishments.
7. Tailor everything
Applying to jobs is not one-size-fits-all. Once you’ve shined your resume to perfection, you need to tailor it to the specific job at hand. Otherwise, you’ll never make it to an interview. Update your resume for every position to which you apply, including relevant keywords and emphasizing all the requirements and preferences listed in the job description.
8. Organize it chronologically
Again, simplicity is the name of the game. There are many ways to organize your resume, but classic is best. Start with your most recent accomplishments and roles, and then work your way back. And if you’ve followed our advice, you can still highlight your most impressive, relevant skills in your resume summary.
9. Keep it to one page
While not a hard rule, it’s best to keep your resume to a single page. Remember: Hiring managers skim; they don’t read every word. Consequently, a second page rarely gets the attention it deserves. The exception is if you’re a senior employee with 20+ years of experience or if you’re writing a CV.
10. You don’t need references
Years ago, it was considered a best practice to include a “References” section. Under that, candidates wrote, “Available upon request.” Nowadays, it’s considered a waste of space—and it can make it look like you don’t have enough experience to fill one page. If you make it through to the final round of interviews, you’ll almost definitely be asked for references.
11. Use a proofreader (or three)
Use your friends as editors. No matter how good of a writer you are, you will likely have typos—especially if you’ve been working on your resume for six hours straight. Getting someone else to review what you wrote will significantly increase the likelihood of weeding out any typos or other mistakes. So, swallow your pride, and have someone else (or better yet, several someone else’s) proofread your work.
Bonus points: anyone editing your resume can also ensure that the formatting travels well. Sometimes, a PDF shifts one line to a second page, or emailing a document as an attachment changes the font.
12. Match your resume and LinkedIn page
If you have a LinkedIn page, review it and ensure that it matches your resume. Many hiring managers check your LinkedIn, and any discrepancies between the two could lead them to think you’re hiding something. And while you’re there, get a couple of endorsements and recommendations—it can’t hurt!