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Updated Mar 13, 2024

Tips for Making a Great Resume

Your resume is the key piece of your job application. Here's how to get it right.

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Sammi Caramela, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
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This guide was reviewed by a Business News Daily editor to ensure it provides comprehensive and accurate information to aid your buying decision.

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With the current labor shortage and low unemployment rate, job seekers are at an advantage. However, that’s not to say you don’t need a professionally written resume. Employers still want to find and hire the best employees for each open position, and resumes are the first step in that search. Use the following strategies to make your resume stand out and demonstrate that you are the best candidate for the job.

How to create a great resume

Here are some tips for creating an impressive resume.

1. Assemble your job history and skills.

The first step in creating your resume should include your relevant job history, industry experience and applicable skills. While you might feel tempted to add every place you’ve ever worked at, narrow down your history to only list relevant roles or experiences. This will keep your resume concise and direct hiring managers and recruiters to the right place. However, this also might mean creating multiple resumes and tailoring them to the specific job/company you’re applying to.

From there, format your resume so that it is easy to identify your qualifications. For instance, if you advanced in a company quickly, draw attention to that growth, said Claire Bissot, SPHR and director of Kainos Capital. If you excessively job-hopped, bullet those jobs without providing specifics and detail more applicable positions. This will play to your assets.

When structuring your resume, make sure the information is presented in a logical order, said career coach Veronica Yao. 

“A hiring manager [will] read your resume starting at the top and ending at the bottom. However, if they don’t finish reading the whole thing — and they often don’t — you still want to ensure your strongest points come across.”

2. Use an original resume template.

Employers appreciate originality. While it’s helpful to refer to a professional resume template, don’t follow it rigidly, as this might actually deter potential employers.

“I often pass over resumes that match Microsoft Office templates,” Bissot told Business News Daily. “The templates are meant to be a guide to get started, but it should be expanded on to make it your own.”

Showcase your expertise in an appealing and eye-catching manner so you stand out from other applicants, especially if you’re in a creative industry. Include hyperlinks, aesthetic formatting, colors and shading, testimonials and other unique features. Use your resume to tell your career story. For instance, you can write an interesting “about me” section to personalize and summarize your experiences.

3. Fill out the sections.

Use bullet points or short lines to outline your job responsibilities and accomplishments for each role you’ve listed on your resume. This will help recruiters and hiring managers better understand your experiences and how you’ve helped that company grow. 

Typically, it’s best to use action verbs and data-backed words rather than “fluff.” For example, if you’re outlining social media marketing experience, rather than simply stating “I managed social media platforms for my client,” write “Increased social media lead generation by X percent year-over-year.” This cuts to the point and backs up your credentials with hard data to showcase your success. 

4. Choose the file type.

Most employers prefer resumes as Microsoft Word documents (.doc) or PDF files. Microsoft Word documents are the most traditional and widely accepted file types for resumes, but PDFs ensure the formatting doesn’t become wonky after submission. 

However, when you’re dealing with applicant tracking systems (ATS), Word documents are easier for these systems to read through and pick up on important keywords. This is important if you want to stand out in modern recruiting. If you submit a PDF or other file, you might get automatically rejected if the system cannot read it. A general rule of thumb is to save both versions of your resume and submit a Word document to applications on job sites and a PDF when sending directly to a recruiter or hiring manager. [Read related article: Ways AI Is Changing HR Departments]

5. Proofread the draft.

Before you submit your resume anywhere, proofread it yourself and ask a trusted friend or professional contact to do the same. One minor mistake or grammatical error could result in countless rejections. Your resume is your first — and often only — chance to impress a potential employer, and you should treat it as such.

Here are a few things to look at:

  • Spelling, grammar and punctuation: A hiring manager will likely automatically dismiss your application if they spot a typo or grammatical error. “Make sure it’s error-free and easy to read,” said Diya Obeid, founder and CEO of ATS company JobDiva. “HR reps equate typos and errors with laziness. Use good English — the written word has a huge impact on the employer.”
  • Formatting: “Review formatting very closely, including font, alignment and spacing,” Bissot said. “Related issues can often be perceived as a sign of lacking technical skills and/or attention to detail.”
  • Headings: Yao said that candidates often submit applications addressed to the wrong employer or outline experience that’s irrelevant to the role. “Receiving a resume that’s crafted and addressed to someone else — or worse, a competitor — can be a huge turnoff and will set a negative tone even if they do choose to continue reading your application.”

Resume writing tips

It can be difficult to succinctly present all of your experiences and qualifications on one page, but there are many ways to spruce up your resume without going overboard. To help you land an interview, we rounded up some of the best resume-writing tips.

1. Keep your resume short and direct.

The No. 1 rule of writing a resume is to keep it short and to the point. The general rule is no more than one page unless you have a good reason for it to be longer, like an extensive career or a lot of highly applicable work experience.

An easy way to keep your resume concise is to include only recent, relevant experience. While that yearlong first job might have taught you a lot about the field, you don’t always need to include every detail from your entire career history.

Most experts recommend including jobs from the previous 10 or 15 years only, although this time frame may be shorter if you are new to the workforce. Including too many unrelated work experiences can make your resume appear too busy and draw attention away from your relevant qualifications. Your resume should be focused, clear and concise.

TipTip
If you are an older job seeker, here are some things you can do to condense and age-proof your resume.

2. Highlight relevant skills and experiences.

Using the same resume for every job you apply for is not the best approach. Instead, your resume should target the specific job you are applying for. Prioritize the skills, qualifications and experiences that are directly applicable to the job you are trying to land.

Choose three or four former positions or experiences that best highlight the skills required for each position for which you apply. Employers value brevity; this is not the time to list every position you have ever held. For example, if you are applying for a marketing position, you could include your former retail experience and bullet the communication, branding and interpersonal skills you learned in that position.

If you don’t have a work history that directly relates to the job you are applying for, be creative with how you present your other experiences. Draw on the skills you used and how your contributions benefited the organization or project. [Read related article: 22 In-Demand Skills to Help You Get the Job]

3. Demonstrate results with numbers and metrics.

When you write about your previous work experience, it is always a good idea to quantify your successes with numbers. Metrics can highlight your achievements and give the hiring manager or recruiter a clear sense of how you impacted your previous place of employment. For example, someone who previously worked as a sales representative might say that they “executed more than 50 cold calls daily, with an average 5 percent conversion rate.”

4. Craft a career snapshot.

More recently, career experts have urged job seekers to do away with the old “objective” statement and instead consider including a brief summary, called a “career snapshot,” at the top of their resume.

“With the career snapshot, you present a branding statement that briefly explains your unique value as well as your skills and qualifications,” said Tomer Sade, CEO of Book a Space. “This would then be followed by a few bullet points that highlight your experience and your accomplishments. Whatever you list here should be relevant to the position you’re applying to.”

“The top third of your resume is prime resume real estate,” added Lisa Rangel, an executive resume writer and CEO of Chameleon Resumes. “Create a robust summary to capture the hiring manager’s eye.”

Think of your career snapshot as an answer to the question “How would you describe your work experience in one sentence?” The summary is an opportunity to sum up your most relevant and important skills, experience or assets right off the bat.

5. Optimize your text.

If a company uses an ATS to collect and scan resumes, a human hiring manager may never see any application that doesn’t fit the job criteria they’ve entered. Trish O’Brien, vice president of human capital operations at Lifelong Learner Holdings, emphasized adapting your resume to the position to increase your likelihood of passing the first level.

“Make sure you’ve carefully reviewed the posting and … [used] the appropriate keywords in your resume to get past the screener,” O’Brien said. “Be truthful, but understand that the first pass on your resume is likely via an ATS.”

A helpful tip is to make sure you include keywords from the job post in your resume. Copy and paste the job description into a word-cloud generator to identify the most frequently used terms, and make sure the terms that apply to you are used in your resume. You can also create a “core competencies” or “areas of expertise” section of your resume to list all of your hard and soft skills, and then reiterate those skills when you bullet your experience.

Did You Know?Did you know
According to Zippia, using keywords and industry jargon can increase your likelihood of getting an interview by nearly 30 percent.

6. Think beyond your job duties.

Hiring managers don’t want to read a list of your job duties. They want concrete examples of your accomplishments in previous positions that show how you can make a difference in this new position.

Rangel said that specific merits are more engaging to read than just your experiences. For example, “I reduced operating expenses by 23 percent in six months” is far more interesting to an employer than “I have 30 years of sales experience.”

When deciding what information to keep or cut out of your resume, focus on striking abstract traits and qualifications in favor of concrete, quantifiable results.

“The best resumes highlight a job candidate’s actions and results,” said Bob Myhal, chief marketing officer at CBC Automotive Marketing. “Employers want employees who get things done and who take great joy and pride in what they do. Rather than a laundry list of your qualifications, your resume should reflect your accomplishments and enthusiasm for your career.”

You shouldn’t ignore your skills section either. Sade reminded job seekers to list any industry-relevant apps or programs they’re familiar with and to find ways to incorporate examples of their emotional intelligence (e.g., self-awareness, empathy) and soft skills (e.g., work ethic, reliability) into their job descriptions.

7. Use the right language to stand out.

Trite, lackluster descriptions of your job duties and accomplishments won’t do you any favors. Make sure you’re using strong action words, such as “achieved,” “designed,” “improved” and “established,” to describe your roles and projects, said Sade. This will make you sound confident while imparting vital information. But be cautious about depending on action verbs — include details about how you improved a process or achieved a goal.

“Words such as ‘professional,’ ‘results-driven’ and ‘detail-oriented’ provide very little helpful information,” Sade said. “It’s better to use actual job titles than these words.”

Key TakeawayKey takeaway
Use a combination of action words to highlight your experience and make your resume easier to read.

Obeid said that you should remove words like “go-getter,” “team player” and “go-to person” from your resume. These come off as fluff and take up precious space on your resume.

8. List your social media profiles.

Many hiring managers today screen candidates on social networks. Save them a step by providing your profile links on your resume. Seasoned applicants with a professional social presence would do well to include URLs for their LinkedIn profile, Twitter account and blog, if applicable.

“If, and only if, your social media accounts are filled with professional posts pertaining to your industry, listing them on your resume can be advantageous,” said Richie Frieman, author of REPLY ALL … and Other Ways to Tank Your Career. “They can show you have a strong network and are up to speed with modern-day marketing and communications practices. The hiring manager will see that you like to keep up with what’s happening and that you care about learning more.”

Your social profiles can be a powerful recruitment tool to supplement your experience and position as an expert in your field, but only if they are leveraged correctly.

FYIDid you know
If your social profiles are not professionally applicable, do not list them on your resume, and make sure they are set to private.

Importance of a great resume

Your resume is the most important document you’ll submit in your job search. It’s your frontline fighter, so to speak, as it’s your first opportunity to present yourself to a potential employer. A professional resume will help you achieve the following:

  • Increase your earning potential. According to the Zippia research, professionally written resumes are not only good for landing an interview, but they can also boost your earning potential by 7 percent to 32 percent. 
  • Increase your chances of securing a new role. Zippia also found that 68 percent of job seekers who have worked with a professional resume writer landed a new job in under 90 days. If your resume lacks professionalism or relevance to the positions you’re applying to, you likely won’t receive as many opportunities.
  • Quickly impress recruiters and hiring managers. Hiring managers and recruiters look at resumes for an average of only six to seven seconds each, so make every second count. A strong resume can help you stand out from the crowd, but a weak resume can remove you from the running.
  • Decrease your number of rejections. According to Zippia, you need to send an average of 50 to 100 resumes before you get hired. However, the more impressive and professional your resume is, the lower this number will be — and the less you will have to wait to start a new job.

Make a great first impression

Your resume is a great way to showcase your experience and make a solid first impression. It doesn’t matter how talented, passionate or experienced you are — if a recruiter or hiring manager is unimpressed by your resume, you won’t get the chance to sell yourself. If you follow the tips above, you’ll increase your chances of moving on to the interview stage of the hiring process and landing the job of your dreams.

Kiely Kuligowski and Skye Schooley contributed to this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Sammi Caramela, Business Operations Insider and Senior Writer
Sammi Caramela is a trusted business advisor whose work for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others centers around creating digestible but informative guidance on all things small business. Whether she's discussing cash flow management or intellectual property, work trends or employer branding, Caramela provides actionable tips designed for small business owners to take their entrepreneurship to the next level. Caramela, who also lends her expertise to the financial outlet 24/7 Wall St., has business management experience that allows her to provide personal insights on day-to-day operations and the working relationship between managers and independent contractors. Amidst all this, Caramela has found time to publish a young adult novel, develop a poetry collection and contribute short stories to various anthologies.
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