Writing a resume is a complicated and often frustrating process. Every detail counts, and there is no shortage of conflicting information on what employers actually want to see, like an objective statement, your college GPA, hard and soft skills, or hobbies.
While you probably won't be rejected because you mentioned a love for knitting, it is true that what's on your resume can make or break your candidacy. To help you out, this infographic contains everything you need to know about producing an impressive resume.
Credit: Anita Rahman
Need some more guidance? Here's a breakdown of some important elements you should (and shouldn't) include on your resume, as well as a few other dos and don'ts.
Job skills you should list
Communication: writes clearly and concisely, speaks effectively, listens attentively, openly expresses ideas, negotiates/resolves differences, leads group discussions, provides feedback, persuades others, provides well-thought-out solutions, gathers appropriate information, confidently speaks in public
Interpersonal skills: works well with others, sensitive, supportive, motivates others, shares credit, counsels, cooperates, delegates effectively, represents others, understands feelings, self-confident, accepts responsibility
Research and planning: forecasts/predicts, creates ideas, identifies problems, meets goals, identifies resources, gathers information, solves problems, defines needs, analyzes issues, develops strategies, assesses situations
Organizational skills: handles details, coordinates tasks, punctual, manages projects effectively, meets deadlines, sets goals, keeps control over budget, plans and arranges activities
Management skills: leads groups, teaches/trains/instructs, counsels/coaches, manages conflict, delegates responsibility, makes decisions, directs others, implements decisions, enforces policies, takes charge
A survey by OfficeTeam, a Robert Half company, says that if you are going to use any of the following terms, you must be sure that they say something valuable about your skills or experience.
Highly qualified: Job seekers should describe what they bring to the role. Highlight your accomplishments in previous positions, emphasize specific skills, and note any certifications you earned.
Hard worker: Give details on how you've gone the extra mile. Have you regularly met tough deadlines, handled a high volume of projects or tackled tasks outside your job description?
Team player: Working well with others is a must for any role today. You should provide examples of how you have partnered with colleagues or individuals in other departments to meet an objective.
Problem-solver: People love others who can help them out of a pickle, but be specific when describing this quality. Highlight a difficult situation that you encountered and how you handled it.
Flexible: Hiring managers seek candidates who can adapt quickly to new situations. You should describe how you responded to a major change at work or dealt with the unpredictable aspects of the job.
People person: Employers want professionals with strong communication skills who can build camaraderie with internal and external contacts. Provide an example of when you won over a challenging customer or co-worker.
Self-starter: Companies seek individuals with initiative who can contribute immediately. Explain how you took action when you saw an issue that needed fixing.
Resume action words to include
Using strong words to describe your job duties helps a hiring manager quickly see what the focus of your job duties was and what impact you had at your company. You should choose your words carefully and avoid overstating your duties or trying too hard to be creative, as this can turn off the recruiter.
See the full list of resume action words.
Words to leave off your resume
A good rule of thumb is to avoid anything that does not serve a purpose, like cliches, buzzwords or filler phrases. You should also stay away from putting down skills that have become expected workplace norms, like proficiency in Microsoft Word.
Anne Grinols, assistant dean for faculty development and college initiatives at Baylor University, also said that candidates should avoid listing skills that could backfire or give employers the wrong impression. Grinols has conducted extensive research on why multitasking in particular is a poor skill to list on a resume.
"Employers are more interested in outcomes than efforts," Grinols said in a statement. "Multitasking refers to the latter."
Buzzwords and filler phrases like "highly qualified," "team player" and "problem-solver" say nothing valuable about you (unless, as noted above, you back them up with specific examples) and take up precious space on your resume.
"A resume full of cliches but short on specifics won't be memorable to hiring managers," said Robert Hosking, senior vice president and managing director of search practices at Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge. "Employers want concrete examples of professional achievements as well as descriptions of any transferable skills that can be applied to the open position."
A good way to make yourself memorable to the interviewer is to supplement your skills with descriptions that illustrate those qualities. For example, if you want to put "strong leadership qualities" on your resume, you can write it as "Strong leadership qualities – led a team of 50+ in a yearlong rebranding project by delegating tasks, monitoring progress, and guiding team members through discussion." This empowers your skills by demonstrating why you believe you have that skill and how you've used it.
See the full list of resume words to avoid.
Best resume fonts
Your resume only has seven seconds to make a positive impression on the hiring manager, so font, insignificant as it may seem, actually plays a large role in determining your candidacy. Recruiters spend most of their day looking through resumes, and using a bad or inappropriate font can throw them off and send your resume to the bottom of the pile.
Be sure to use a font with adequate white space both on screen and in print, and avoid trying to stand out with anything kitschy like Comic Sans or Papyrus.
These are some of the most recommended resume fonts:
- Century Old Style
See the full story on resume fonts.
Helpful resume hints
There are plenty of ways to help your resume stand out that won't annoy a hiring manager. The key is to keep the focus on your experience and accomplishments, not go overboard with trying to be different, and put half of your effort into making sure your resume is absolutely free of grammatical, formatting and spelling mistakes. Nothing can derail your candidacy faster than a hard-to-read and poorly formatted resume. Keep these tips in mind as well:
- Write a "career snapshot" summary.
- Watch your keywords.
- Go beyond your job tasks.
See more helpful resume hints.
Resume mistakes to avoid
Resume best practices and norms change quickly, so it's a good idea to do your research before you update your resume. For example, the objectives section is now considered superfluous and outdated, so you shouldn't include one. Make sure your resume is free of spelling and grammar errors, and that it matches your cover letter in terms of formatting. It can be helpful to send your resume around to friends or family to get fresh eyes on it. These are some basic mistakes to watch out for:
- Including an objective
- Listing obvious duties
- Providing outdated contact information
- Using poor formatting
See the full story on resume mistakes.
Additional reporting by Sammi Caramela.