I’ve read just about every article on resume writing, and none of them are comprehensive. Here’s my take.
It’s a starting point, but you’ll have to take it further with the things specific to your industry. Feel free to suggest edits—I’m open to revisions.
Give yourself enough time
If a job you’re applying for has a deadline, start working on your resume at least 1–2 weeks before. A first impression isn’t something you want to rush.
Do your research
Study resumes from your industry. How do people in your desired role present themselves? What kinds of experiences and skills do they emphasize? Take note of recurring themes.
Don’t start typing without purpose. Compile all the info you can find on past jobs, education, and anything else you found relevant in the previous step.
Know your worth
It’s not about what you did—it’s how what you did added value. Think about work experiences in terms of results, not just responsibilities. Whenever possible, get numbers to back it up.
Managed social media presence
Increased followers on social media by 150%, resulting in a $45,000 rise in sales
Recruiters look at your resume for ~6 seconds, so make every word count.
Don’t worry about layout
That’ll come later. For now, just write.
“But what if I write all this great content and it doesn’t fit onto the page?”
You’ll never regret writing too much, but you’ll always regret writing too little. It’s better to trim than add extra words just to fill white space.
Use bullet points
They’re easier to skim. Why? Because each sentence begins on a new line, so the reading path is predictable. Try it yourself!
Conducted extensive research to compile biographical content and current information in preparation for interviews. Recorded, edited, and posted interviews and videos for public consumption. Implemented creative control in the overall interviewing style and process.
* Conducted extensive research to compile biographical content and current information in preparation for interviews
* Recorded, edited, and posted interviews and videos for public consumption
* Implemented creative control in the overall interviewing style and process
Keep your sentences short and simple
This isn’t an English paper. Sentences can start with verbs. Words like a, an, and the aren’t necessary. Long sentences aren’t impressive, just annoying—break them up.
I identified 77 accounts with negative contribution to overhead and worked with the claims and sales departments to develop a plan-of-action to either work with accounts to improve their losses or terminate fraudulent accounts.
Identified 77 accounts with negative contribution to overhead. Worked with claims and sales to improve account losses or terminate fraudulent accounts.
Get your point across in the first few words
The rest of the sentence isn’t guaranteed to be read. Don’t forget to start with action verbs!
Used projected risk and coverage levels to develop pricing for 40 products
Developed pricing for 40 products based on projected risk and coverage levels
Before, you had to read the entire sentence to know what happened.
After, you have a basic understanding from the first couple words.
Current job, present tense. Past job, past tense.
Mix and master vocal arrangements and music compositions
Mixed and mastered vocal arrangements and music compositions
- …your physical address. In most cases, no one’s sending you a letter.
- …more than one page. You only get 6 seconds—be concise.
- …“References available upon request.” If a company wants references, they’ll ask you.
- …an objective statement. If necessary, sell your qualifications in a summary statement instead. Guess what companies care more about: your goals, or how you can benefit theirs?
Numbers should be numbers
What’s easier to skim: ninety-two percent or 92%?
Wherever you include an email or web profile (e.g. LinkedIn), hyperlink the text. In most cases, your resume will be viewed on a screen—take advantage of that and make contacting you easier.
> If you print physicals as well, remove the link styling (e.g. underlines, colored text) before printing.
Don’t use underlines for emphasis
They make text harder to read, and can get confused with hyperlinks. Go with bold or italics.
This is where it all comes together. If you wrote without a specific layout in mind, you’ll have more flexibility here.
You’ll likely have to cut content to fit the layout. It’ll teach you an important life skill: how to prioritize.
Order by most recent
For any section, list your most recent experiences first. Recruiters want a sense of where you’re at right now—not where you were 3 years ago. You only get 6 seconds, so don’t make them hunt for it.
Get fancy (optional)
If you know design software like InDesign, you can get fancy with custom fonts, multiple columns, and the like. Hell, you can even do that in Word. Don’t go overboard though.
PDF is the only way to go
Word documents can’t be viewed on phones. And unlike PDFs, they can look different on someone else’s computer.
6. Get feedback
If you didn’t wait until last-minute, this step can be extremely useful.
If you did, this step is messaging people you’re less and less familiar with until one of them gets back to you by your “could you get back to me soon? it’s due at midnight lol” deadline. You get rushed feedback, and they get annoyed; it’s a lose-lose.
Ask for feedback intelligently
If you ask something vague like
“What do you think?”
don’t be surprised when you get responses like
“Looks good to me!”
Before sending my resume over, I like to preface it with
“What are 3 ways to improve this?”
I can’t promise it’ll work 100% of the time, but I’ve found that it helps. My guess is that it primes someone to be actively critical, instead of just looking for mistakes.
Don’t get defensive
Shut up and listen. You shouldn’t have to explain or justify things, because you won’t get to do that to the recruiter. Getting defensive is the easiest way to never get honest feedback again.
First impressions matter
If your friend says,
“At first I thought you meant X, but after reading it again, I get that you meant Y!”
…that shouldn’t be a source of comfort. Unlike your friends, recruiters won’t look at your resume twice. Rewrite anything that’s not 100% clear.
Sleep on it
When you work on something for too long, your judgment becomes questionable. It’s tempting to get it over with, but editing with fresh eyes will lead to better results.
Use your discretion
You don’t have to take every suggestion. But if you don’t take any, you probably think too highly of your writing.
Know your audience
You may be applying for multiple roles, or even multiple industries. You could use the same resume for each, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
Let’s say you’re considering jobs in nonprofit and finance. These fields have very different priorities and value different things in employees. You probably want to emphasize something like volunteer work when applying to nonprofits, whereas it’s much less important for finance.
Creating multiple, purpose-specific resumes allows you to highlight your most relevant experiences. It’s more work, but it’ll make for a stronger job app.
Note that there’s no “right” approach; it could be as dramatic as replacing and rearranging entire sections, or as subtle as changing a few words. Use your initial research on resume standards, and a bit of discretion.
You may be thinking, “Who actually cares this much about resumes?” And you’re right. Your resume is only the first of many steps in job recruiting.
Like a Tinder profile, its sole purpose is getting your foot in the door. Also like Tinder, you can get away with a low-effort profile if you’re really hot.
…unlike Tinder, though, it’s a lot harder to say you “weren’t even trying” if you get rejected.