Your resume is all about selling yourself to potential employers, but you only have a brief window of time for your resume to do its job. Job recruiters spend an average of just 3.14 minutes reviewing a resume, and most make up their minds about the candidate just a minute into reading. That means you need your resume to effectively showcase your qualifications and skills in a way that grabs employers’ attention and sets you apart from the mountains of other resumes flooding their inboxes.
There is no one recipe for writing a great resume. Employers in different industries will be keeping an eye out for different things, but there are a few good rules to keep in mind when you are putting together your resume. Here are five core questions — and their answers — to help you create an effective resume.
What Makes a Good Resume?
This is a big question, and one of the most frequently asked. Good resumes can look completely different, but they all have a few things in common.
- Keep it short. Resume length is a highly debated topic. Some people passionately argue going over a page is not a problem, but as a general rule, try to keep your resume on a single page. Recruiters only spend a few minutes on each resume, and they are not going to make an exception for a long one. They will just stop reading.
Think about the most important skills and experience you want a recruiter to see, then focus on getting that information on your resume concisely. Cut anything that seems unnecessary or extraneous. Save that information for the interview. A resume is only about the absolute essentials.
- Keep it organized. Switching up the order of a resume might seem like a good way to stand out, but you run the risk of having a disorganized resume. Generally, you should list your experience, beginning with your most recent position. This format will give employers an organized timeline to follow. If recruiters have to skip around your resume looking for important information, they probably will not consider you a top candidate.
- Keep it clean. A “clean” resume means a couple of things. First, you will want your resume to be completely free of grammar and spelling errors. A messy resume with typos or other mistakes is going to be a big red flag for employers. In fact, 59 percent of employers will toss a resume merely because of a spelling or grammar mistake. Take the extra time not only to use spellcheck, but also look for errors you may have overlooked. You do not want a silly mistake to knock you out of the running for a job you want.
The second part of a clean resume has to do with design. You have to walk a fine line between standing out and not overpowering the eye. Many job applicants fall prey to fancy designs and unique fonts, thinking it will help differentiate them from the crowd. Going overboard with formatting can make your resume look busy and cluttered — qualities that usually put your resume in the “no” pile.
Stick with a simple design and font size between 10 and 12 points. Focus on making yourself stand out by describing your unique skills and experience.
- Keep it easy to read. You have a very short amount of time to catch a recruiter’s eye. Make it easy for them to read your resume and pick out the important information. Use bullet points to make your resume easy to scan. Do not use a tiny font or crowd all your information too close together.
Don’t feel like you have to show off your impressive vocabulary. Use simple, professional language to make your point. Overly ornate phrasing will take up valuable space on your resume you could otherwise use to showcase more of your experience.
- Give examples. Think of your resume as your opportunity to stand out. “Hard worker” is a generic quality anyone could put on their resume. Instead of being one of that crowd, give a specific example of how you worked hard on a project, and what the results of that hard work were. Use numbers, if possible. Concrete examples like this give employers a tangible look at your skills and how they could be valuable.
What Should Be on a Resume?
If you are wondering what to include on a resume, there are a few common elements.
- Your contact information. Recruiters want to know whose resume they are looking at. Make sure your name and contact experience are at the top of your resume.
- Your experience. This is the meat of your resume — the information employers are the most interested in. As the most important component of your resume, it should be front and center.
How do your background and skills make you an asset in this new position? Do not be afraid to brag a little here. Be sure to include the name of each position you have held and at which companies, as well as the dates for each job.
Next, you will want to offer a brief description of your responsibilities. What did you do at each job? Remember, don’t get stuck listing everything you did. Instead, list the biggest and most relevant responsibilities, and focus on how you handled them. Give examples of your accomplishments at each position.
- Your education. Your education is an important component of your resume, but it should come after your relevant experience. If you are on your first job search after graduation, it is OK to feature your education more prominently.
- Your skills. “What skills should I put on my resume?” is another common question job seekers ask. The answer largely depends on what kind of job you are going after. Think about what skills the job you are applying for will require. Do you have any of those skills? Those are the key qualities you will want to highlight.
Now, how should you list skills on a resume? Bullet points are your best choice. Do not make employers sift through a bunch of words to find your core strengths. List them so they are easy to find and easy to read.
- Your awards. Did you win any awards or earn special recognition, either during your school years or in your career experience? Your resume is a great place to brag about those accomplishments, particularly if they are relevant to the job you are applying for.
- Adding keywords is one of the most important tips for writing a resume. Chances are, your first hurdle to getting your resume into the right hands isn’t going to be a person, but rather some kind of online application system. These systems are designed to track and find keywords that are relevant to a particular position.
Some of these keywords will be common sense, but you can also do a little research to find out the top keywords employers are looking for in your industry.
What Shouldn’t Be on a Resume?
Recruiters reject resumes for several reasons, including:
- Spelling and grammar errors: 59 percent
- Unprofessional tone: 50 percent
- Clichés: 50 percent
- Too long: 47 percent
- Unnecessary details like borders and backgrounds: 44 percent
- Writing in the third person: 43 percent
- Emojis or clip art: 42 percent
- Unnecessary quotes: 39 percent
- Unprofessional email address: 32 percent
- Inappropriate font: 31 percent
Skip any of those pitfalls on your resume to avoid it getting tossed aside.
You want to give your potential future employer as much information about yourself as possible, but sometimes less is more. You want to provide relevant information that will catch their eye, but you do not want to create a resume so crammed with information that recruiters will discard it immediately without a second glance.
Here a few key things you’re better off not including on your resume.
- Personal information. The only personal information your resume needs is your name and contact information. Anything beyond that is unnecessary. Employers are not interested in your hobbies, and you certainly should not include information like your Social Security number.
- Irrelevant experience. Space on your resume is valuable. Do not waste it with information about work experience that won’t help you get the position you are after. For example, forget the afterschool job you had in high school, and focus on a professional internship.
- An objective. A written objective is a typical resume starter, but it can often be a waste of space and time. Recruiters know you are interested in the position because you sent in your resume. If you want to have some sort of introduction before diving into your experience, include a brief career summary at the top of your resume instead.
- Images are another tempting way to make your resume stand out to recruiters. You might even be an excellent graphic designer, but it is usually best to leave the charts and graphs off of your resume. Recruiters might find the page too busy to look at, or worse, an online system could confuse the formatting of your resume.
How Do You Write a Resume?
Now you know what recruiters are looking for and what will make them reject a resume, but you are still probably wondering, “How do I write a resume?” Writing a good resume takes time and patience. Here are a few reliable tips on how to make a great resume that stands out.
- Pick a format. There are several different resume formats, including chronological, functional, combination, and targeted. A chronological format is the most common. By listing your experience in reverse chronological order, you can show recruiters the logical progression of your career.
The functional format focuses less on chronological order and more on displaying your skills. It’s an excellent option for those switching career tracks, or people who have significant gaps in their career history.
A combination resume pulls elements from both chronological and functional formats. This type of resume shows your career progression and illustrates your skills.
A targeted resume focuses on a specific job opportunity. For this format, you examine the job listing and tailor your resume to fit what the recruiter is seeking.
Each resume format has its benefits. You can always do some industry-specific research to see what recruiters in your field prefer.
- Choose style elements. The next step for writing your resume is selecting the font type and size. Basic fonts are a good general rule to follow when it comes to putting together an effective resume. Some of the top resume fonts include Times New Roman, Calibri, Verdana, and Arial. When it comes to size, between 10 and 12 points is a safe bet. You do not want your text to be too large or too small.
- Organize your information. Once you have your format and your font, you need to figure out how to order your information. Sequencing can vary based on the format, but the traditional order begins with your name and contact information. Then, you can include a career summary if you think it is important. Next, you will want to showcase your previous, and relevant, work experience. After that, you can list your education.
- Think about how you write your information. How you present your information is just as important as what the information is. Do not write in the third person. Recruiters already know this document is about you. One of the best tips for how to write a job resume is to focus on bullet-pointed statements that use strong action verbs. Avoid passive and overly wordy sentences. Stick with succinct, simple, and strong writing.
What Sets a Resume Apart From the Competition?
If you are wondering how to write a professional resume that stands out, think about what makes you different. Forget about gimmicks like a fancy font or images — instead, focus on what sets you apart and try these tips for a good resume.
- Follow instructions. You would be surprised how many people do not read a complete job listing. Recruiters might include specific instructions for the application process. For example, they may want you to send your resume as a PDF. Keep an eye out for instructions like this — chances are, a lot of people will miss this type of detail. Correctly following instructions demonstrates your attention to detail and indicates you are serious about pursuing the job.
- Tailor your resume. Recruiters get hundreds of resumes, if not more, for a single job opportunity. Set yourself apart by tailoring your resume to the job description. If you want to know how to list skills on a resume, take a look at how the job description does it. Pick out the skills you have and describe how you have used those skills in past positions. Resumes that are customized to fit the job description will stand out.
- Include details. Your resume is your first opportunity to shine. Give detailed examples of how you have used your skills and carried out your job responsibilities. If you can give concrete examples with numbers, do not hesitate. Specifics will set you apart from the crowd of generic resumes that are just a laundry list of job responsibilities.
Looking at templates is an excellent way to get inspired to start working on your resume. You can also reach out to Vista College’s career services to help you create the resume that will put you on the path to your career.