My Top 35 Resume Writing Tips (plus free PDF checklist)
You can download these resume writing tips in checklist form here, and if you need more detail about any of the items, it's all covered in the blog post below!
A resume is the most important document you will ever own - it either opens doors to career and financial success, or closes them.
I know, re-doing your resume is one of those tasks you keep pushing to the bottom of your to-do list, because it is ZEROOOO fun.
But one day you'll need it, whether for a last-minute promotion or a sudden layoff, and you do not want to be scrambling at a time when you're already stressed out.
So, I'm going to make this a lot more fun, and a bit easier on you.
The fun part? Picking out and starting to fill in a nice, shiny new resume template that will help your name POP and stand out from your competition.
Then, you've got to put in a bit of work making sure your content is as awesome as your new design. And I'm here to make that easier for you.
Even if you pick just a handful of these tips, you'll be ahead of your competition, who for the most part are lazy and are just copy/pasting their job descriptions, not putting much effort in.
You see, I have become obsessed with resumes and have quite the history with them. I’ve seen a ton, written quite a few, designed too many to count, researched the heck out of the best practices for TODAY, and then compiled and outlined everything you need to do (and not do).
Because when I was starting my job search, the internet was full of.. a lot. A lot of old information, a lot of conflicting information, and I was so overwhelmed that I just gave up.
BUT NOT YOU! Nope, you are going to fill in your nice new template with some killer content, land that job, and then write me a review telling me about your new job as so many of my previous customers have done (2,000+ 5 star reviews here).
So buck up, grab a coffee (or a cocktail) and start putting your best foot forward. Because a resume is PRETTY FRICKIN' IMPORTANT and can open the door to land you a promotion, a new job you love, more $$$, etc.
Isn't a little effort worth it?
I’m going to start with the basics, and end with some killer content tips, so be sure to read to the very end! And you can download this guide in checklist form here to make sure you've got it all covered!
1. Disregard any resume length "rules"
PLEASE do not limit the length of your resume based on any “rules.” The length of your resume is no longer important. Its relevance to the target job is important.
You need to sell yourself as best you can, while ensuring your resume has good page design, consistent white space and adequate spacing.
This might mean making your resume two well spaced out pages instead of one difficult to read page in size 8 font.
Because if your 1.5-2 page resume is smushed onto 1 page and looks painful to read, it is painful to read, and it won't get read.
2. Skip the free template: it's time to upgrade
Make your own or buy one, because everyone and their mothers are using those free MS Word templates and hiring managers are sick of looking at them.
Buy a pretty template and you will IMMEDIATELY stand out - and after implementing all of these resume tips, your resume content will be as amazing as the design.
But, just make sure you choose an appropriate design for your target job (see below).
3. Use an appropriate design for your profession
I know, there are a ton of cute and pretty template designs out there, but unless you’re in a more creative industry, skip them and choose something that fits your profession.
No cursive fonts or purple accents if you're going for a conservative job, people. I shouldn't have to say this, but ohh I do.
If you're in a conservative field, choose from one of my professional designs. Stick to conservative colors no matter what (muted colors, like navy, gray, beige). NO purples, pinks, neons, red, orange or yellow! A resume is not for showing off your personality and you won't be taken seriously.
4. Ditch the photo
Please don’t include a photo on your resume unless you’re in a profession that requires it or the listing specifically states to include one: modeling, acting, some types of sales, etc. Photos on a resume are common if you’re in practically any country other than the US, but here it’s a big no-no. If anyone really wants to know what you look like, they can (and they will) stalk you on LinkedIn.
5. Ditch the social media links
Unless your social media is completely dedicated to your work, impressive side job, or charity, keep it off your resume! This is a RESUME. Keep it professional.
6. Make sure your email address is professional
If you’re still holding onto that email address from middle school and it looks something like this - firstname.lastname@example.org - PLEASE create a new, professional email address just for your resume and work life.
Don't use a family email address either. Like email@example.com.
If you still have an AOL or Hotmail email address, upgrade to Gmail. You do not want to risk looking like you're stuck in the 90's technologically because I see those addresses all the time and I can't help but judge you for it. =)
7. Shorten your LinkedIn URL (!!!!!!)
If you include a link to your LinkedIn page, please shorten the URL.
Most default URLs look something like this: www.linkedin.com/in/firstname-lastname-789643963
But, you can change the part after the “/in/” to whatever you want! Your goal is to make it as short and sweet as possible, so it just looks like this: www.linkedin.com/in/FirstLast
You change your URL on the right side of your Profile page: directions here.
8. Include the most targeted and impressive info on page 1
You need to keep the most impressive and targeted (to the posting) information on page 1, specifically the top two-thirds, because that's all the reader's most likely reading before they get bored and move on (UNLESS your content is amazing thanks to my resume writing tips).
If you have really great achievements from jobs that aren’t current enough to make it to page 1, you can add in an Achievements section right below (or instead of) your Professional Profile but before your Experience to include all your most impressive (and targeted) information.
9. Be mindful of the ATS
Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are software used by companies that receive, sort, and store resumes of job applicants.
The ATS will then spit out resume information to a human who asks for specific criteria.
But, your resume can get snubbed by the ATS and never get seen by human eyes if it’s in the wrong format and unreadable, doesn’t include relevant keywords from the job posting, is missing some of the posting requirements, etc.
To increase your chances of being chosen by the ATS:
- upload your resume in PDF format
- target your resume to the job posting by including relevant keywords (more on this later)
- and keep your headings as common resume terms (read on for the details)
10. Headings should be common resume terms
For example: Experience, Skills, Expertise, Education, Volunteer, Professional Profile, Summary, etc. Don’t try to be cute with your headings.
Stick to the basics, because an ATS will search for specific headings, looking for the content you have underneath. If it doesn’t find a common heading, it doesn’t find your content.
11. Ditch the objective statement
Yup, the times have changed. This area is no longer called an Objective Statement, and you are not going to write an Objective Statement, because companies do not care what your objectives are (I know, so sad!).
Do not write what you are looking for in a job, like this: “Technician seeking a position with XYZ Company to further my skills and interest in Pharmacy.”
12. Instead, create a Professional Profile
Call it a Professional Profile, or a Career Summary. This is different than an Objective, because you are going to sell yourself and convince the reader that you would be an asset to their company and that they NEED you!
For example: “Technician with six years of experience in a 500+ prescription per day, long term care pharmacy. Proven ability to increase efficiency and reduce errors with creative new ideas and processes. Extensive knowledge of specialty pharmacy practices, rules and regulations.”
This is great, because: You gave a general overview of your experience and skills, mentioned how you can solve a big pharmacy problem (efficiency/speed and reducing errors), and displayed what you know (which can help the company with another pharmacy problem: regulations).
The point is, the reader (prospective employer) comes first. This is where you want to show why you’ll be an asset to the organization and what you can do for them.
This paragraph needs to entice the reader to continue reading and find out more.
You can also give a broad summary of your career, or mention any amazing accomplishments that reside on later resume pages to entice the reader to make it past page one.
You want to present your best self here, so find your greatest accomplishments/traits and really show yourself off!
13. Put Education in its place
Education doesn’t always come first on a resume.
For new graduates, put this section at the top.
But if you’ve been out of college for a while (i.e. if you graduated before the year 2000), your Experience and Skills sections will be more important, so put this section further down the page, and for the love of GOD do not include your graduation date, there's no reason for it.
The exception is for professions where academic qualifications dominate: medicine, law, etc. Your degrees should be listed from highest to lowest level.
If you graduated college, PLEASE don’t include high school.
In your Education section, you need to include:
- The full name of your degree (or expected degree)
- Your concentration
- The college/university name
- The town and state
- The year you graduated (or expect to): omit this if it was over 15 years ago.
- Your GPA, but only if it’s above 3.0
- Any impressive awards or honors you received
If you went to college and are done but did not graduate, list any related coursework and omit the degree name and date.
If you are still in college and are expecting to graduate, for the date just add the word “expected” before the date: Expected May 2022.
You can also list certifications that you’re working on, just add “expected” and the expected date.
14. List your work experience in reverse chronological order
Make sure to list you work experience from most current to oldest, from date of hire. This is called a "chronological resume," and despite what others may tell you, is what employers really want to see.
Most hiring managers want to see what you did in each job, not just a broad list of your accomplishments or skills without any idea of what job they correlate to, as you would do with a "functional resume."
There are some situations where a chronological format may not be the best way to display your accomplishments, and in that case I recommend creating two sections under Experience:
- Relevant Experience first (where you can list your most applicable jobs and related accomplishments so they show up on page 1)
- Additional Experience last (put all your other random experience here, so it lands on page 2)
15. Create one master resume
If you’re applying to jobs that are all a bit different, you should have one “master” resume and change it every time you apply to a specific job (or similar jobs).
Your master resume should include every single thing you can think of that you’ve done. You’re not going to send it out, so you can keep it in draft form.
You need to have a master list of all of your skills, duties, and achievements from every single job you’ve held that you can pick and choose from to create a RELEVANT and TARGETED resume for each job you apply to (more below).
16. Target your resume to each job you apply for
Your resume could be pretty amazing, and STILL not be chosen by a human or an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) simply because your resume does not match any keywords from the job posting.
Think of it as a Google search. When you search for something on Google, Google pulls keywords from websites and finds you the best match. That’s exactly what an ATS does.
If your resume isn’t relevant to the job at hand and doesn’t include job posting or industry keywords or you don’t meet the requirements, your resume won’t get pulled.
The job posting will tell you exactly what the prospective employer is looking for in an ideal candidate, so you need to create a resume that matches the target job’s requirements, skills, and responsibilities.
You need to BECOME the ideal candidate (without lying, of course!).
If you don’t have any of the skills or requirements needed, don’t apply to the job! Find another that fits you better.
You have to focus on the employer’s needs. Remember, they’re looking to fill a specific position, with specific duties, skills, and requirements and probably have hundreds of applicants to choose from.
So, not including essential keywords might leave your resume unseen (and is the #1 reason why applicants get rejected immediately).
17. Include keywords from the job posting
As stated above, you MUST include keywords from the job posting. Here’s an easy way to find keywords:
- Print out or insert your target job posting into a Word document.
- Identify and highlight any target job titles, skills, requirements, responsibilities, duties, keywords, etc.
- If there are a few similar jobs you're interested in, collect all of the listings and identify any skills, keywords, requirements, etc. that are common to all listings.
- Identify any problems to solve. Take note of the daily duties of the position and what problems you will need to identify/prevent/solve on a daily basis.
- Identify how you can help the company in terms of money saved, money earned, or time saved on a daily basis.
Now, sprinkle these keywords throughout your resume, particularly the Skills section, and demonstrate that you have these skills or valuable traits by describing your achievements relating to them in your Experience.
Do this for each job you apply to.
I have an example and more info in this in the 50 page Guide to Landing the Job that comes with every resume template purchase if you need additional info!
18. Demonstrate the value you can bring to the company
Remember, you’re being hired because you have a job to do – create value for the company.
Businesses exist to make money, and therefore money is of high value. The very position you’re applying to most likely exists to help an employer maintain and increase profitability.
Businesses care about:
- Making money
- Saving money
- Increasing productivity or efficiency (providing the opportunity to make money in the time saved)
- Identifying, preventing, and quickly solving problems (to prevent any aggravation and wasted time/money).
And if you can show that you've done these things in the past, you have a MUCH better chance of getting a callback.
What’s the benefit of hiring you? What can YOU do for THEM? How can you further their goals?
Now, this concept isn’t so cut and dry for some jobs, but every company, organization, or field values SOMETHING.
For example, what if you’re a teacher?
Think of what a school administration or a district values: an increase in test scores, an increase in grade point average, reduction in absenteeism, increasing the grade level of one or a few at-risk students, securing a grant, etc.
Want to work for a non-profit?
They still value money, although it’s not as cut and dry. Your value may lie in the expertise you can bring to the table, how you can further the organization’s goals, how effectively you can assist in raising money through your marketing skills, creating and maintaining excellent relationships with sponsors, being efficient and increasing productivity, etc.
Once you determine the value you would bring to the company, describe the ways you’ve demonstrated this in previous jobs or experiences, and be sure to explain HOW you accomplished it.
Here are some questions to help you recall important accomplishments at work that may have added value:
- When did you go above and beyond your job description to do much more than earn your pay that day? What did you do?
- What work concept/technique/skill do you know SO WELL that you often teach to others?
- What have you done that you’re most proud of?
- What have you created/reorganized/designed that’s been incredibly helpful?
- What praise have you received from your bosses or colleagues?
- What are your key strengths and how do you use them at work?
- Your boss always counts on YOU to do that one thing you’re great at. What is that one thing?
Now that you know what the company values and how you've created value in the past, you need to phrase your sentences/bullets in an effective way.
19. Create achievement-based sentences
The best way to show how you’ve added value in the past is by creating an achievement-based resume (as opposed to a resume full of boring duties or responsibilities).
There are two similar ways to do this. You can format sentences in this way:
Accomplished (X) as measured by (Y) by doing (Z),
or by creating C.A.R. (Challenge - Action - Result) statements.
Challenge: What were you trying to accomplish? What was the problem you faced, or issue you tried to solve?
Action: What did you do to overcome this issue or accomplish/exceed the goal?
Result: The outcome or result of your actions.
Challenge: A below grade level or at-risk student
Action: Created an individualized learning plan
Result: Increase in grade from C- to B+ “Tutored a sixth grade student in pre-algebra utilizing an individualized learning plan to raise his grade from C- to B+ over the course of the school year.”
Accomplished (X): Increasing employee morale
As measured by (Y): Surveys showing a 30% increase in employee satisfaction and morale
By doing (Z): Organizing company outings
“Organized company outings, dinners and retreats, resulting in 30% increase in employee satisfaction and morale.”
Use these formats for as many of your resume bullets and sentences as possible to show your value to prospective employers.
20. Now quantify the sh*t out of those achievement-based sentences
Your achievement-based sentences are much more powerful when you quantify your accomplishments with numbers.
Quantifying your achievements shows what you’ve done, instead of just stating it!
Your reader is looking for proof that you are as great as you say you are, and quantifying your achievements is the best way to show your worth.
Most of you will not already have numbers on hand to show your work accomplishments. That is a-ok!
You can estimate them, just have solid reasons to back up your calculations if you’re asked about them in an interview.
Even if you can’t figure out any numbers to quantify your accomplishments, you can still find ways to quantify each work experience using the scope of your work.
For example, you can quantify the number of customers you assisted daily:
“Assisted an average of 40 customers per day in finding or selecting items and provided recommendations that generated $8k in additional revenue.”
Or even the size of your company or the aspect of the job you’re in charge of:
“Oversaw the efficient use of advertising budgets ranging from $10,000 – $25,000.”
“Analyzed incoming data from various clients and customers, writing 1,500 word reports twice a week for the CEO.”
Or the number of people you’ve worked with, trained, or helped:
“Managed six employees in an executive office, maintaining an atmosphere of exactness, efficiency and attention to detail.”
21. Be assertive: skip the passive voice
You want to exude confidence and actually convince the reader how great you are. If you’re not confident in your achievements, why should anyone else be? On that note,
22. Start your sentences with a powerful success verb
Most of your sentences/bullets should start with a verb. Preferably a “success verb” or an “action verb,” and rarely ever the all too common “responsible for.”
Because, no one cares about your duties, or what you did that was just part of the job description.
The reader wants to know what you did to go above and beyond, what you achieved, how you made money for the company, saved money, or saved time (which saves money).
You can find huge lists of action verbs online, but to really pack some punch, use a Success Verb instead.
These are verbs that demonstrate a success; because success in business = $ (and businesses certainly care about $)!
Accelerated | Achieved | Added | Administered | Authored | Awarded | Changed | Conceived | Contributed | Created | Decreased | Delivered | Devised | Eliminated | Exceeded | Expanded | Gained | Generated | Grew | Implemented | Improved | Increased | Initiated | Introduced | Maximized | Minimized | Optimized | Produced | Reduced | Saved | Sold | Spearheaded | Streamlined
23. Get to the point
Be clear and concise. Omit any wordy phrases or irrelevant information. Take out any unnecessary words, and format your sentences in the most concise way possible.
24. Make sure your formatting is consistent
Most people are too busy reading over the content of their resumes to step back and take a look at the small details.
Make sure all the formatting is consistent: your titles are all either bolded or italic or neither, the bullets all line up and are the same, the spacing between paragraphs and bullets is consistent, etc.
Keep the date formats consistent too. Either include months, or don’t. Spell out the months or use numbers. Whatever you do, keep it consistent from job to job!
25. Make sure your punctuation is consistent
I see this all the time – periods at the end of some bullets, left out on others. Just keep it consistent.
If you have any bullets that are longer with commas and a few “and”s, or have a colon or semi-colon, use periods.
If your bullets are mainly short, fragments of sentences, you can skip the periods.
Use your best judgment. If it sounds and looks like it needs a period, stick it in there.
26. Use past and present tense correctly
Use past tense for previous jobs, and present tense for current jobs. If your job dates end in “– Current” or “– Present,” then PLEASE use present tense. If you are no longer at a job, use past tense.
27. Prioritize your bullets
Your most impressive and relevant achievements should go towards the top of each work experience so they’re seen first. Put the boring stuff towards the end – the first few bullets are more likely to be read completely.
28. Avoid big blocks of text
No one wants to read a jam-packed resume that looks like a dissertation. Break up your long paragraphs and big blocks of text, or use bullets instead!
29. Avoid personal pronouns (with a few exceptions)
As a general rule, leave out the personal pronouns (I, me, my).
It’s so easy to just omit a pronoun and lead with a verb instead.
Ex: "I trained 8 employees.." should be turned into "Trained 8 employees.."
However, there are some jobs that place a large value on personality where a more informal tone is acceptable (education, the arts, and the caring professions where personality is essential to your job). In these cases, it may be beneficial for you to include personal pronouns.
30. Don't mix first and third person
If you’re using pronouns, don’t mix first (I, me, my) with third (she, he). Just stick to one (I vote for personal – writing in third person is just weird).
31. Avoid or explain unemployment gaps
Don’t leave any questions as to your employment – a question is usually just a “NO” in the hiring manager’s mind.
If you can avoid gaps in the actual resume because you have volunteer work or professional development to take the place of employment, include it.
If you can't hide the gap, jot down what you did during that time and the time frame, and explain in the cover letter how you're passionate about the field and eager to return to work.
32. Proofread your resume
Yeah I know, common sense, right? WRONG.
You’d better read your resume over at least 3 times, and/or have someone else read it.
Some picky hiring managers WILL throw out your resume if you have any avoidable spelling errors or terrible grammar.
And if you don’t take the time to read over your resume, the most important document you own, that doesn’t say good things about you or your work ethic to the hiring team.
33. Upload/email your resume in PDF format, not Word format
Upload your resume as a PDF file. Word documents never look exactly as they should on the receiving end, but a PDF file is like a picture – it looks exactly the same on any computer.
Most ATS can read PDF files very well, and as long as PDF is listed as one of the accepted formats when you’re uploading your resume to the job posting, you’re safe.
34. Merge your PDFs into one file
Certain Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) will require you to upload only one file and don’t have separate sections for a cover letter or references. That’s fine.
Once you save your files as PDFs, you can go to pdfmerge.com, upload each individual file and hit Merge! And voila, it will merge the files for you and automatically download the combined file onto your computer.
35. Save your resume as First.Lastname.Resume
Save your resume as “John.Smith.Resume.pdf” if you are emailing or uploading your resume!
Recruiters will most likely save the file and need to easily find it again – you want them to smile because you did this the right way, instead of them silently cursing at you because they had to rename the file themselves!
Do the same for your references and cover letter, too.
36. Land that job!
Enough said. If you read through every single one of these tips (YAY YOU!) and still have questions, please don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if you created a kick-*ss resume using these tips and landed a job, LET ME KNOW! I love to celebrate with you and send you a virtual high-five. =)
You can find my resume templates complete with my free 50 page resume writing guide and unlimited help (if you need it!) here.