Whether you’re new to the workforce or shifting careers, there’s one thing more important than anything else.
More important than nailing an interview.
More important than online networking.
Even more important than the job application itself.
If you haven’t guessed yet, it’s building your resume.
A killer resume can make or break career choices, boost salary, or provide multiple options in the midst of the job search process.
Crafting a resume isn’t a simple task. Just ask the 20,000+ people who Google “How do I write a resume?” every month. Fitting your career (or lack of career) into one document is daunting–not to mention ATS optimization and constant adjustments for different job applications.
Whether you’re figuring out how to create a resume for your first job or you’re already climbing the career ladder, we’re here to provide all the resume help you need. This guide will destigmatize the resume-building process by breaking it down, piece-by-piece.
Buckle your seatbelts, because we’re practically giving away trade secrets here.
Let’s take it from the top.
This may be the most simple part of a resume, but it’s also the easiest to mess up (and the first place recruiters will notice mistakes). What belongs in a resume header anyway?
- Your legal name (we recommend against using your middle name unless your first and last name are very common)
- A professional email address (no email@example.com, please)
- A current phone number
- A LinkedIn url, if you have a profile set up.
- Your current city and state
We should also talk about what doesn’t belong. Never put your full mailing address in your resume header. Not only is it unnecessary, but it can actually raise privacy and discrimination concerns, potentially hindering your job search.
Resume Header Checklist:
☐ Does the header contain correct contact info?
☐ Does the resume header have links to important your portfolio, LinkedIn account, or personal website?
☐ Are all numbers in the resume header correct?
☐ Are all links in the resume header working?
Simple resume header, example #1
Resume header with credentials, example #2
A resume title is almost as simple as a header, but it’s much more important in terms of ATS systems. Your title should typically match the title of the job you’re applying for exactly so the software knows you’re a good match/qualified for the position. This means you’ll want to adjust a job title for each job application submitted.
There are a few exceptions to this rule, mainly for those making a major career change. If you’re transitioning from the IT industry to a marketing job, you don’t want a title that infers you’re currently in a marketing-related position (unless you have the experience to back it up). Rather, you would put your current title or a customized title that accurately describes your experience.
Adding a line below your title can allows you extra space for alternative titles, personal descriptors, or keywords that describe specific expertise within an industry. It’s best to use keywords directly from the description of the job you’re applying for to maximize ATS optimization. You can also use a mission statement instead of single words, but it’s typically not as ATS-friendly.
Resume Title Checklist:
- Does the resume title match the job description?
- Is the subtitle/description mission statement optimized with ATS-friendly keywords?
- Is the title aligned with the resume header?
Resume title, example #1
Resume title mission statement, example #2
Crafting a compelling resume summary sets a tone for the entire document. It’s the first (and sometimes the last) thing a recruiter reads before passing your resume up the chain or throwing it out completely.
Your summary should quickly address your biggest selling points. Think of it as an advertisement; essentially, it’s a sales pitch to get an interview. It shouldn’t belong or elaborate (5-7 sentences, max). Recruiters will only spend a few seconds reading through a resume summary, so every word should pack a punch.
Resume summary checklist:
- Is the summary section language is tight and accomplishment-driven, avoid generalities?
- Does the resume summary contain ATS-friendly keywords, pulled directly from job description (hard or soft skills preferred)?
- Does the resume summary left-justified for a clean look?
- Do resume bullets highlight career accomplishments or professional credentials?
Resume summary, example #1: No-frills resume bio with simple layout, ATS keywords, and modified mission statement
Resume summary, example #2: Executive resume bio with italicized mission statement, main summary, and bullets showing biggest career accomplishments.
Have you ever heard a real estate agent chant “location, location, location”?
Keywords in a skills section are the “location” of a resume. Many companies (especially those hiring at a high-volume) use Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to streamline the hiring process and weed out unqualified candidates. It’s actually a fairly simple process: An ATS program scans incoming resume keywords to see how well they match the job postings.
More resume keywords matches = higher ATS score.
Higher ATS score = resume is passed to a human hiring manager.
This begs the question: what keywords are ATS systems looking for? Typically, it’s best to use concrete keywords, not broad soft skills and personality descriptors. The best keywords are:
- Hard skills
- Technical competencies
- Position titles
- Software/program proficiencies
The easiest way to add skills is to take them directly from the job description. Don’t forget: the skills section on a resume is “living”. You’ll want to adjust it for each job application.
Resume Skills Section, example #1
Now, we move onto the mecca: career experience. This is the real meat of your resume.
The career portion of your resume should highlight professional history including previous titles, employers, start/end dates, responsibilities, and most importantly job accomplishments. However, it’s important to remember this is not the same as a job application. You’re not obliged to list anything irrelevant to your career trajectory. For example, if you’re a CPA who recently became a professional dog walker while on the job hunt, there’s no need to address the gap unless a hiring manager inquires.
If you’ve been at your current job for a while, add a broad description of your day-to-day work in paragraph form, then bullet points that describe specific accomplishments, KPIs, and goals for each job. If you’re at the start of a career path, you can always fill gaps in your resume with part-time work and temporary roles — just make sure to tie them into the job you’re aspiring to as much as possible.
Resume job history checklist:
- For each job, do you provide company name, location, job title, and years of employment?
- Do you provide a brief description of your duties and scope for each position?
- Do you provide quantified accomplishments?
- Do you provide the most detail for your latest jobs, with less detail on older/less relevant jobs?
- Did you omit information that is personal, outdated, or off-target?
- Is work history listed in reverse chronological (newest to oldest) order?
Resume Experience Section, example #1
Completed volunteer work should have a similar or exact layout as career experience. The threshold of service put on a resume is up to you, just make sure it’s relevant to the job description. You can take or leave the dates, but they’re important if you perform term-limited services (executive boards, elected positions, etc.)
Resume Volunteer Section Checklist:
☐ Have you listed committees, leadership roles, and professional associations in chronological order?
☐ If your volunteer experience is extensive, have you limited the section to the 4-5 most notable entries?
☐ Have you listed any major recognitions in your volunteer history?
Resume Service Section, example #1
Unless you’re a recent college graduate with limited experience, education and major training should go to the bottom of your resume. Keep it clean and simple — this isn’t a section to highlight every class you’ve ever taken; awarding institutions and areas of study are all you need. Adding coursework is unnecessary unless it’s an education-related resume or specific to a particular position.
Unless you’re a current student or have graduated in the past year, leave off the date range of when you attended the institution. It often does more harm than good by allowing ageism into the hiring process.
Note: It’s not a faux pas to list certifications in the education section of a resume, but if you have more than 2-3 it’s best to give them a separate section.
Resume Education Checklist:
☐ Are education entries in order from highest importance to lowest?
☐ Are areas of study clearly listed?
☐ Have you listed all major trainings in addition to formal education?
Resume education summary, example #1
Resume education summary, example #2
Finalizing your job resume formatting
Last but not least, here’s a handy checklist of the major components of a strong resume. How does your resume measure up?
Does it look sharp?
Good looks aren’t everything, but they certainly help. Make sure your resume is easy to read—clean, not cluttered; sharp, not confusing.
- Does it have a well-designed letterhead with your name larger than surrounding text?
- Do you use lines or some other visual cue to separate different sections of the resume?
- Does it use bullets?
- But not too many bullets? (Bullets are meant to increase readability and help key items stand out, but if everything is bulleted, everything blends together.)
- Is it in a clear, readable, commonly used font? Arial and Times New Roman are classic stand-bys. Calibri is one of my new faves.
- Does it have ample white space in the margins? (Keep one-inch margins on the sides and at least a half-inch on top and bottom.)
- Is it limited to two pages?
- Is it free from typos and errors?
- h a Qualifications section?
A great resume is clearly focused on a specific target. A good resume that knows what you want helps you get what you want. A great resume sells your skillset to a potential employer.
- Does it convey a clear, unified message about who you are and what you do (aka your personal brand)?
- Is it focused on accomplishments and benefits more than responsibilities and duties?
- Does it speak to the desired qualifications for the type of job you’re seeking?
- Does it replace niche industry jargon or company-specific phrases with better-understood translations? (Imagine a recruiter or HR person who isn’t necessarily familiar with the technical details of your target job.)
- Is it consistent in terms of formatting, verb tense, organization?
- Does it aim toward your next job (not your current job)?
If creating a resume still sounds daunting reach out to the pros at RedRocketResume. Our team of professional resume writers includes experts from every sector, from engineering to communications to healthcare. You can also follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our newsletter for monthly career tips and information to help you keep your resume polished and focused!