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How to Write a Resume

A woman learning how to write a resume

Your resume is a rundown of your professional achievements and helps a hiring manager or recruiter understand why you’re the best candidate for the job. And while your resume summarizes where you went to school, where you worked, and what you did, writing your resume is a whole lot more than listing off what you studied and what your job duties were.

Learning how to write a resume for a job means mastering the art of translating what you can do into what that means for the company. But it also includes little things like proofreading and including correct contact information. It’s a lot of ground to cover, but this guide will get you on your way:

Choose Your Resume Type

Your first resume writing decision is choosing a type of resume. While there are several options, you’ll likely use one of the following:

  • Chronological: The most widely-used resume format, a chronological resume traces your work history from current (or most recent) position to oldest.
  • Functional: This resume emphasizes your skills over chronological work history.
  • Hybrid: Also known as a combination resume, a hybrid resume is part chronological and part functional.

That’s not to say that there aren’t other resume formats you can choose from. But when you apply for a job, you’ll likely use one of the above — unless you’re applying for a role in academia. Then you’ll use a CV (curriculum vitae).

How Many Pages Should It Be?

As a rule, an entry-level job seeker’s resume should be one page long. That said, if you have a lot of work experience or skills that are relevant to the role, you can have a two-page resume.

But what happens if your resume is more than one page but less than two?

>>MORE: What Is an Applicant Tracking System? Your Questions Answered!

You’ve got two options. First, you can edit ruthlessly and get your resume down to one page (without resorting to tricks like using a tiny font or making the margins super-slim). Second, you can consider expanding the second page to fill it up. But you have to do this by including relevant content, not using large fonts and wide margins.

And in this situation, don’t feel you have to get to exactly two pages. Senior recruiter Jonathan Harbison says a second page that’s only three-quarters filled is fine.

Format Your Resume Wisely

While selecting the resume type that’s best for you matters, so does how you format it! Ultimately, a human recruiter will read your resume, and it’s probably not the only one they’re reading that day. Make it as easy on them as possible to read and comprehend yours.

To start, choose an easy-to-read font (whether they read it on screen or paper). And stick with an 11- or 12-point size. Then, use bullet points liberally and often. Bullet points are easier to read and comprehend than a wall of text.

Finally, make sure you have the correct version of your resume. That means one that’s current and in multiple file formats. Some companies only accept .pdfs, while others insist on .docs. 

How to Write a Resume

With the style issues settled, you can move on to substance. These tips will help you write a resume that stands out from the rest, but there is one warning to keep in mind.

This is not a copy-and-paste template. Your resume summarizes your professional accomplishments and helps the interviewer see you’ve got what it takes to get the job done. And it should help explain how you’ll use your skills in that role at that company, which means you need to tailor your resume to each and every job you apply to.

That sounds like a lot of work, and it is, which is why a one-size-fits-all resume seems tempting. But you will need to tweak your resume each time you apply to an open position. So, use these tips as a framework to create a resume that serves as a good foundation, making it easy for you to update it when you apply to each job.

With all that in mind, here’s how to write a good resume, no matter your situation.

Decide What Goes Where

Technically, you can put your resume sections in any order you want. There’s no rule that says you have to start with your work history, then move to your education, and then your volunteer work. However, this is the order most (if not all) recruiters and hiring managers expect when they look at any resume. They want to look at a part of the page and find what they expect, whether that’s your work history, education, or volunteer experience.

Stand out from the crowd

Craft a winning resume with Forage's Resume Writing Class.

As Harbison points out, “A candidate has the attention of the resume reviewer for a limited amount of time.” Since your resume only has the recruiter’s attention for a brief moment, it makes sense to make it as easy as possible for them to find whatever they’re looking for.

In addition to making it easy for a reader to find the information they’re searching for, Harbison advises job seekers to list the most critical information first.

Your work experience is often the most crucial and relevant information. So, in most cases, it makes sense to place that section at the top of your resume. As proud as you might be of being named volunteer of the year, unless it’s critical to the role, it should go toward the bottom of your resume.

Include the Right Contact Information

Your contact information is, of course, how the recruiter will reach out and schedule you for an initial interview. You never know if that will be a phone interview, zoom interview, in-person interview, or something else, so make sure the company has a few ways to get in touch with you and that the information is correct. A simple typo (like hitting the 1 instead of 2 or typing @gmial.com) could mean you never get an interview.

That said, you don’t have to include every bit of your personal contact information. For example, whether you’re applying for a remote role or not, you only need to include your city and state (or country), not your street address. Your exact address is generally irrelevant to the role, and not including it helps protect you from doxxing or identity theft.

Likewise, you should include one active phone number with voicemail set up — that you check frequently. The same goes for an email address. And it’s better to use a personal email address than a school one, as you may eventually lose access to your school email.

Summarize Your Qualifications 

Up next is the qualifications statement, also known as a professional summary. This is a brief paragraph (meaning no more than a few sentences) that summarizes your relevant skills and abilities you want the person reading your resume to know about. Ideally, this should be just below your contact information. This puts this paragraph “above the fold,” meaning a reviewer will likely scan it first.

The trick to writing a killer qualifications statement is highlighting your most important and relevant skills without repeating verbatim what you’re using elsewhere (like in the work history). So, if you mention your coding skills in the qualifications summary, you should make sure that coding skills mentioned in your work history are associated with specific examples of how you used those skills.

However, space on a one or even two-page resume is limited. So, if you need that space for something else, you can omit the professional summary. “Based on a recent survey I conducted, only 12% of professionals involved in the hiring process say a statement of qualification is needed. Although it isn’t needed, it typically won’t hurt to have a brief one included,” says Harbison.

List Your Skills

Just below the qualifications statement is an optional list of your skills. This is a general list of your hard and soft skills, not how you use them. For example, you might say:

Jira, Trello, Slack, Conflict Resolution, Blogging

The intent is to give the reader a high-level overview of your skill set. In the experience section, you’ll provide a few examples of how you use your skills on the job.

While you’ll include the skills that are most relevant to the role, don’t overlook your transferable skills. For example, a job posting may not specifically state they’re looking for someone with excellent interpersonal skills, but hiring someone who can collaborate with others is likely integral to the company’s success.

Talk About Your Experience

The next (and probably biggest) section is your work history or work experience.

In general, this is the section where you list where you worked, how long you worked there, what your job title (or titles) was, and what you did in the role. That sounds simple enough. However, to wow the recruiter and hiring manager, take the “what you did in the role” part to the next level. Instead of listing your duties, explain what you achieved and what that meant for the company.

A great way to do this is utilizing the STAR method. While commonly used to answer behavioral interview questions, you can also use the STAR method to quantify your achievements on a resume. Harbison explains:

“Quantifying an achievement is done by identifying a task, project, or assignment and listing a measurable outcome. Take an action word and add a specific task (including appropriate keywords). Include measurable outcomes and quantify the achievement. Here’s an example: Improved offer-to-hire ratio and candidate pipeline 45% by effectively using strategic process improvement initiatives and project management.

The action word is improved. The task is to use strategic process improvement and project management. The keywords are related to recruiting: offer-to-hire, candidate pipeline, process improvement, project management. And the outcome is to improve the offer-to-hire ratio and candidate pipeline by 45%.”

While that’s a big example, anyone can turn their duties into accomplishments. Here’s another example.

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Forage's virtual work experiences equip you with the skills and experience to speak confidently about the role during interviews.

Say you worked at the pool concession stand over the summer. Your tasks probably included things like serving food, making change, and taking out the garbage. You could say, “Transferred eight bags of trash to the dumpster every night as part of a rodent control plan,” but you may want something more on your resume.

So, consider talking about what you did with the cash register or your customer interactions. While one skill set is related to hard skills and the other to soft skills, both are quantifiable but in different ways. Consider:

  • Balanced register drawer at the end of every shift to ensure ledger and receipts were accurate
  • Engaged with customers to take orders, receive payment, give correct change, and handle complaints about service or food

Though these examples don’t include numbers, they show how you contributed to the overall bottom line of the business by balancing the drawer and dealing with customers.

Still not sure how to turn your tasks into quantifiable achievements? Harbison offers this exercise. “To stay sharp, I occasionally challenge myself to reword a simple task. ‘I cut the grass so I wouldn’t get grounded,’ becomes, ‘Seasonally manicured residential property biweekly or as instructed by upper management for eight years resulting in weekly compliments related to curb appeal enhancement and avoidance of negative consequences.’

Include Your Education

As a rule, this section is limited to where you went to school, the dates you attended, and the degree you received or what you studied. That said, you may be wondering if you should include your GPA or other academic achievements.

“Include them only when it makes sense,” says Harbison. “Remember, this information takes up valuable space on your resume and you need to make it all count. One thing to think about, will your GPA enhance or hinder your application?”

That said, sometimes employers ask for this information, so be prepared to include it. 

Remember the Extras

Finally, if you have room at the bottom of your resume (or need to expand the second page a bit), you can include any other sections you want. This can include things like internships, Forage’s virtual work experiences, volunteering, or awards.

Each of these would go in a separate section, the exception being if you won an award from the place you volunteered with. So, the bottom section might look like this:

Example of the bottom part of a resume when learning how to write a resume

Last Step: Proofreading

With all that education, experience, and achievement added to your resume, it seems like the hard work is over. And, it is — mostly.

The last step of writing your resume is proofreading. As noted above, one tiny typo could mean the recruiter never gets in touch with you. So, go over your resume with a fine tooth comb. 

And don’t rely on built-in spelling and grammar checkers for this task. They miss things! For example, if you type “Dear Hiring Manger,” there’s a chance the bot will miss it. Sometimes it takes a human eye to catch certain errors, so consider using a bot in conjunction with a human proofreader.

Have Someone Else Read It

Along those same lines, when you’ve finished the proofreading, consider having someone else read your resume. This step is totally optional (and should only include people you trust), but having a second (or third) set of eyes reviewing your resume can help you catch mistakes you may have missed and provide feedback on how well you’re selling yourself to a potential employer.

Now that you’ve learned how to write a resume, learn how to write a cover letter.

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