Recruiters and hiring managers often have to sort through countless resumes when they’re trying to fill an open position. They don’t have time to comb through each one to determine whether an applicant is a good fit or not; they need to be able to get a feel for your qualifications right away. This means your resume needs to grab and hold their attention quickly — ideally within about 30 seconds.
Here are the best resume tips to make your application shine, upping your chances of landing an interview and getting your dream job.
What Goes on a Resume
There is some basic information you should include on your resume regardless of the position you’re applying for or the industry it’s in. As long as it makes sense, the following information is always appropriate to provide:
At the top of your resume or in the header, include your basic contact information, such as your first and last name, address, phone number, and email address.
You can also add a link to your LinkedIn profile and professional website or portfolio if you have one.
Make sure your email address sounds professional — don’t use the same one you used in high school — and that your website, portfolio, and LinkedIn profiles are all up to date.
Professional Objective Statement
Objectives, sometimes called summary statements, aren’t always called for, but they can help hiring managers and recruiters get a quick overview of your career goals and suitability for a position. Objectives are especially useful if you’re a new grad, making a career change, or aiming for a specific position or job title.
Try not to be vague with your objective by stating general goals like, “seeking to obtain a challenging, full-time position.” Instead, be more direct based on the role and company you’re interested in.
For example, if you’re a digital marketing coordinator, you might say something like, “seeking a role as a digital marketing coordinator at a software company where I can grow my social media, digital advertising, and partnership skills.”
If you don’t feel like you need an objective, or your resume format doesn’t include one, you can skip it. Objectives are optional and, while they can be useful to recruiters, aren’t usually a requirement.
Most employers want to know what level of education you have. University and college degrees, diplomas, certificates, and apprenticeship programs can all be included in the education section of your resume. You can even add online professional certifications and courses if you feel they’re useful.
Specify the name of the institution and name of the program you completed. If you received a degree, include your major and minor. You don’t need to include your GPA unless it’s specifically requested, and in that case you may want to send a transcript instead.
You can also mention if you were an honors student or whether you received any awards or scholarships.
If you’re a recent graduate looking for an entry-level position, format your resume so that your education section comes before your work experience. If you’ve been a professional in your industry for at least a couple of years, list work experience before education.
This section is where you list your previous jobs in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent position and working your way back to the earliest.
When detailing work experience, include your job title, the company’s name, how long you worked there, and a description of your responsibilities. Highlight notable achievements and goals you accomplished, and list any awards or recognition you received.
You can also include unpaid work experience in this section, like any internships you’ve had or work experience programs you completed as part of your education.
Many employers are looking for employees who have specific skill sets, which can be divided into two categories: soft skills and hard skills.
Soft skills are general interpersonal and workplace skills, such as “works well in teams” or “able to meet deadlines.”
Hard skills are more technical skills related to the work you do, such as “experienced in using Adobe Creative Suite” or “data engineering.”
Include both hard and soft skills in your skills section. Just be sure to group them together so it’s easy for prospective employers to differentiate between them.
Depending on the job you’re applying for and what the application requirements are, you may want to include some additional information. This could be relevant volunteering experience, professional affiliations or organizations, or mentorship programs you participate in.
Make sure to use a customized title for this section and only include it if necessary.
Pro tip: Make sure your resume stands out to hiring managers. Upload it to TopResume and you’ll receive a free review from one of their professional resume writers.
How to Write an Effective Resume
Keep these tips in mind to put together a standout resume.
1. Pay Attention to Formatting
Clean formatting is an important and often underrated part of a good resume. And there are a variety of resume builders and templates out there that will take care of it for you, such as:
Whether or not you use a template, make sure you follow these formatting best practices:
Make Use of Titles and Headings
Titles and headings draw attention to the different sections in your resume and help recruiters and hiring managers navigate to specific information quickly. Use titles and headings to separate sections and subsections like work experience and specific job titles.
Use Bullet Points
Bullet points allow you to list responsibilities, achievements, and relevant skills in a way that’s scannable and easy to read without losing any of the information’s value.
Choose a Clean Font
Although it may be tempting to go with a fancy font, stick to something simple and clean. Not all word processors are able to display all fonts, so try to use something common that most people will have, like Arial or Times New Roman. If you use an uncommon font, strange characters and typos may accidentally make their way into your resume.
Embrace White Space
White space is the empty, text-free space around the edges of your resume and in between sections. White space makes your information easier to skim and helps define specific areas of your resume.
Too many large blocks of text can be hard on the eyes, and they make it easy to skip over or miss important information.
Take advantage of white space in your resume format to highlight the important information hiring managers are looking for.
Send It as a PDF
PDFs save and lock formatting and font choices, ensuring that all the time and effort you put into making your resume easy to read isn’t lost on the receiving end. PDFs are also a standard way to send and receive job applications, so prospective employers won’t be surprised when they get one.
When you save your PDF, make sure to name the file carefully. You want it to look professional when you send it as an attachment, and you also want to make sure you’re sending the right version of your application to the hiring company. For example, use something like YourName_Resume_CompanyName.
2. Use Action Verbs
Verbs are words that describe actions like “increased,” “exceeded,” and “managed.” These words help to describe your accomplishments and achievements in an impressive way. Employers want to know what has made you successful in your previous roles and how that will apply to them.
Action verbs help employers match you with a job description. If they’re looking for someone to increase sales for their company, saying that you increased sales in your last position helps to align you with their image of an ideal hire.
Be clear and direct by using active statements like “increased annual email signups by 15%” instead of “was responsible for increasing email signups by 15%.”
3. Customize Your Content
Tailor your resume to each job you apply for. While your experience and education may stay the same, the hard and soft skills you include are likely to change based on the job description for the role you’re interested in.
Create a master resume that lists all of your basic information, such as experience, education, and skills, and then customize it for each application. Highlight relevant accomplishments, include specific skills that match the position, and include any requirements requested in the posting, such as certifications, languages, or licenses.
4. Show Quantifiable Results
What did you do at previous jobs that really impressed your bosses? Maybe you were responsible for a project that brought in additional profit or saved the company a lot of money.
Potential employers don’t just care about what you can do, they care about what you have done. Demonstrating your successes in previous roles using concrete numbers helps show hiring managers what you’re capable of.
Use specific examples of goals you hit or milestones you reached that were a direct result of your professional efforts. For example, if you managed a customer service team, explain what kind of success you saw as a manager, such as, “Managed a team of 15 customer service representatives and implemented a new upsell strategy that increased annual profit by 10%.”
5. Only Include References if Requested
Some job seekers choose to include a list of references on their resume, while others add the commonly used line “references available upon request.”
The thing is, most employers assume they can ask for references from you if they choose to move forward after your interview — there’s no need to include them unless asked. It just takes up space on your resume.
When hiring managers ask you to include a list of references with your application, make sure to choose relevant, professional contacts who can speak to your work experience and skills. References should be tailored to the position you’re applying for, so consider which of your contacts has the most knowledge of your skills and abilities in a given area before choosing which to add to your reference list.
6. Don’t Rely on Spellcheck
Spellings errors and typos are some of the most common resume mistakes. And although spellcheck is helpful, it can miss word usage issues — for example, the difference between “their” and “there” — and even misspellings. Grammatical errors, incorrect spellings, and punctuation mishaps make it through word processor programs all the time, so they’re best to use a backup.
Start by using free writing software like Grammarly, which can help you find and correct more advanced errors than common spellcheckers. It can point out usage issues, passive writing, and offer wording suggestions.
Once you think your resume is the best it can be, send it to someone you trust to proofread it. This could be a friend, former colleague or classmate, or a family member who’s a good writer or who has management experience.
If you don’t have anyone you can send it to, you can always hire a professional resume editor through Upwork.
7. Be Honest
Some job seekers are tempted to exaggerate their skills or accomplishments to better match a job description. But lying about your abilities almost never ends well. Employers can easily confirm whether you’re telling the truth by talking to your references, asking you to complete an assignment or task, or having you work with or talk to actual experts.
Even if you do manage to get the job under false pretenses, chances are you won’t be able to keep it for long and you’ll end up earning yourself a bad reputation.
Stick to the truth when it comes to your resume and focus on the relevant experience and skills you do have to offer. Plus, being honest makes it easier for you to ensure you communicate the same information to different hiring managers and teams during long hiring processes.
8. Don’t Undersell Yourself
If you won an award or graduated top of your class, put it on your resume. You worked hard to get to where you are, so don’t be afraid to call attention to your professional and academic achievements.
Often, hiring managers and recruiters choose candidates who have gone above and beyond in school or at work because it shows they have ambition and drive. Excluding relevant professional and personal recognition from your resume can keep your application from standing out.
Scholarships and professional and community awards and recognitions all make for great additions to your resume. Just make sure they’re relevant and appropriate. For example, you don’t need to tell an employer you got a-hole-in-one plaque when you’re applying to be an accountant.
Include any achievements in their relevant sections (put scholarships under education), and avoid writing long paragraphs or explanations about how you received the award. If an employer wants to know more, they’ll let you know during an interview.
9. Stick to a Two-Page Maximum
While new grads and job seekers who’ve only had one or two jobs can usually fit their professional information on a one-page resume, others may need more space. However, you should do your best not to exceed two pages regardless of how many jobs you’ve worked.
Keep information concise and to-the-point, and use formatting best practices like bullet points and headings to help organize and separate sections. Everything from your education and professional experience to volunteer work and skills need to fit on those two pages, so be selective about what makes the cut.
10. Stay Focused
Your resume should be centered on your career. Try not to mention personal hobbies and interests unless they’re directly related to the position or company you’re aiming for, and stay away from topics like religion, politics, and health.
Not only does this keep your resume on track, but it also helps to ensure your application isn’t discarded due to discrimination before you even get an interview. It’s illegal for employers to discriminate against you for things like your religious or political beliefs or any disabilities you may have. However, discrimitation this early in the hiring process can be difficult to prove. It’s best to err on the side of caution to avoid having your resume scrapped due to unfair and unlawful prejudices.
11. Remove Irrelevant Work Experience
Only include previous jobs that are relevant to the position you’re applying for and your career path. Don’t include part-time jobs you held as a teenager unless it makes sense to do so.
You can also remove jobs that lasted less than three months, either because they didn’t pan out or because they were temporary roles.
If you have to include jobs outside of your profession due to gaps in your career path, don’t give them as much emphasis as the relevant jobs. Offer brief details and only cover the basics, leaving lots of room for the work experience you want employers to know about.
12. Include All Relevant Work Experience
If you have a lot of relevant work experience, include it in your resume. From part-time jobs and temporary contracts to freelance positions and internships, any career-related work experiences should have a place on your resume. If you don’t have enough room to include everything, cut the least relevant or oldest positions.
13. Incorporate Volunteer Experience
If you have recent volunteer experience related to your industry, make sure to mention it. Relevant volunteer experience can demonstrate your dedication to your craft and your willingness to contribute to your community — both traits hiring managers like to see.
If your volunteer work is from a few years ago or it’s outside of your industry, it’s best to leave it off.
It’s up to you whether you include any volunteer experience that could be a cause for discrimination, such as volunteering related to politics or religion.
14. Don’t Explain Job Losses
Your resume isn’t a place to explain away a layoff or demotion. Save that for the interview and only discuss it if asked. It’s not that job loss is something you need to feel bad about — it happens to the best of us — but it’s something better explained in person, not on paper.
If you really feel the need to address a period of unemployment in your application, mention it in your cover letter instead of your resume. Save your resume for your work history and accomplishments.
15. Optimize It for Digital Use
Many hiring managers and recruiters use applicant tracking systems to organize and review applications. Often, applicants are sorted by keywords associated with their resumes, like their skills, job titles, and specific software experience. Platforms like Indeed and Monster also use keywords to sort resumes and job postings for both job seekers and hiring managers.
For example, recruiters may search for applicants who have hard skills in different software platforms, like Trello, Adobe Photoshop, or Quickbooks. Make sure to list specific platforms and skills relevant to your career instead of generic statements like “adept at graphic design.”
The same goes for your job titles. Stick to standard job titles and common industry terms to ensure that your resume pops up when a hiring manager searches for someone with your skills. If your current job title isn’t commonly used, list both your actual title and the most common version in your work history.
16. Add Links to Your Resume
Your LinkedIn profile, professional website, and portfolio can all be added as links on your resume under your contact information. This helps recruiters and hiring managers easily identify and navigate to them. You can even make your email address a link if you like.
However, don’t link to personal social media profiles unless you have a good reason to. Your resume is meant for your professional experience and job history, so stick to links that are directly related to your career.
17. Use Plain, Professional Language
You may be tempted to use a lot of jargon to prove just how well-versed you are in your industry, but there’s a fine line between demonstrating your know-how and going overboard.
Keep your language plain, professional, and only use industry terms when it makes sense to. The most important goal is to get your message across, and too many buzzwords can cause your accomplishments to get lost.
18. Choose the Right Type of Resume
There are three main types of resumes. Which one you choose depends on where you are in your job search and career path.
Chronological resumes are the most common and start with work experience. Typically, jobs are listed in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent position listed first.
Functional resumes focus on professional experience and skills as opposed to a sequential job history. They can be useful for people who have experienced employment gaps or who are starting a new career path.
Combination resumes are a mix of both chronological and functional resumes. They include work experience, skills, and work history to give hiring managers a well-rounded overview of everything that makes them a good fit for a role.
In a competitive job market, getting noticed by hiring managers and potential employers can be a challenge. That’s why it’s so important to put your best resume forward when you apply for a job.
Putting in some extra time to polish your application can make a world of difference. Often, it’s what ends up getting you an interview — and hopefully an offer.
What do you do to make your resume stand out?