Back to Top

Resume Writing Guide

Jobscan's Guide to everything you need to know about resumes to standout to recruiters and make it past ATS

What is a Resume?

A resume is the representation of your professional self. It is a concise compilation of your educational and professional experience, as well as the skills that make you desirable for the workforce. It is what you use to sell your merit and skills to potential employers.

Your resume is arguable the single most important part of the application process. A well-organized, relevant resume will set you up to get an interview, while a poor resume will get completely lost in the sea of applicants. This is a fairly modern concern, as job postings now get thousands of online applications a day.



Resume pass test



What is the Difference Between a Resume and a CV?

Some companies will indicate that they want you to submit a CV rather than a resume. A CV and a resume are not the same. CV stands for “curriculum vitae” and is meant to be an expansion of your resume. It is much longer than a resume, often three pages or more, and focuses mainly on your academic and professional accomplishments, with a particular focus on education.

In the United States, a CV is almost exclusively limited to professions in academia, science and medicine. In the case of academia, the main focus of the CV should be to identify yourself as a scholar. The added length, should be filled with proof of your skills as a teacher, scholar, and your knowledge of education. A CV should be thought of as a living document, and it will change frequently based on the updates in your education and career.

A resume is much shorter in length compared to a CV, usually limited to one page. It is meant to be a very brief synopsis of your career and education history. Resumes should focus on measurable accomplishments rather than soft skills or a list of responsibilities. Like a CV, resumes need to be updated, but those updates will be less extensive and will pertain mostly to the specific job for which you are applying.

Let’s say Sarah Smith has a couple of internships and two years work experience in marketing under her belt. If she is applying for another job in marketing, she should use a resume rather than a CV. If she hasn’t updated her resume since her internships, she has a lot of new skills and experience to add that will make her a more desirable candidate.


What About a Cover Letter?

Including a cover letter can add a lot of value to your application. Just like with a resume, your cover letter should be customized to the job for which you are applying. While it isn’t always necessary to include a cover letter, if you have the option, it can only help your chances of getting an interview. Let your personality, accomplishments, and skills come through in a few short paragraphs. For more tips on writing cover letters, see the Cover Letter Writing Guide.


What to Include in Your Resume

The number one tip in our Resume Writing Guide is to keep your resume as clear and to-the-point as possible. While there is no length limit to your resume, it is meant to showcase only your relevant work experience as fast as possible. The average time spent looking at a resume is 6 seconds, so a one page format is highly preferred. The key word here is relevant. For example, if an early part of your employment history does not pertain to the job for which you’re applying, and you’re running out of space, don’t include that information. For more information about formatting your resume, see our Resume Formats page. Your resume also needs these key features:

Contact Information

This might seem obvious, but it is very important. Make sure your resume is updated with your most recent contact information. Recruiters and hiring managers often get thousands of resumes for one job position, so providing them with your email address, personal phone number, and home address will make contacting you for an interview much easier. When including your email address, be sure not to use addresses that are too casual. For example, [email protected] is much more appropriate than [email protected]

Also be sure to include your city, state and zip code in your contact info, since employers will sometimes search Applicant Tracking Systems with these criteria. It’s also important for ATS to have this information at the top of your page, otherwise it may not be parsed into your candidate profile, making it harder for HR to find or remember your resume.


Work Experience

This section should include all relevant paid work experience, including internships. Volunteer or charity work should not be included in this section, or often at all (see below). Make the title of this section a reflection of your paid experience: “Work Experience”, “Employment History”, and “Work History” are all appropriate titles. This should be listed above “Education” unless you are a recent college graduate, since that information is most pertinent to employers.

Include measurable accomplishments such as “increased revenue by 25%” as well as responsibilities. It is easy to get carried away describing your work experience or responsibilities, but keeping it short is crucial. Once you get an interview, you can go into deeper detail.

For each internship or job, include the name of the organization where you were employed, the city and state, the title of the positions held, the employment period for each job (include both years and months), and a short description of your responsibilities and accomplishments listed in bullet points.

You should also include information about promotions in this section. When listing your responsibilities, start with the most valuable experience first, since the employer will likely be skimming your resume top-down.


Education

When providing your education on your resume, list degrees in reverse order. For example, if you have a master’s degree, it should be listed before your bachelor’s degree. Again, if a hiring manager or recruiter is skimming your resume, you want them to see your highest degree first. It is very important to include dates in this section. Furthermore, if you have a bachelor’s degree, it is not necessary to include your high school education on your resume. It is assumed that you graduated high school if you’ve obtained a higher degree. So leave out this information.

Only include your GPA if it is higher than 3.5 on a 4 point scale (no need to mention that 2.0 when you moved into the frat house sophomore year). There are a few exceptions to this rule, like if you’re applying for a job in academia, engineering or if you are within five years of graduating. When you gain more work experience, it should take the place of your GPA.

You can also list honors or awards if you’re a recent graduate. If you attended college, but did not finish your degree, list the number of credits obtained. For recent graduates, education is your main selling point. But if you’ve already been in the workforce, tone down your education section, in most cases one line will suffice.

Skills

The skills in your resume are important when your resume is being submitted through an ATS. ATS stands for “applicant tracking systems”, which are software systems used by 90% of Fortune 500 companies to sort and search applicants. ATS sort and rank applicants using keywords specific to the job description. Use skills in your resume as a hub for keywords specific to the job for which you’re applying. Your resume should be tailored to each job you apply to so the skills should be integrated organically in your work experience if possible.

Jobscan helps you determine which keywords will help your resume make it through ATS by comparing the job posting with your resume. You can try your resume below.



scan resume



If necessary, you may want to include a skills section. These portions of your resume are especially well-suited to technical positions. Hard skills are provable, experience-based skills, which are the only type you should include in this section. Examples include computer programing, Wordpress, Spanish fluency, heavy machinery operation and HTML. Also include a description of the skill, or your expertise level is possible.


Awards and Accolades/Affiliations

Only include this section if it makes sense for the job for which you’re applying. If you’ve received relevant awards or have affiliations that the recruiter or hiring manager would like to know about, feel free to list them. Steer clear of listing affiliations that are not relevant, such as political or religious affiliations.

Community Service

This is another one that is a judgment call. If you’re applying for a leadership or management role, or a non-profit company, community service is worth listing. Always think of relevance before adding anything to your resume. For example, if you are applying for a job in marketing and have volunteer experience in social media, that’s great information to add. If you are applying for that same job in marketing and volunteered in a food kitchen, there’s no need to include it in your resume.

What to Leave OFF Your Resume

Objective Statement

The objective statement is somewhat antiquated since ATS have become popular. Unless you’re sure that your resume is going directly into the hands of the hiring manager or recruiter, an objective statement is not necessary. If you like the idea of an objective statement, consider adding an executive summary statement instead. While an objective statement explains what you hope to accomplish, a summary statement explains who you are and what you have already accomplished.

References

It is assumed that you have references if you have previous employment history. It is not even necessary to include “references available upon request”. Potential employers will ask you for your references later on in the interview process if need be.

Soft Skills

Soft skills are any skills that are not provable or quantifiable. If Sarah Smith says she is “hardworking”, “problem solving”, has a “strong work ethic”, and “positive attitude”, the recruiter has no way of knowing whether or not that is true. Use hard skills only and prove the soft skills by listing your accomplishments and promotions on your resume.

GPA

As mentioned above, your GPA is only necessary if you are a recent college graduate and do not have work experience to back you up. There are a few jobs that require a GPA, however, including engineering and finance.


How to Format a Resume

There are a few different ways to format your resume. Choosing the best format for you will only make the resume writing process easier. When choosing a format, you should consider the job for which you are applying. Chronological, functional, and hybrid formatting styles each have specific purposes for the applicant.


Use Keywords to Tailor Your Resume

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when applying to jobs is sending the same generic resume out for each one. Sure, you can apply to more jobs if you don’t take the time to personalize your resume each time, but chances are you won’t get interviews from any of them. If you take the time to tailor your resume, even though you’ll be applying for fewer jobs, you’ll get more interviews.

Applicant Tracking Systems use keywords to search through thousands of resumes. Think of ATS as a search engine. You want to optimize your resume so it shows up at the top of the search. Hiring managers and recruiters can type in a keyword and get a ranking of the top applicants. Reading the job posting carefully and using relevant keywords is crucial to getting through ATS.

Our friend, Sarah Smith, might want to include keywords like “digital marketing”, “SEO”, and “Google Analytics” in her resume.

Jobscan helps you identify the keywords you should use in your resume by comparing the resume against the job posting. You will get a match rating (80% or higher is ideal) and tips on how to raise your rating.


Learn more


Covering Gaps in Employment

If you have major gaps in employment, there are a few ways to make them less noticeable. It is important to be honest about gaps in your resume and not try to cover them up, but to make them seem productive and intentional.



Example of a functional resume format

Using a functional resume format is beneficial when you have gaps in employment. The functional resume highlights honors and achievements more than work experience. It lists your skills and other attributes that make you a good employee at the top of the resume.

It is important to fill the gaps in employment with experiences that helped you grow. Volunteer work, continuing education, and other projects you worked on during that time are all great options. Be sure to use a positive tone while describing the gaps in employment and be confident about them when interviewing later.


Top Resume Formats

There is not one resume format that works for everyone. There might not even be only one resume format for you and it could benefit you to have multiple formats of your resume available. For example, if you’re applying for a job and you don’t know whether your resume will be submitted through ATS, submit both a chronological resume and use a functional resume for your in person interview.

Regardless of the format you decide on, be sure to keep your resume to one page unless you’re in a field that requires a longer resume. Another rule of thumb is to use measurable metrics rather than soft skills or “fluff” throughout your resume. Keywords will beef up your resume and make it ideal for ATS.


Free Downloads

Best resume templates for getting through ATS

Noelle Gross, career strategy expert and founder of NGCareerStrategy.com provided professional feedback on all informations included in this page.



Jobscan Learning Center The Jobscan Resume Learning Series

Part 1: Resume Writing Guide
Jobscan's Guide to Resume Writing to get you Past Computer Screeners
Part 2: Resume Formats
Jobscan's Guide to Resume Formats
Part 3: Resume Templates
Jobscan's Guide to Resume Templates
Part 4: Resume Builders
Jobscan's Guide to Resume Builders, What is a resume builder and how should you use it?
Part 5: Resume Examples
Jobscan's Guide to Resume Examples, How to Use Them Effectively and Which One is Right For You

Join Jobscan