Resume Writing GuideHow to write a resume that will stand out to recruiters and make it past ATS
What is a Resume?
A resume is a short document used to summarize a job seeker’s experience and qualifications for a prospective employer. A resume includes the job seeker’s contact information, work experience, education, and relevant skills in support of a job application.
Your resume is arguably the most critical part of the modern job application process. Writing the best resume possible is more important than ever now that online job postings routinely attract hundreds if not thousands of applicants. A well-organized, tailored resume will increase your chances of landing an interview while a poorly written resume could get lost in the sea of applicants.
What is the Difference Between a Resume and a CV?
Sometimes you will see the words resume and CV used interchangeably. They are not the same. A resume is relatively short document meant to market your professional abilities while a CV contains a thorough listing of your professional, academic, and other experiences.
CV stands for curriculum vitae (“course of life”). CVs are comprehensive by design. Think of them as the encyclopedia version of your professional life, spanning your work history, education, certifications, affiliations, publications, and specializations. They can extend well beyond three or four pages.
In the United States, CVs are typically limited to professions with standardized positions in which deep expertise is critical, such as academia, science, and medicine. These CVs are filled with expanded education sections, work history, internships, speaking gigs, teaching appointments, journal publications, and other details that establish credibility.
Resumes are used across most industries and are relatively short at just one or two pages long. That’s because resumes aren’t meant to include every detail of your past experience. Your resume should be tailored and updated based on the specifics of each job to which you apply. Irrelevant duties from past jobs can be removed to save space and drawn more attention to your most applicable skills and accomplishments.
How to Write a Resume
- Pick a resume format with the sections you need
- Always include contact information, work experience, and education
- Use traditional headings for maximum compatibility
- Include applicable skills directly from the job description
- Replace basic job duties with impactful accomplishments
- Don’t include an outdated objective statement or references section
- Proofread and double-check what you’ve written
- Save the resume as a DOCX file (preferred) or PDF.
What to Include in Your Resume
At a minimum, your resume should include your contact information, work experience, and education. Additional sections for career summary, skills, volunteer work, and additional qualifications can be added if they’re relevant to the job for which you’re applying.
The operative work here is “relevant.” Remember that your resume is meant to quickly highlight the reasons you’re a great fit for the job. It’s not meant to detail every job duty you’ve ever performed. Instead of simply writing your day-to-day responsibilities from past jobs, study the job listing and try to come up with an answer for each requirement listed. This is more likely to get the attention of a recruiter who may only look at your resume for a few seconds. It also optimizes your resume for the applicant tracking system sorting algorithms that help companies identify top candidates.
Below you’ll find which resume sections to include in your resume and how to tailor them to the job you want.
The top of your resume should include the following information:
- Phone number
- Location (City, State, Zip Code)
- Email Address
- LinkedIn profile URL
It might seem obvious, but job seekers sometimes forget a key piece of contact information in this section. Double check and make it as easy as possible for recruiters to contact you for a job interview.
Include a personal phone number, never a work number. Add your city, state, and zip code (e.g. “Seattle, WA 98104”). This is important as some applicant tracking systems allow recruiters to filter candidates based on location. Recruiters will always start with local candidates first. If you’re relocating from another area, list both your current location and your future location.
Use a professional-sounding email address. An email address based around your name is ideal, such as [email protected] Your “fun” email address might work perfectly fine in your personal life, but “beersnob88” or “biebersuperfan” might not cast you in the most professional light. Even using an email client that is considered outdated -- like AOL or Hotmail -- could hurt your chances. Consider creating a free Gmail account for your job search.
If a recruiter is intrigued by your qualifications, they will look up your online profiles. All job seekers should create a strong LinkedIn profile and include the URL on their resume. This will make the recruiter’s life a little easier and help them cross check the claims on your resume.
The work experience section is the heart of your resume. Differentiate this section with a clear, to-the-point heading, such as “Work Experience,” “Professional Experience,” or “Employment History.” This will help guide recruiters through your resume as well as ensure it is accurately parsed by applicant tracking systems (ATS).
Under the main heading, list each job in reverse-chronological order. Each job should have its own subheading that includes the following information:
- Job location
- Your job title
- Start and end dates
- ABC Corporation, Seattle, WA
- Distribution Manager (01/2017-Present)
The first things a recruiter looks for on your resume are the job titles you’ve held and the caliber of companies you’ve worked with. This format not only makes it easy for them to find that information, but our research has found that this sequence also offers maximum ATS compatibility.
Under each position’s subheading, include responsibilities and measurable results that are relevant to the job for which you’re applying. Remember, you don’t need to include every duty that was part of your day-to-day work. Use your available space to emphasize the skills and experiences that are asked for in the job description. Jobscan helps you determine exactly which skills are being requested and whether or not you’ve highlighted them in your resume.
Anyone can perform a task, so demonstrating that you did it well will make you stand out from other applicants. There is a saying in resume writing, “duties tell, accomplishments sell.” Using numbers, percentages, time, and dollar amounts to quantify your accomplishments will help the recruiter or hiring manager visualize your potential impact.
If you’re a few years into your career, your resume’s education section can be minimized at the bottom of your resume. Unless you’re applying in a career that puts extra emphasis on education (like academia, law, or medicine), most job seekers can get away with providing only the following information on their resume:
- Name of Institution
- School Location
- Years Attended
If you’ve recently graduated college, your education section goes above your work experience and includes more detail. Skills developed in school are real skills that have value in the professional world. Recent grads can include relevant coursework, societies, organizations, and extracurriculars that strengthen their candidacy.
98 percent of Fortune 500 companies use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to sort, filter, and search applicants. Some ATS, like Taleo, can automatically rank your resume’s content against the job description, allowing recruiters to focus only on the “best” applicants. Recruiters also search their applicant pool for important resume keywords, like “customer service,” “accounts receivable,” or “Adobe Photoshop.”
Ranking highly or coming up as a search result is all about including the right hard skills and keywords in your resume. The best way to identify skills important to the ranking and search algorithms is by noticing which skills are most prominent in the job description. Matching these skills in your resume, when applicable, increases your chances of being selected for an interview.
Jobscan automates this process by showing you a side-by-side comparison of the skills found in the job description and in your resume. Try it here:
Hard skills should be worked in throughout your resume. Including a skills section on your resume isn’t a requirement, but it can help you have a natural place to list skills that are important to the job for which you’re applying. A dedicated skills section also makes your resume more skimmable for recruiters trying to quickly identify whether you meet their requirements.
If you do use a skills section, remember that simply listing skills and keywords isn’t enough. Add context to these skills throughout your resume so that recruiters believe you. This includes things like the projects in which you utilized skills, number of years experience for a given skill, or your level of expertise.
AWARDS AND HONORS
Some resume formats allow room for a number of optional sections. Only use an awards or honors section on your resume if it makes sense for the job for which you’re applying. Relevant honors will increase your credibility while irrelevant awards might only distract from your best qualifications. For example, list that you earned Employee of the Month or received the highest customer satisfaction rating in your department, but maybe not that you are a go kart racing champion in your spare time.
VOLUNTEER WORK AND AFFILIATIONS
The work you do as an active volunteer can add to your qualifications and skill set as much as any paid experience. Again, the operative word is “relevant.” Highlight volunteer work on your resume that utilizes skills that are also applicable to the job for which you’re applying. Be careful listing volunteer organizations or affiliations that could be polarizing, such as political or religious entities.
What to Leave Off Your Resume
The objective statement used to be a standard on resumes and still appears on some resume templates. Traditionally, objective statements were a short introduction to the resume that stated why the resume was being submitted. For example, “Objective: To obtain a position as a social media manager at a leading marketing agency.”
Including an objective on your resume these days could make you appear behind the times. The career summary statement has replaced the objective on modern resumes. Any additional explanation can be worked into a cover letter.
While an objective statement explains your personal goals, a summary statement explains how you can add value to the company.
It’s not necessary to list your references on your resume unless otherwise stated in the job description. Furthermore, it is assumed that you have references, so there’s no need to include “references available upon request” either. Use the space you save to include additional skills and accomplishments.
When it comes to your resume, soft skills are not nearly as important as technical hard skills. That’s because they’re harder to prove within the context of a resume. For example, a recruiter won’t take your word for it if you say you’re “hard working” or a “problem solver.” In fact, it just looks like fluff.
Instead of simply listing soft skills, find opportunities to demonstrate your interpersonal abilities and work ethic. Accomplishments and measurable results are a great way to do this. For example, instead of claiming to be “hard working,” show it by writing that you completed X percent more projects than your department average.
Only list your GPA as part of your resume’s education section if you’re a recent college graduate and you had a good GPA, like a 3.5 or better on a 4.0 scale. There are a few exceptions. Some industries, like academia, expect to see your GPA.
How Long Should A Resume Be?
While a one page resume is sometimes seen as the ideal, a two page resume might be necessary after five or ten years in the workforce, especially if all your experience is relevant to the job you’re pursuing. Executives sometimes have resumes that are three pages or more.
That said, your resume shouldn’t be any longer than it has to be. A short, to-the-point resume will be easily digestible and highlight your most important skills. After you write your resume, try to remove as much fluff and irrelevant content as possible to decrease your page count and draw more attention to your best qualifications. No matter how many pages your resume is, try putting your most impressive qualifications high up on the first page with a summary or skills section.
How to Format a Resume
There are a few different ways to format your resume. Choosing the right format for you will only make the resume writing process easier. When choosing a format, consider the job for which you are applying. Chronological, hybrid, and functional formatting styles each serve a specific purpose. Learn more on our Resume Formats page.
Additional Resume Writing Resources
- Resume Formats: Chronological, Functional, Hybrid
- Jobscan’s ATS-friendly Resume Templates
- Jobscan Power Edit: The Fastest Way to Tailor Your Resume
- Jobscan’s Guide to Free Resume Builders
- 56 Resume Tips to Transform Your Job Search
- How to Write a Federal Resume
- How to Write a Legal Resume
- How to Write a Stay at Home Mom Resume
Jobscan Learning Center The Jobscan Resume Learning Series
How to write a resume that recruiters will love and is optimized for modern technology
Determining which of the three most common resume formats is right for your professional experience
How to find and utilize the best resume templates for your specific needs
Top resume examples and how to use them to create your own impactful resume