How to write a resume (with downloadable template to get you started)
What is a resume?
Contrary to popular belief, a resume is not a comprehensive list of all your schooling and everywhere you’ve worked in your life with some personal interests and hobbies thrown in to round out the picture.
A resume is a marketing document. It’s a sales brochure, and the product is you. So when writing your resume you need to think about the customer and include information that is specifically relevant to them. In this case the customer is potential employers of people in the jobs you would like to be hired for. A successful resume will capture their interest enough so that they will want to find out more about you in a job interview.
Resumes don’t get you hired. They win interviews. Successful interviews get you hired for the job. But first things first. You need a resume.
How to write a resume
Let’s start at the top and work our way down through the document. The first section of your resume is the header. This includes a title and your contact information. Make the title of your resume the title of the job you hope to be hired for. When applying for jobs, make sure to customize your resume so that the title exactly matches the position you’re targeting.
Your contact information should be your name, email address, and phone number. An actual mailing address is optional. If you live near the location of the job you’re applying for then you should include it. It could be seen as a point in your favour that you live nearby. (Some hiring managers find it a red flag not to see a physical address. So weigh the pros and cons for your situation.)
Your email address should be just your name or as close to just your name as possible. Using underscores or numbers to secure an available email address for a common name is fine.
Professional skills summary / opening statement / profile
Traditionally resumes opened with an ‘objective statement’ about what the candidate was looking for in potential jobs. These have fallen out of favour in modern resumes. Because the core goal of a resume is to capture an employer’s attention and create interest in your candidacy, it doesn’t make sense to waste valuable real-estate right off the top with a lengthy statement about what you are looking for. Instead, open with what you have to offer, what you can do. Again, make sure to tailor this statement as specifically as possible to the needs of any job you apply for.
Pick out your key selling points and highlight them right off the top. For example:
Experienced Sales Manager with ten years of increasingly senior roles leading sales strategies for major brands. Demonstrated expertise in the planning and development of sales plans, improving relationships with customers and in new client acquisition. Twice awarded top honours as ‘Sales Representative of the Year’.
One of the first things employers look for when scanning a resume is who your most recent employers were. If this information isn’t easy to find, it may annoy some hirers causing them to simply move on to the next resume. List the places you’ve worked in reverse chronological order starting with the most recent.
List the company name, your job title, as well as your start/end dates of employment.
Don’t spend too much time describing what your ‘duties’ were at each job. Most people already know what a sales rep, a secretary, or a shipping clerk does. Describe your job as briefly as possible in a sentence or two.
What most people don’t know is what set you apart in the role. This is why it is important to list your specific accomplishments for past roles.
Showcase the details that apply directly to the job you’re after. Use numbers where you can to highlight measureable accomplishments with regards to time/money saved or sales/revenue/efficiency increased.
Implemented new web content optimization strategy resulting in a 175% increase in click-throughs and an over 200% lift in page views. This drove up advertising revenue across relevant channels by over 50% year-over-year.
Don’t forget other accomplishments that can highlight your soft skills. Problem solving, team work, and communications are highly in demand across sectors and are often overlooked in resumes.
- Initiated weekly stand-up meetings between members of the customer service, technology, and marketing teams to make sure that all known customer issues were being addressed and responded to. Increased positive feedback in customer satisfaction surveys by 45%.
- Organized cross-departmental volunteer group for the annual City Streets Clean-Up drive.
- Joined the company Social Committee, organized quarterly awards celebrations and holiday parties. Researched locations, organized the budget, and scheduled communications for the annual townhall meeting and company party.
Education isn’t as important to employers as candidates often think it is. While most job ads out there will list some educational certification as a requirement for the role, education on a resume is one of the things that employers spend the least amount of time on. So while it is still important that your resume highlight your education – don’t take up too much space on it.
List your highest level of education first. If you have a university degree or college diplomas or certifications, do not list your high school.
If you’re light on work experience, make sure to highlight any courses, projects, or certifications that can be particularly relevant to the jobs you’re targeting. Research and documentation, public speaking and presentations, writing and editing, teamwork and organization, many of these sought-after abilities are learned and practiced throughout your education.
As well as honing and practicing advanced research and writing skills, earning a Master’s Degree in Art History has allowed me the opportunity to prepare numerous informative and entertaining presentations for large and diverse audiences.
A skilled communicator, I have a deep knowledge of many world cultures and traditions and fluency in English, French, and Spanish. I am also an expert-level user of Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Macromedia Flash, and Microsoft PowerPoint as well as the essential web and documentation tools.
Read job descriptions for the types of positions you’re targeting closely. What kinds of skills and experiences do employers seem to be looking for? Highlight your own credentials that most closely match these. Pay particular attention to the language used in job postings.
Reading many job postings in your field will give you a good understanding of the industry terms used to describe the skill sets that companies are looking for. These terms also tend to be the same words that recruitment software programs are looking for.
These recruitment software or Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) operate by linking keywords found in resumes to qualifications required to perform jobs. The computer software, after scanning resumes, recommends to hiring managers which resumes seem most relevant – and therefore worth taking the time for a human recruiter to review. This helps employers filter applications, narrowing them down – but if you’re missing the requisite keywords in your resume, your application could get the boot without ever being read.
If you are looking for a great sales position, solution selling, business development and account management might be great keywords to use throughout your resume.
If you are looking for a management position, leadership, team, and supervise might be keywords you should consider for your resume.
Here’s a look at the exact keywords employers are using for ten hot sectors. Bear in mind that these change constantly, so be sure to look at recent job descriptions when preparing your resume.
Other relevant skills and accomplishments:
If you have other skills that you would like to call attention to, you can simply include a bulleted list of relevant abilities, software, languages, or certifications.
- St. John Ambulance First Aid Certified
- Organize annual fundraiser for In The Street shelter – over $50,000 in donations to date
- Native fluency in English and French
Dos and don’ts
Unless you are a graphic designer and your resume is a portfolio of your abilities, don’t include illustrations or images in your resume.
Don’t include “References available on request” – or actual references – in your resume. This is a waste of space and can make your document look dated. Employers assume you’ll provide references if they ask for them.
Don’t worry about keeping your resume to one page. (But also don’t let it run on to five pages.) Two pages is fine, three is pushing it, but as long as the information you have provided is well-written, error-free, and relevant to the job at hand, employers will keep reading.
Do make good use of white space. Use bolded headers, short paragraphs and bulleted lists. You want your resume to be visually appealing to read and not a hard-to-scan dense block of text.
Don’t list your personal interests and hobbies unless you know that they are particularly relevant to the job you’re applying for – and would make you an asset to the team.
Remember, your resume is a marketing document. It isn’t actually about you. It’s about the needs of the employer for the job you want. Make it as relevant as possible to that audience to that audience.
Need help getting started? Here is a basic Microsoft Word resume that you can use as a template.