Creating a resume that stands out can be one of the most important steps in your job-hunting journey.
Your resume creates the first impression before anybody at the company meets you. If you’re a recent graduate or have a limited professional network, your resume can be exactly what you need to get your fit in the door and find the next career opportunity you’ve been looking for.
Your resume is the first chance to distinguish yourself from other candidates interested in the position–and hopefully in a good way.
Thankfully, making a great resume isn’t complicated. In fact, you’ll find that getting the basics right is more helpful than doing anything “new” or “creative” with your resume (something might mistakenly make you stand out in the wrong way).
There are two main aspects that can make or break your resume:
- What you include on your resume
- How your resume is designed
A beautiful resume with mediocre content is equally as bad as a well-written resume that’s poorly designed.
In this post, we’ll cover the basics of resume creation and design that will get your resume get noticed by recruiters and hiring managers–hopefully moving you to the front of the line for that first interview.
Let’s go over everything you need to know to write and design an outstanding resume.
What to put on your resume
No matter how beautiful it looks on screen or paper, a well-designed resume without the right content won’t land you the job.
When creating a resume, it can be challenging to decide out what’s necessary to include and what’s better left out. However, there are five major areas you’ll want to include–or at least consider–for your resume.
- Personal contact information
- Summary (optional)
- Work experience
- Education history
- References (optional)
How to add contact information on your resume
Your resume should include all of the basic contact information needed for a potential employer to learn who are you and how they can reach you if they decide to move forward.
Be sure to include your:
- Phone number
- Email address
- Physical address
It’s acceptable to use your preferred or shortened name rather than your full legal name as long as it’s professional (“Sam” vs “Samantha,” etc).
One simple tip: Include your first and last name when saving your resume (i.e. JaneSmithResume.docx). This makes life easier for recruiters and hiring managers who are reviewing many digital resumes at once.
Your phone number and email address will be your primary points of contact if you are given the opportunity to interview for a position. Double-check that both of these items are correct.
While it’s typical to include a full street address on your resume, you should be sure to at least include your current city and state. This might be easier than frequently updating your resume if you find yourself often changing apartments, and a specific street address isn’t particularly relevant if your job has you relocating to a new city.
How to create a personal summary
A personal summary is an optional but often valuable part of a professional resume. When writing a personal summary or overview statement, consider the following:
- Keep your personal statement short (1-2 sentences)
- Focus on the value you can provide to prospective employers
- List specific skills and credentials that qualify you for your target roles
- Avoid using buzzwords that lack specificity and are difficult to measure
How to list your education
Your education is a critical part of your resume–especially if you have limited work experience or work in a professional field that generally requires a graduate degree.
When listing your education on your resume, you should include:
- The name of the school/institution
- Location of the school (optional)
- The degree or program you completed
- The month and year of completion
- GPA (optional, if 3.5 or higher)
If you’re a recent college graduate with limited relevant work experience, you may want to list your education even before your job history.
How should you include your education if you’re still working on complete your program? List the name of the program, the school, and your expected completion date.
Unlike your work experience–where a bigger picture is helpful–you typically only need to include your most advanced and relevant educational achievement.
How to list your work experience
Your work experience will most likely be the central focus of your resume.
When a company hires a new employee, they’re assuming a risk that you’ll be able to complete the responsibilities of the role and that you’ll be prepared to step in and contribute to their organization. Your work experience helps to prove that you’re worth that “risk.”
For each employer under your work experience section, you’ll want to include:
- The name and location of the company
- Your position
- Dates of employment
- A bulleted list of your responsibilities and accomplishments
When listing out your responsibilities, use active-voice verbs, include measurable results, and highlight any unique or exceptional ways in which you had an impact.
How to list references on a resume
It’s not uncommon for employers to request professional references at some point during the job interview process. Whether those references are ever contacted largely varies depending upon the employer, manager, and role.
In many cases, you can simply mention “References available upon request” to meet this basic requirement. However, you should be prepared to provide these references just in case.
Your best references will be:
- Past managers or supervisors
- Professional mentors
- Academic professors
Many people are willing to give you a positive recommendation, but you’ll want to reach out to them in advance and request their permission before you start including their name and phone number on your resume.
Each reference should include their full name, employer, relationship to you, and a work email or phone number. Prospective employers likely won’t be asking your references “20 Questions” about your qualifications, but they will want to know about any potential red flags about your character and reliability.
How to design your resume
You’ve got a basic overview of what to include on your resume. Now it’s time to talk about how to design a resume.
Most importantly, a well-designed resume shouldn’t distract from your qualifications. You don’t need to be a professional resume designer to create a great resume—most people aren’t pro designers. There are simple steps you can take to make your resume pleasant to look at and easy to read.
Best tools for creating a resume
There are many different websites or computer programs you can use to design your resume that requires little to no experience.
The simplest programs for creating a resume are Microsoft Word or Google Docs. Both include designed resume templates that can help you get started. If you’d like, you can customize your design from the original template to create a resume that’s unique to you.
Although it’s tempting to have fun experimenting with different templates, it’s best to start writing out your resume content before spending too much time on things like formatting.
For a more visual resume, you may want to try Canva (an easy-to-use website we use for our Pinterest images) or Adobe Photoshop to design your resume. But unless your job is in a creative field, using a clean and simple document with Word or Google Docs will work just fine.
Best resume font
Your resume needs to be easy to read. Recruiters and hiring managers might be reviewing dozens or even hundreds of resumes in a single day. If it takes someone extra time to decipher what you’ve written, you might be pushing your luck.
A few resume-friendly fonts you can confidently use are:
- Times New Roman
Avoid using fonts with too much “personality.” Papyrus and Comic Sans, we’re looking at you!
Ask yourself, would you (and your eyes!) want to read an entire book written in the font that you’ve chosen.
You may want to include a bold font for your name and headings, but be careful not to overdo it. Avoid underlining, italicizing, or using more than two different fonts. You want to highlight the important facts without causing any confusion.
What font size should you use on your resume?
Stick with a standard 11 or 12-point font for the body of your resume. Your name and section headings should be bolded and/or larger to help them stand out–but even a 16 or 20-point font can likely do the trick.
Don’t worry about trying to fill the entire page when you’re designing your resume. It’s better to have some empty “white space” in your margins or between sections rather than using a large font that could feel like you’re compensating for a lack of experience.
If you’re wanting to use a tiny font size to squeeze more into your resume, you’re probably trying to include too much information.
A resume that looks more like a novel isn’t inviting to read and it can’t be easily skimmed. Choose the essential information, and find ways to highlight your other skills and qualifications as part of your interviews or cover letter.
How long should your resume be?
As mentioned before, many employers are reviewing a large volume of resumes for each role they fill. Nobody wants to read a long, wordy resume. It’s best to stick to one single page that contains the most compelling information that sets you apart for the job.
How much detail should your resume include?
In your education section, include your latest educational accomplishment. If you’ve completed a graduate degree, there’s no reason to be including your high school GPA and extracurriculars.
In your work experience, you will typically include 2-3 most recent jobs along with a few bullet points of responsibilities for each. If your resume is spilling over into a second page, consider removing a bullet point or two from your oldest job or removing it altogether.
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Seven quick tips to create a resume that gets noticed
Wow… We’ve covered a lot of the nitty-gritty details already. Let’s stop and take a look at a few high-level tips that can help you make a great resume:
- Tailor your resume to the job listing. Each job listing contains specific qualifications that the employer is looking for. Spending a few minutes to revise your resume to reflect how your skills and experience match those qualifications is one of the easiest and most impactful ways to stand out.
- Keep it concise. Imagine your resume as a one-page highlight reel of your professional life. While there are plenty of scenes you could include, your childhood lemonade stand probably shouldn’t be one of them. Respect everyone’s time by sticking to the key points.
- Use action verbs. Include present-tense “action verbs” to keep your reader engaged. You don’t need to get too carried away, but it doesn’t hurt to pull up the thesaurus and find more uncommon, powerful words that better convey what you’ve been up to.
- Get specific. Most likely, your resume will be compared with other candidates who have skills, experience, and work history that are similar to your own. Including specific details can help demonstrate that you know what you’re talking about and show the impact of your work.
- Measure your success. When it comes down to it, companies are focused on improving their bottom line. Include quantified results that demonstrate the value you will bring to a company. Don’t just say that you helped to increase sales; share how you increased third-quarter sales by 122%.
- Ask someone to proofread your writing. It’s easy to overlook little mistakes after rushing to create a resume or spending hours staring at the screen. Asking a trusted family member or friend to review your resume can help you put your best, most polished foot forward.
- Pair it with an exceptional cover letter. Few candidates take the time to prepare a cover letter unless it’s explicitly asked for. Writing a compelling cover letter may help encourage recruiters and hiring managers to give your resume a closer look.
Overcoming challenges when creating a resume
Creating a great resume is not without its own share of challenges. All resumes require a fair amount of time, thought, and energy to create.
However, there might be even more pressure if you’re already unemployed, applying for one of your first jobs, or pivoting into a new line of work.
Here are some tips on how you might boost your resume as you make your next career transition.
What to do if you have no experience
You’ve probably heard the joke (if not experienced it first-hand):
“Now hiring: Looking for a candidate with 5-10 years of experience for this entry-level role.”
Especially during the early stages of your career, it can be difficult to get your foot in the door and secure your first role in your desired industry of work.
Writing a resume that highlights your past experience can be quite a challenge when you don’t have much. It can require a little creativity to work with what you’ve got:
- Were you involved in any academic extracurriculars?
- Do you volunteer for any local causes or non-profits?
- Are there relevant professional organizations or meetup groups you can join?
If you can find volunteer work or organizations that tie directly to your area of work, great!
However, don’t hesitate to share other broad skills or experiences that could apply. Your international service trip or leadership experience with the local table-tennis community might serve as a great conversation starter or provide evidence of your intangible skills.
There’s nothing wrong with needing more experience. Even just a few hours of regular volunteer or freelance work will not only give you that boost of experience that companies are looking for, but also set you up to find a good referral or new professional reference.
Learning a new skill, starting a side hustle, or connecting with someone over coffee are all great ways to steps you can take to better yourself and your employment prospects at the same time.
Are you making a career change?
Even if you’re an experienced member of the workforce, you might still find yourself struggling to compete for jobs if your education or previous work experience aren’t in line with your current aspirations.
Thankfully, that education and work experience wasn’t all for naught. With a little effort, you can find ways to improve your resume–and help your unique background set you apart from the field.
Identify similarities between your experience and the qualifications of the role you’re interested in. While you may not have all of the “hard skills” yet, many of those can be learned after getting the job. Finding ways to highlight your other skills–like effective communication, creative problem-solving, or project management–are broadly applicable and very desirable.
You may also be able to gain some relevant work experience at your current job. Find a mentor within the organization that might be able to share their insights. Offer to pick up a little extra work for that particular team or department to get a better feel for what you’d like to do in the future.
Joining relevant professional groups can be a great way to get your foot in the door. There many groups on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Meetup where you can research the career that interests you, learn which skills are the most important for landing that first job, and networking with peers and mentors who can help you out along the way.
Beat the numbers game with a tailored resume
When you’re on the job hunt, it can be tempting to create a general resume and blast it out to as many potential employers as well.
While this may indeed work eventually, you may find that sending a custom-tailored resume to 10 jobs will give you better opportunities than sending the a general resume to 50 jobs.
If there are a few different areas of work that you’re interested in (say product management, product marketing, or UX/UI design), then create different variations of your resume that better highlight the skills and experience needed for each role.
From there, compare and contrast your resume with the job listing for the role you’re applying for. What skills and experience are they’re looking for?
Spending just a few minutes to bring those bullet points to the top of work experience or perhaps adding a little greater detail in those areas can greatly improve your chances.
Creating that first resume can feel like a huge project. Thankfully, after you’ve come up with the initial content and design, it becomes much easier to update or custom-tailor your resume in the future.
It’s easy to procrastinate creating a resume. Perhaps some motivational quotes will help?
The best thing you can do is just get started! You don’t need to create your entire resume in what sitting. Start by choosing one of they key areas we talked about:
- Personal contact information
- Personal summary
- Work experience
- Education history
You can break it down even further. Write up your responsibilities and accomplishments for one job at a time. Reach out to colleague or mentor to ask them about providing a reference. Consider your own personal “professional mission statement.”
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your family, friends, and colleagues are likely happy to provide ideas, help you recognize your strengths, and offer you feedback.
Good luck in the search for your next big opportunity!
What’s one resume tip you’d like to share with others?